A couple of the e-lists I am on (“ISED-L”, “NYCIST”) have been discussing Thomas Friedman’s World Is Flat and its implications for education. I am currently in New Delhi, India for a vacation, and have been overwhelmed with all the evidence supporting the flat-world theory. The last time I was here was 5 years ago. There has been much progress.
To deal with extreme pollution, all public buses (and there are a lot) are run on natural gas now. McDonalds, Subways, Dominos are all over. Middle-class values are spreading like wildfire, and consumerism is everywhere. Cell phones ringtones are the background noise of any city street. Car varieties have increased 5-fold. Government control is out, market freedom is in. One of the most interesting things I have seen are the advertisements. As India enters a period of freer-markets, you can see the market battles emerging. Cell phone plans were so convoluted that no one could figure out which plan was better. It was far more confusing than U.S. plans. But, you can see the evolution as the market is working itself out, and producing more consumer-friendly plans as the competition increases (I am not a free-market economist btw, but I still see much of this). Last time I was here, credit cards could only be used in a handful of places. Today, I can use my AMEX all over. Credit is huge in India now, and is quickly causing Indians to feel like they can spend money, whereas old timers were mainly concerned with saving it.
In the NYC subways, there are adds for Lufthansa everywhere—here there are nearly the same adds, but with an Indian touch. Global marketing only recently included India. It makes me think of Friedman’s support of outsourcing. Bringing American business to India has helped create a middle-class here which is driving a demand for American goods. And there are over a billion people here, huge huge new markets for American companies – Intel Pentium chips are everywhere, Coca-Cola and Pepsi signs are painted across this country from cities to country-sides. Yesterday I went by the Nike shop and passed Nine West too. The change in 5 years is just phenomenal. I can’t even imagine how much business is going to be had here for American companies.
Side note: my cousins go to school in an American school in Mumbai (Bombay). They have a tablet-laptop program beginning in 6th grade. The educational competition is as real as it gets, and probably a little understated in Friedman’s book. He sort of espouses the rote-knowleldge efforts of developing countries like China and India, but may be missing the real efforts here to create higher-order learning institutions. Once that goes into play, the hegemony of the U.S. may be hanging on its amazing infrastructure rather than its amazing intellectual superiority. Once these countries can repair their roads, communications and governance systems (and they have improved greatly in the last 5 years), it will be time for us to get nervous. We as educators must be thinking of ways to lead the pack rather than follow it.