Thursday, June 29, 2006


American Dream in Hindi and Mandarin

Yesterday on the plane to Fukuoka, i read Nicholas Kritof's article (he of New York times). It essentially talked about how US education is currently lagging behind that of China and India. Though we may look for the proximate causes in some complicated theory, i have a simple one to offer - "Economic Hunger".

The specific point made was - not enough students in the US were taking Math or Science. And the declining standards of education in the US. One of the reasons posited by Kristof was that American students are not working hard enough. I agree. However i want to add on that this 'unwillingness to work hard' is not something which is intrinsic to America as a nation. It is the symptom of any developed nation. Any developed nation, where one can reasonably live doing some very basic unskilled labour (check-out girl, delivery boy, janitor etc.) will start taking it easy. If it is known, that even without academic excellence, an one's basic physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) will be met, then will not consciously study calculus. NOt work hard at school. There is a bias to take the easy way out. This of course, does not mean that ALL american kids dont work hard in school...There is always an minority which is an exception.

To the Indians and Chinese, a good education is the passport to a better life economically. It is the catapult to a life of greater comfort. So they study hard. I do not belive that this phnomenon of studying hard and taking education seriously is something that is intrinsic to Indians/Chinese. Twenty years down the line, even when they will become reasonably prosperous, we may see the fire in them declining. The stark reality is that unskilled labour is paid pathetically in developing countries like China/India and the sharpening of the left brain is seen as a way out of poverty. Hence the mad scramble for education and the enormous pressure of 'doing well in school'. A simple comparison is the US and Japan after the second world war. At that time, perhaps education was taken more seriously in these countries. There was the motivation to do well in life - the classic "American Dream" was American then. Today the American dream comes in Hindi and Mandarin.

The developed world has one ace up it's sleeve though - creativity and innovation. Once freed from the daily struggle of sustenance, there is more time to innovate. There is perhaps the choice to follow some of one's life interests - Calligraphy, philosophy, poetry, orchids (remember the movie 'Adaptation'). This innovative streak will translate itself somewhere economically. (companies like Apple, Google, Amazon)...So if the developed world can steal a march by shaping innovative/creative workforces, they can still not surrender this century to Asia.

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