Industry must spur growth in math and science education

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From remarks by the executive vice-president of the Pratt & Whitney Group, United Technologies Corporation, before the Aerospace Education Foundation's Third National Laboratory, held in conjunction with the Air Force Association's National Convention in Washington Sept. 15.

Business and industry can become - indeed, must become - a focal point to bring about needed improvements in the scientific and technological literacy of our youth.

The accelerated introduction of automation into our manufacturing sector, the corresponding growth of information processing, and other advanced technologies will require more math, science, and computer literacy of both the blue and white collar work force than ever before. . . .

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Math and science are the basic building blocks of technology; if they decline any further in the United States, our future as an economic power will be jeopardized. . . .

Industry must . . . lead a successful effort to improve the scientific and technological literacy of America's youth. Businessmen and women must get as close as possible to several publics - students, educators, legislators, and perhaps most important of all, parents.

Parents must hear the alarms about the continuation of general survey courses - driver education, sewing instruction, and the like - in high school. . . . Industry must get into the classroom and meet with parents at such events as PTA meetings. Business people must be quite blunt about how quickly . . . and . . . drastically the work environment is changing.

Industry representatives should stress to parents that a background in math and science widens the range of career options for their children. Every job in the electronics area, for example, requires some background in physics.

The message has to be made loud and clear. Your children will not make it in the world if we continue to allow the substitution of ''shoo in'' courses for the more rigorous courses of algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology, and physics. Your children will not make it if we continue to peg junior high school math to a review of arithmetic, while Japanese youngsters at that level are studying basic algebra and geometry. Your children will not make it if only one year of math and one year of science are acceptable as secondary school graduation requirements, as is the case in 35 states today.

What about another of industry's publics, the pre-college students themselves? The task here, clearly, is to show these youngsters that they're not being taught math and science in a vacuum; that there is a relationship to the workplace. Algebra and geometry must be understood by industry tradesmen as well as by engineers.

Bringing high school students into manufacturing facilities for tours, and for discussions with management, skilled technicians, and shirt-sleeve engineers , is one way to show that math, thank you, is alive and well outside the classroom.

Also, industry must do more to help high school and junior high school teachers relate classwork to the workplace, by putting these teachers on as paid staff in plants during school vacations. Companies with in-plant training programs should invite teachers to these classes so they can see firsthand how elements of algebra and geometry are being applied. . . .

Industry must offer to meet with teachers to suggest additions and revisions to curricula to get the proper emphasis. Obviously, this puts industry onto the teacher's turf, and tact is required. This is where having a regular program of contact can help.

But industry must make the effort, and its engineers and scientists also must offer to review textbooks . . . to help relate them to the real world of business today. Industry can pinpoint what is out of date in a course grade, for example.

Industry must make it clear to educators that it is not pushing a return to a work-oriented education to the neglect of the humanities. . . .

Business, when we think about it, is the principal ''end user'' of education. Therefore, it must become a prime mover in improving education.

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