The Language Of The Next World Superpower

A friend working and living in Korea recently told me Korean students spend 3-6 hours a day, 4-6 days a week studying at specialized academies and this is on top of regular school attendance.  Curriculum at the specialized academies most commonly focus on English, Mathematics and Science.  And, many immigrant students with whom I’m worked, came to the U.S. having learned English in their home country.

In our global economy, while the U.S. remains a “world superpower”, it’s no secret that China is not far behind.  China has a successful and growing manufacturing sector, it’s a technology hub, their military is strengthening every moment and they are beginning to draw more international students to their universities.  And Chinese students, like Korean students, learn English, and many, quite well, in school.

How do students educated in the United States fair in comparison?  According to a 2011 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, not well.  While there does seem to be a trend towards college access, college degree attainment wanes in comparison to countries like Korea, China, India, Ireland, France and Japan, for example.

What does the future hold for our students?  While foreign language is a requirement in high school, students don’t often graduate with advanced proficiency.  Should we emphasize foreign language more?  And should more districts implement Mandarin programs?  In one California district, a charter school offers a full Mandarin immersion program beginning in elementary school.

What happens when our students cannot speak the language of the next world superpowers? And, what is the long term cost of educating our students, given our lower graduation rates?


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