Your country needs you: Obama's call to the teaching profession

4th February 2011 at 00:00
In his State of the Union address last week, US president Barack Obama put education centre stage. This is an edited version of his speech

If we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas, then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students are not even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.

And so the question is whether all of us - as citizens, and as parents - are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It is family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test. That is why, instead of just pouring money into a system that is not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said: "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money."

Let's also remember that, after parents, the biggest impact on a child's success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as "nation builders". Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: if you want to make a difference in the life of our nation - if you want to make a difference in the life of a child - become a teacher. Your country needs you.

Of course, the education race doesn't end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. That's why we've ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit - worth $10,000 for four years of college. It's the right thing to do.

If we take these steps - if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take - we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

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