US losing IT edge, expert says

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Government policies and an archaic public education system are contributing to the erosion of America’s competitive edge in the information technology market, according to an IT expert, who said U.S. universities should look to Canada for example.

“At a time when we are experiencing massive economic expansion, our schools are not graduating as many high school students as we’re supposed to,” said Dr. James Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute Inc., a Cary, NC-headquartered business intelligence (BI) software leader, during his keynote speech at a SAS conference in Las Vegas dubbed Better Management Live.

Goodnight said only 69 per cent of American students graduated from high school last year, according to a recent survey conducted by Achieve Inc., a U.S.-based non-profit bi-partisan organization working to raise education standards in America.

An educator and technology futurist views Goodnight’s statements as positive, and agrees the American education model needs to be revamped.

Thornton May, IT futurist and executive director and dean of the IT Leadership Academy in Jacksonville, FL, said most American universities such as Harvard were slow to change their teaching methods to adapt to market realities. May suggests American educational institutions look to Canada as an example.

“American schools would do well to emulate Canadian universities such as McGill and Waterloo, which, without a doubt, are North America’s leading source of top IT talent,” said May.

Apart from technical skills, May explained, Canadian schools equipped graduates with “humanity.”

“Your graduates are actually humane. One of the core skills in any economy is the ability to work with each other. The American ego gets in the way,” he said.

Meanwhile, another keynote speaker, media mogul Steve Forbes, president and CEO of publishers Forbes Inc, echoed Goodnight’s views.

“The U.S. is the fastest growing economy in the world. And there’s plenty of juice to keep this expansion going,” Forbes said.

But he also warns that non-business friendly government policies and a lagging educational system are holding back America’s economic growth. “Government policies and education continue to be a challenge.”

For instance, he said, the American government should limit taxes on businesses and capital investments.

Citing Ireland as example, Forbes pointed out that 30 years ago it was “the poorest place in Europe.”

In recent years, however, Ireland was able to attract big enterprise such as Microsoft Inc. by slashing tax rates, he said. “Today Ireland’s per capita income is higher that that of England, Germany and France.

Goodnight said that though students were exposed to all kinds of technology, they used outdated tools in the classroom.” Kids use cell phones, MP3s and spend enormous time on the Internet. Yet when they come to school, they are faced with a hundred-year-old technology called the blackboard.”

He said the Achieve Inc. survey found that children drop out from school because they get bored. “Children need to be challenged and exposed to tools that have relevance to them.”

He said the U.S. should look to examples such as India and China where governments are concentrating massive efforts on education to meet future economic demands.

“These countries,” Goodnight said, “are spending a lot of money on education.”

The lack graduates takes a toll in the U.S. educated workforce and hampers innovation and growth, said Jim Davis, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of SAS.

Davis said according to the Global Competitive Index of the World Economic Forum, North America ranks third at 21 per cent behind Asia, 36 per cent, and Europe, 28 per cent, in Internet use last year.

The same survey also measured economic growth and found Africa which lagged behind with three per cent Internet use experienced 626 per cent growth.

This was followed by the Middle East, which registered two per cent Internet use but saw economic growth rise 476 per cent. Latin America which had only eight per cent Internet use had a growth rate of 246 per cent.

North America posted only 112 per cent economic growth.

“If we don’t speed up our ability to innovate there are a lot of hungry regions out there who would be glad to take our position,” Davis said.

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