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Editorial: STEM education will re-launch U.S. economy

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It is vital that the United States start producing more young people who can design the kinds of systems cell phones operate on, rather than more young people who can just text on them.

That distinction is the bottom line of the nation’s need for more successful STEM graduates – students with mastery of the science, technology, engineering and math fields that will quite literally fuel much of the new economy.

Ken Washington, vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., told an Albuquerque group last week that “every moment, every day we’re surrounded, engulfed by an invisible torrent of information exchanges from earth to space and back through satellites and ground stations. That enables everything from cars to devices in our pockets, transforming our way of life (that) wouldn’t exist without it.”

Yet “across the nation, there is a generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who are retiring, leaving huge gaps that youth are not replacing in sufficient numbers.”

Unless there is a major shift in U.S. education, that means the United States will be grounded as competitors in the global economy soar. Right now, according to the Program for International Student Assessment, which is administered to 15-year-olds, the United States ranks 12th in reading, 17th in science and 26th in math. Behind countries like Poland, which was decimated in a world war and which once lagged far behind us.

Washington is encouraging American industry, educators, policy leaders and families to motivate students to pursue STEM-related careers.

If we as a society don’t heed Washington’s advice, the logical conclusion is that the United States will either export those high-tech jobs or import the necessary high-tech talent, leaving America’s young people with the career opportunity of tweeting about the great tip they just got from a foreign scientist while waiting on his or her table.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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