You know, I was in Asia, I think many of you are aware, for a week, and I was having lunch with the President of South Korea, President Lee. And I was interested in education policy – they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years. And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy? He said, the biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding. (Laughter.) He said, even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education. He said, I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school. That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.
And the same thing was true when I went to China. I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city. He said, we don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions.
That gives you a sense of what’s happening around the world. There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about. That’s what we’re going to be about again.
And I have to say that this doesn’t get a lot of focus. Not once was I asked about education policy during my trip by the press. And oftentimes events like this get short shrift. They’re not what’s debated on cable. But this is probably going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else that we do here.
Everyone in this room understands how important science and math can be. And it goes beyond the facts in a biology textbook or the questions on an algebra quiz. It’s about the ability to understand our world: to harness and train that human capacity to solve problems and think critically, a set of skills that informs the decisions we make throughout our lives.
Teacher salaries in China are comparable to doctors?!