Yesterday fellow Forbes ChinaTracker writer, Ray Kwong posted a summary of a shocking Computerworld article on the Forbes China Tracker site. Computerworld, a publication not exactly renowned for its expertise on China breathlessly exclaims that China is getting ready to clean America's technological clock. China's education system is producing far more engineering graduates than the US, and China's leaders are fully engaged in making China into a future technological powerhouse.
While the article was fact-based, I think its conclusions were way overdrawn.
This is very much an issue of quality vs quantity. I spent two years teaching at universities in China, and I continue to maintain close touch with the academic community there. While China is indeed turning out math and science whizzes up through high school level (the average middle schooler can plot the trajectory of a non-guided missile), nothing is being done to nurture the kind of creative and critical thinking that produces innovation.
Furthermore, among the engineers earning degrees in China, very few of them have a passion for what they are learning. It doesn't bother me that a relative handful of students in the US are choosing the sciences as long as the vast majority of these students love what they're doing and eventually find their ways to Silicon Valley, Austin, TX or other similar clusters of talent. Again, this is where the innovation comes from.
On the other hand, I think the Computerworld article may have been intended somewhat as hyperbole to shock our leaders into action, and I am pretty sure this was Ray's intention in excerpting the article. If at least one leader in Washington gets the message regarding the vital importance of education quality in the US, this can't be a bad thing, right?
UPDATE: It looks like Dan Harris, keeper of ChinaLawBlog, was also moved to comment on the Computerworld article. He makes some really good points that I hadn't considered, so take a look if this topic interests you. Also check out the vigorous discussion going on in the comment section there.