Thursday, May 7, 2009

Space race or education?

Christopher Dawson - ZDNet Education -The US space program costs billions and billions of dollars. Wikipedia puts the figure at $17.3 billion for fiscal year 2008 and that number climbs to $18.7 billion in FY10. The US Department of Education has a budget just south of $70 billion (saying nothing of the state budgets, where the bulk of education funding falls in the States).

President Obama is ordering a review of the multibillion dollar of the Nasa Constellation program planned to return humans to the moon. This program is already over budget and running well behind schedule. Same goes for the Space Shuttle replacement program, which is now expected to cost $40 billion.

Am I suggesting that we should redirect this money to education? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I think its time for another Space Race. I dug up an interesting article posted at the University of Montana highlighting the effects of the Space Race on education in the 1950s.

On October 4, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union, the world entered the Space Age, and the United States became quite concerned that the Soviet Union had a head start in the space race. A year later, realizing that the support of gifted and talented mathematics and science students was critical to national security, the United States federal government passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), providing aid to education in the United States at all levels, primarily to stimulate the advancement of education in science, mathematics, and modern foreign languages.

Obviously, our competitors now are a number of Asian and Eastern European nations (among others), but we are competing for much more than access to space or even to win the Cold War. This doesn’t need to be about getting to the moon before China; rather, it needs to be about inspiring students and creating the utter sense of urgency we need in education to push our students and improve what we do. It should be about inspiring students and teachers to embrace math, science, and engineering education. If it takes many billions more devoted to both NASA and education, then that’s a small price to pay to bring a new generation of brilliant scientists and mathematicians to the forefront of education, research, and industry.

Follow Chris Dawson on Twitter! Christopher Dawson is the technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations, but always keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are his own and not those of his daytime employer, even if he talks incessantly about his day job.

1 comment:

Ralf Lippold said...

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the inspiring words. Focusing on the far in the distance being set goal definitely pulls people ahead and with it education.

Please check on the link the 1950 article (seems to be broken).

Looking forward to hearing from you


PS.: Singularity has a fertile ground in Dresden, manifested in LockSchuppen (