Obama backs U.S. return to math, science, tech

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said today that more has to be done to encourage students to take up in math, science and technology disciplines, while indirectly warning of the global competition for highly skilled jobs.

Obama is seeking to improve math and science education through a number of initiatives, the largest of which is a $4.35 billion for the "Race to the Top" fund announced this month.

The money, which comes from the $787 billion stimulus, is designed to create incentives for schools that develop science, technology, and engineering and mathematics programs, known collectively as STEM subjects.

Among the things the White House will do to encourage students is to hold an annual science fair that will bring together winners of science fair contest nationally. Obama said students who design the best experiment, hardware or software deserve the same recognition that athletes receive.

The U.S. is lagging when compared to many other countries in science and math education, Obama said. He didn't cite computer science enrollment in particular, but it's one area that's been in decline.

In a recent trip to Asian countries, including China, the president said he asked the mayor of Shanghai about recruiting teachers and was told that the city didn't have any problems do so "because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions."

That anecdote "gives you a sense of what's happening around the world," Obama said. "There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about. That's what we're going to be about again."

Obama called for broad cooperation with the private sector to help train the workers and said that by 2020, he wants to see the U.S. again leading the world in college graduates.

They key to succeeding in the global economy, Obama said, "will be reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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