Related: President Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and Engineering – Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring – Fund Teacher’s Science Projects – $12.5 Million from NSF For Educating High School Engineering Teachers
Remarks by President Obama on the “Educate to Innovate” Campaign and Science Teaching and Mentoring Awards, January 6, 2010
To all the teachers who are here, as President, I am just thrilled to welcome you, teachers and mentors, to the White House, because I believe so strongly in the work that you do. And as I mentioned to some of you, because I’ve got two girls upstairs with math tests coming up, I figure that a little extra help from the best of the best couldn’t hurt. So you’re going to have assignments after this. (Laughter.) These awards were not free. (Laughter.)
President Barack Obama with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners in the State Dining of the White House January 6, 2010. (Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)
We are here today to honor teachers and mentors like Barb who are upholding their responsibility not just to the young people who they teach but to our country by inspiring and educating a new generation in math and science. But we’re also here because this responsibility can’t be theirs alone. All of us have a role to play in building an education system that is worthy of our children and ready to help us seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Whether it’s improving our health or harnessing clean energy, protecting our security or succeeding in the global economy, our future depends on reaffirming America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.
But despite the importance of education in these subjects, we have to admit we are right now being outpaced by our competitors. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now ranked 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world. Think about that — 21st and 25th. That’s not acceptable. And year after year the gap between the number of teachers we have and the number of teachers we need in these areas is widening. The shortfall is projected to climb past a quarter of a million teachers in the next five years — and that gap is most pronounced in predominately poor and minority schools.
And meanwhile, other nations are stepping up — a fact that was plain to see when I visited Asia at the end of last year. The President of South Korea and I were having lunch, and I asked him, what’s the biggest education challenge that you have? He told me his biggest challenge in education wasn’t budget holes, it wasn’t crumbling schools — it was that the parents were too demanding. (Laughter.) He’s had to import thousands of foreign teachers because parents insisted on English language training in elementary school. The mayor of Shanghai, China — a city of over 20 million people — told me that even in such a large city, they had no problem recruiting teachers in whatever subject, but particularly math and science, because teaching is revered and the pay scales are comparable to professions like doctors.