Educating for the Knowledge Society

Thomas Friedman is the Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, and author of several books about globalisation, including The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The Earth is Flat.

Thomas Friedman underlines the importance of education in today’s ‘knowledge society’. Here he writes about an assignment in Singapore:

I was going through my notes after a [recent] trip to Singapore when I realized something: I had spent virtually all my time talking to educators—from the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, to students and professors at the National University of Singapore, to the Minister of Education, to a high-school principal, to an Indian couple who were providing Singaporean schools an online system for innovative ways to teach math to the country whose children already lead the world in the most important tests measuring math and science skills. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that during the cold war my predecessors never would have spent their time in Singapore talking to such people, and I wouldn’t have, either. We would have talked to strategists and ministers of defense about warships and throw-weights, all the classic elements of raw military power. But there I was talking over tea and scones at Raffles to Low-Sim Ay Nar, principal of the Xinmin Secondary School, about how she is trying to get Singaporean kids to be more creative thinkers.

It is not that raw military power is not important. If China were to suddenly flex its muscles in the Strait of Molucca, I really would have to spend all my time talking to Singapore’s Defense Ministry. But what is new is how much more important knowledge is today … [T]he tools that are crucial to improving productivity become more and more complex with each new generation, and therefore they require more and more knowledge and training to get the most out of them … It is no surprise, therefore, that those societies with the most innovative scientists, universities, engineers and technology companies able to solve complex problems—that is, America, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Western Europe, Israel, Ireland and parts of India, Russia and China—have enjoyed rising standards of living over those societies without them.

Friedman, Thomas L. 2006 ‘The Exhausting Race for Ideas.’ Newsweek Special Edition: Issues 2006. Pp. 10, 11, 12.

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