Gen. John F. Campbell spoke Tuesday afternoon at the National Training Seminar of the Military Child Education Coalition. He was referring to an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy.
The United States ranked behind nations such as China, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Canada, Liechtenstein and others, in the 2012 assessment.
“I’m not saying that we have to be No. 1, but No. 19 is not very good,” Campbell said about the ranking by the Program for International Student Assessment.
“A better question might be, so what are we doing about it?” he asked during a panel discussion about the future of education.
“If this is truly important to our country, then we need to make it a priority and invest in it,” Campbell said. He explained that investment includes time, money and people.
“We need to continue to get the word out and put our money where our mouth is.”
He added that events sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition provide a good start.
MCEC is a non-profit organization that focuses on ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military children affected by mobility, family separation and transition. It performs research, conducts conferences and publishes information.
Youth today not only need critical thinking skills, but the flexibility to adapt quickly as they prepare for an increasingly complex world, explained Campbell.
“If you look around the world today, if it’s not more dangerous than it’s ever been. It’s absolutely much more complex than it’s ever been,” Campbell said.
Young specialists and sergeants today are making decisions that lieutenant colonels may have made a generation ago, Campbell said, speaking about missions in places like Afghanistan.
Campbell was just confirmed by the Senate as the next commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He had spent the morning making rounds to offices on Capitol Hill to discuss the mission in Afghanistan.
“We ask our young men and women in the military to make life and death situation calls every day,” he said.
Those decisions often must be made without enough information, in a split second, he said, and the life of the person to their left or right may hang in the balance. To ensure future Soldiers are able to continue to make those on-the-spot decisions, Campbell said, they will need a quality education that emphasizes math, reading and writing.
Math, he said, is basically problem-solving, while reading and writing is communication. So much in today’s world depends on communication, he said, from relationships to achievements in the military or any other profession.
Campbell was joined in the panel discussion by DeEtte Gray, president of BAE Systems Intelligence & Security, and Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising educational standards.
Cohen said that along with academics, students today need to develop the “softer” skills of discipline, self-management, communication, flexibility and resilience.
Campbell added listening and understanding to that skill set, along with treating people with dignity and respect.
YOUTH IN SERVICE
Only 23 percent of America’s youth today are eligible for military service, Campbell said. While better education can help bring that number up, the low number is due also to factors such as obesity, criminal records and health.