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Friday, March 24, 2006

Creative Construction

The stereotype is that American students aren't very well-trained technically and thus do poorly when tested in areas such as math and science, but their intuitive skills are fairly well developed. Foreign students are just the opposite according to this view, excellent technically, but less able to express the intuitive reasoning behind the mathematics or the science and less able to use intuitive skills to combine ideas creatively. The difference is generally attributed to a difference in emphasis in education with foreign students far more devoted to rote learning than their American counterparts. While this gives Americans a disadvantage in engineering, computer programming, and so on, they are much more likely to come up with innovative new ideas. Or so the story goes. Is this is really true? India and China believe it and are wondering how to change their educational systems to encourage more creativity:

Worried About India's and China's Booms? So Are They, by Thomas L. Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: The more I ... travel, the more I find that the most heated debates in many countries are around education. ... every country thinks it's behind. ... America agonizes that its ... public schools badly need improvement in math and science. I was just in Mumbai attending the annual meeting of India's high-tech association, ... where many speakers worried aloud that Indian education wasn't nurturing enough "innovators."

Both India and China, which have mastered rote learning and have everyone else terrified about their growing armies of engineers, are wondering if too much math and science — unleavened by art, literature, music and humanities — aren't making Indira and Zhou dull kids and not good innovators. Very few global products have been spawned by India or China.

"We have ... everyone going into engineering and M.B.A.'s," said Jerry Rao, chief executive of ... one of the top Indian outsourcing companies. "If we don't have enough people with the humanities, we will lose the [next generation of] V. S. Naipauls and Amartya Sens," he added, referring to the Indian author and the Indian economist, both Nobel laureates. ...

Innovation is often a synthesis of art and science, and the best innovators often combine the two. The Apple co-founder Steve Jobs ... recalled how he dropped out of college but stuck around campus and took a calligraphy course, where he learned about the artistry of great typography. "None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life," he recalled. "But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography." ...

Capital will now flow faster than ever to tap the most productive talent wherever it is located ... Hence the concern I found in India that it must move quickly from business process outsourcing ... into knowledge process outsourcing  ... coming up with more original designs and products.

"We need to encourage more incubation of ideas ... to make innovation a national initiative," said Azim Premji, the chairman of ... one of India's premier technology companies. "Are we as Indians creative? Going by our rich cultural heritage, we have no doubt some of the greatest art and literature. We need to bring the same spirit into our economic and business arena."

But to make that leap, Indian entrepreneurs say, will require a big change in the rigid, never-challenge-the-teacher Indian education system. "If we do not allow our students to ask why, but just keep on telling them how, then we are only going to get the transactional type of outsourcing..." said Nirmala Sankaran C.E.O. of ... an Indian-based education company. "We have a creative problem in this country."...

    Posted by on Friday, March 24, 2006 at 12:06 AM in China, Economics, India, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)


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