The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global coalition, has released a comprehensive study that tested proficiency in practical skills among people ages 16 to 65.
While the highest-skilled adults in the U.S. were on par with best performing countries such as Japan and Finland, overall the U.S. lagged behind the international average in math, reading and problem-solving.
These troubling results prompted the following reaction from Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. He told The New York Times:
If we’re so dumb, why are we so rich?
At least the U.S. is rich for now. That advantage is slipping, Carnevale points out, in today's global economy.
It is not much of a revelation that students in the U.S. are falling behind in math and problem-solving. Sadly, we have known that for some time. What is most alarming about this study is that American adults - who, as the Times points out "on paper, are among the best-educated people of their generation anywhere in the world," are in reality merely average. And as we know from Thomas Friedman and others who have made this point, average won't cut it anymore.
To solve this problem, we obviously need to address the inadequacies of both the K-12 system as well as college, where students are graduating without the real-life skills that will give them a competitive edge in the global job market.
And yet, education cannot not end with college, as the skills you learn in your early 20s will not be the same ones you need to use 10 or 20 or 30 years later. The responsibility of committing to lifelong learning certainly falls on individuals if they hope to get ahead. But the responsibility falls on companies as well. In fact, if businesses do not make the investment in the professional development of their employees, they will lose the best ones (and, perversely, keep the worst ones).
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