Niall Ferguson: Did He Miss the Learning ‘App’?

During the TED Global event held at Edinburgh, Scotland in July of 2011, renown academic Niall Ferguson spoke of “The 6 killer apps of prosperity“.

Those ‘apps’ included:

  1. Competition
  2. Scientific Revolution
  3. Property Rights
  4. Modern Medicine
  5. Consumer Society
  6. The Work Ethic

Although he speaks about standardized testing and rote memory plights within the TED talk (see below), I wondered aloud whether a 7th app might be missing from his chat.

The learning app.

As North America struggles (and occasionally succeeds) at a transformation to 21st century learning, India and China are also struggling simply to get their population more educated.

According to India government statistics, only a quarter of students make it past eighth grade & only 15% make it to high school. Of the approximate 220 million who start school, only about 7% graduate.

Over in China, the country spends only 3.2% of its GDP on education vs. 5% for the United States. Furthermore, according to Businessweek, by 2020, the Chinese government wants 85% of its age eligible citizens in high school and it’s aiming for university enrollment to exceed 40%. (over in the USA, the high school enrollment rate is 93% & university enrollment is 60%.)

If the West, China or India did sort out its education issues, making it a new (and absolute) priority for its citizens, I’m certain it could easily become a 7th app … using Ferguson’s lexicon.

Back in 2006, Vivek Wadhwa dispelled the myth that India and China were producing better (and to a degree more) engineers than the United States. That’s one measure going against Ferguson’s overarching theory that China and India are taking over the West in all facets of his 6 apps of prosperity theory.

Nevertheless, I wonder if ‘the learning app’ might be worth our collective consideration as a means to societal prosperity. If India, China or the West actually sorts it out, perhaps that is another ‘game changer’.

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