How Games and Simulations Can Help Meet America's Challenges in Science Mathematics and Technology Education

How Games and Simulations Can Help Meet America's Challenges in Science Mathematics and Technology Education

Henry Kelly (Federation of American Scientists, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-739-8.ch007
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The quality of the U.S. workforce is critical for a competitive economy in today’s fast-paced, tightly connected global economy. Given current trends the quality of the U.S. workforce, measured in educational attainment and knowledge of key concepts in science, mathematics, and engineering will actually decline in coming years. Conventional methods will simply not be adequate to the enormous task of improving this situation. The technology and management tools that have been used so successfully to increase both quality and productivity in other service enterprises can play a vital role in improving science and mathematics education and training.
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What’S At Stake

The jobs in this new economy will demand a wide range of adaptive skills including ability to: master new concepts quickly, gather information and make decisions under conditions of uncertainty, work comfortably with people with very different backgrounds and skills, and communicate effectively with peers, specialists in other fields, and novices. Most jobs will also require a solid foundation in the basics of science, engineering, and mathematics. Jobs in everything from trucking to surgery will be imbedded in sophisticated production networks involving information systems, sensor networks, data management, sophisticated labs and testing equipment, and constant series of innovations. U.S. leadership will depend on research labs, staffed by world class scientists and engineers able to push the frontiers of scientific knowledge, convert discoveries into marketable products and services, and build businesses around them.

None of this can happen without a U.S. workforce able to contribute to technologically sophisticated enterprises that are in a continuous process of innovation and renewal. Our ability to compete will depend in essential ways on the quality of the U.S. workforce. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke points out that “taking full advantage of new information and communication technologies may require extensive reorganization of work practices, the reassignment and retraining of workers, and ultimately some reallocation of labor among firms and industries” (Bernanke, 2006).

Given this reality, it’s unsettling that the U.S. workforce ranks 13th among high income countries in the quantitative skills of its workforce, and 14th in document literacy (National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008). It’s even more disconcerting that the educational quality of the U.S. workforce is likely to decline during the coming generation because of large numbers of poorly educated workers and the fact that a growing share of population growth will come in minority groups most poorly served by the existing educational system (Kirsch, 2007). The cohort with the largest population growth in the U.S. from 2000 to 2020 will be people with less than a high school education. U.S. high school graduation rates reached a peak of 77% in 1969 but are now 70%. Shockingly, only half of many minority groups graduate. The overall achievement rates of U.S. students are consistently behind other affluent nations and are essentially unchanged since the 1980s. And while the average education level in nations like China and India remain far below those in the U.S., measured in absolute numbers these countries are becoming very large. China’s colleges are producing more than 6 million graduates annually while the U.S. produces only about 1.5 million (U.S. Department of Education, 2008; People’s Daily Online, 2009). There is undoubtedly still a significant difference in the quality of the degrees granted but it’s obvious that a lot of talented people are engaged in the global marketplace who will be in direct competition with U.S. employees in a tightly coupled global marketplace.

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