Playing catch-up in math, science

January 28, 2002|By June Streckfus

WITH THE recent release of the latest worldwide student test scores from the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), we are hearing a lot lately about how our children's math and science skills compare with those of children globally.

The data basically show that American students, despite improvements in some areas, have gained little ground generally.

This continues a trend that places them well behind the world's top-achieving children in math and science.

Educational and political leaders will continue to debate what the test data mean and what should be done.

But for you as a parent, here is the bottom line: If you want for your child ultimately to do well in work and in life, then strong math and science skills are not just an option. They are a must. No child will succeed without them in today's world.

There are two big reasons for this: The workplace requires greater math and science skills, and the world itself also demands these very skills in everyday life.

Here are the facts on why math and science matter:

Technology is driving America's economy and our way of life. Whether in creating technologies or using them on the job, practically every employee of every company will need the skills that math and science provide.

Knowledge work is replacing unskilled work. According to a study by the American Association of Community Colleges, 80 percent of jobs in 1950 were unskilled, while 85 percent of jobs today are skilled.

Even manufacturing jobs often require computer programming skills and knowledge of higher math.

American companies are chronically short of technologically trained employees. Every year in Maryland alone, thousands of jobs go unfilled because employers cannot find job applicants with adequate skills. As a result, companies recruit from out of state and even from abroad.

The U.S. Labor Department estimates that colleges will have to quadruple their number of computer science graduates by 2008 in order to meet demand.

Knowing the language of math and science is crucial in order to be informed about topics in the news that affect all of us.

The examples are everywhere: The cloning of life, genetic engineering of humans, genetically modified foods, new drugs, the use of DNA evidence in the courtroom, the effect of chemicals on our food and livestock, computer privacy, global warming, the ozone layer, the extinction of species of plants and animals.

A child who possesses the essential tools of math and science will become an adult who is able to understand, and to form opinions about, these critical issues.

With a strong start now, your child will have an advantage for life.

June Streckfus is executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

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