How we can prepare kids for the future
By Jay Fidell
By Jay Fidell
Even in frightening times, there is a future, and we must be ready for it.
Last week, I wrote about Hawai'i's work force dilemma and how, at least for Mike Rota of the University of Hawai'i, it is an inconvenient reality. This reality is more than just inconvenient — it's an intolerable threat to every one of us.
As if on cue, last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2007, 8.2 percent of Hawaii workers held multiple jobs, well above the national average of 5.2 percent. Not good.
This week, I'd like to suggest some solutions to break the loop and grow a work force that will meet the needs of a technology economy.
BRINGING BACK OUR KIDS
We must repatriate our expatriates. A common model is the high school graduate who goes off to the Mainland and wants to come home for a job later. If he does come back, he's more likely to stay than someone who is not familiar with life in Hawai'i. So we need to encourage him to do that.
We'd do well with a summer program to entice our graduates back that would help them steel their resolve and renew their networks. Time is of the essence — once an expat starts a life on the Mainland, it's harder to get him or her back.
We can't be passive. We must proactively recruit, just like the university recruits research scientists. That's how China does it, and it works. You go after the talent, and you don't stop until you get it.
So how do you get their attention? You pay their way. You cast a net and get them a great job. You help them buy a home or rent one cheap. You excuse them from the state income tax. You offer them free courses to advance their careers.
You give them bus passes, opera seats and health club memberships. Why not? And to keep it sweet, you adjust these incentives based on the job market. In short, you make them offers they can't refuse.
Yes, you do this, and you don't complain or argue about it. You bite the bullet and show them you mean it. Of course it will cost plenty, but the result will be priceless.
THE BEST FOR THE BEST
How do you get high school students to focus on UH for college? One way is to give them scholarships. But last year, the Legislature rejected a bill that would have given scholarships to students who completed Gov. Linda Lingle's Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, program. That was part of her innovation economy initiative.
Too bad it failed.
Students who do well in school should get more than just a pat on the back. They should be besieged with an array of incentives and rewards. We need to make the point that we will treat them well if and as long as they do well. An incentive isn't an incentive unless it incentivizes.
The federal government has a great three-way aid program called "measuring up": You get $4,000 for a grant, eligibility for a loan, and a job in a work-study program. In Hawai'i, only some $2 million goes to scholarships for low-income students, and frankly, that's peanuts. We have to do much better than that.
While $20 million more is now going to the state Tourism Authority for advertising, the state Department of Education is trying to cut its budget by more than $40 million. Lingle would like to cut it by nearly $70 million. We should not be cutting programs and budgets. We should, rather, be throwing money at education. It's better to spend too much than too little — the stakes are too high.
NO FURTHER EXCUSES
However well-intentioned, our public schools are not doing the job. We have to fix the problem at the grade school classroom. We need to use standardized curriculums with proven results, and we need to train and equip our teachers to use those curriculums.
Teachers have a sacred duty — they hold the power to shape those young minds and thus the future of our society. Our teachers must be trained continually, and treated as professionals.
They must also be held accountable for what they do, and don't do, in that classroom. On these issues, we give no quarter, we take no prisoners. We push. We demand. And we achieve.
SACRIFICING FOR YOUR KIDS
Every culture and community that's halfway akamai puts enormous value and priority on the education of its children. Why, then, have we as a state failed to prepare our children for the modern world?
Suppose a person says: "I sacrifice for my children. I work three jobs for them. I put food on the table. I tell them to study hard. I wish I could do more. That considered, I am leaving their education in the hands of the professionals in the school system, who know more than I do."
Is that acceptable? No, not a chance. It's a complete cop-out. That same person isn't demanding candidates who have proved themselves interested in educational reform. That person is not reading the news on how our schools are failing, or writing letters to editors, or attending meetings of concerned parents. That person is not making any meaningful sacrifice for the education of his or her kids.
At the same time, how hard is it for you to make heroic entrepreneurs role models for your kids? The Dustin Shindos, the Keiki-Pua Dancils and the Darren Kimuras of Hawai'i's tech industry need to be held out as exemplars of what your kids can do when they shoot for the stars.
How hard is it to give them the same adoration that we give the Colt Brennans and other local sports heroes? How hard is that?
A PENNY SAVED IS PARSIMONY
In a difficult global economy, some things are required for basic survival: food, shelter and — these days especially — education.
The stakeholders — every parent, grandparent, cousin, uncle and aunt — know that our kids need to be better educated. They also need to know that they are at least partly responsible for that education, not only at home every night, but also through their awareness and participation in government.
A big part of parenting is to make sure the teachers and the schools work right, and to squawk when they don't.
The problem is there in the mirror. The "what-me-worry" approach is a painful flunk for our way of life and a guarantee of isolation from the generations to follow. We need real educational reform to develop a real work force.
The job at hand isn't an elective. It's a required course for Hawai'i.
And we'd better pass.Jay Fidell is a business lawyer practicing in Honolulu. He has followed tech and tech policy closely and is a founder of ThinkTech Hawaii. Check out his blog at www.HonoluluAdvertiser.com