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Comment by Bosnian Serb
A few years ago, I gave my view of the situation in the west: slowly sliding to Medieval, or even the Dark Ages. Because it was clearly visible that ignorance was taking over. Inertia from good times was powerful, so many things looked better than they really were. My family moved to Canada in 1995, from former Yugoslavia, Serbia. The standard of living was way better in Toronto, than in Belgrade, for sure. However, when one looked below the surface, the only differences were reliable and cheap supply of energy – heating gas, cheap electricity, and ever cheaper international phone calls. And of source, the subway, underground train, metro. Everything else was no better or was even slightly worse than back home. We had cars, color TV’s, summer vacations on Adriatic and abroad. I am not mentioning free education and health care, that was something people from Yugoslavia and former Warsaw Pact simply took for granted. That is typical for eastern European immigrants – taking all good things from home for granted, and only seeing what is better, or seems better in the west. Better turned to be – fancier and/or more luxurious. My kids were to young for school, but we somehow learned about the elementary and secondary school situation. Everybody I know from Yugoslavia was thinking the same thing – this (education) is bad here, could we somehow manage to send kids back home, for schooling, maybe, support them from here, and after high school perhaps bring them back here for the University? It remained a dream. Our children went to school here, good marks and all, but we saw the poor shape of the education system. When we talked about that, some of us would say “Yeah, it is all true, poor schools, but look at this country (Canada) , then look at what we left home: which one looks better?
Well at home we left war, at the time when kids were of school age, there was another war, NATO vs Serbia, 78 day bombing with depleted uranium and cassette bombs… Interesting, in every false flag in Libya, Syria, NATO and US always blame the opposite side for inhuman use of cassette bombs… We hunkered down and of course stayed here, the land of milk and honey. What made us see the situation better than it was is our employment. Somehow, most of our people were well paid, good health benefits, 4 week vacation or more, so it looked almost as before. Well, most of us arrived here with 10-15 years of professional experience, which made us good candidates for getting pizza delivery jobs. Slowly, step by step, within two years we all kind of got to social level similar to what we left (before the wars). We did realize soon how local people (we used terms English or Canadian ) possessed very limited knowledge of what they were doing. Don’t get me wrong, they were not stupid, lazy or evil, most of them like anywhere, just did not know things. We quickly learned not to offend project and business managers by revealing how much they did not know. See, to be a good organizer of things you need to be smart and have a disciplined work force which would do as its told. And it did work somehow. But most technical and knowledge based decisions and things were done by immigrants, especially Eastern Europeans. Chinese, most of them, were very knowledgeable and learned, but most of them refused to think and simply followed the orders, which worked well for the management. Until it did not, when unexpected situations happened. Very few Indo/Pakistani experts were around, but lots of not so qualified people on decent positions,in spite of propaganda wants us to believe. Significant exception was Iranians. There were not too many of them, but I never met an Iranian who was not very capable in practice, with all necessary education and learned approach to problems at work.
That was what was easily observable. Symptoms, not yet diagnosis. People may have high fever for many different reasons which are not flu viruses and bad bacteria. Then acute bursts of disease started occurring. About ten years ago, Toronto wanted to renew street car fleet (trams). No company in USA was able to do that, not many of them in European Union, either. Then a national pride, Bombardier (known for dash and De Haviland aircraft) was selected to do the work. Huge contract, 5-6 years. It turned out that they stopped producing anything years ago. No problem, we are Canadians and we have the best of everything. A plant was re-opened in Thunder Bay, alas, no qualified workers. Oh well, a street car is ancient technology, from 19th century, we are sophisticated economy, nano technologies, Nortel and cell phones, how difficult it can be to build a street car? Today, more than 10 years since it all started, only a portion were delivered, most of them required serious intervention before hitting the streets. Three CEO’s came and went, and yet no street cars. Lots of money wasted, time, to achieve partial goal with low quality. All kind of reasons were given as excuse and explanation, and never the main one – they simply did not know how to make a street car. Governments and huge corporations paid billions for modernization and improvement, to “leverage technology, you know”. For several years now, federal employees have huge problems with payroll management – they replaced old system, with new, modernized and improved – which did not work at all, then was fixed and fixed and is still being fixed. That was not result of fraud. It was pure ignorance.
Recently I found somewhere that USA army cannot produce or purchase tents, for lack of cloth that tents are made of. There was one supplier, but five years ago they outsourced the production to China, sold it, then went out of business. Surgical masks, protective gowns, even famous ventilators – USA is simply does not know how to produce (design, get raw material, organize manufacturing and distribution).
How to cure the disease? Level of knowledge is where European countries were in pre-industrial time. What is the difference between pre-industrial and post-industrial. I don’t know the differences, but similarity is neither have any industrial capacity. In pre-industrial time, knowledge and capital were missing. So what poor countries did – they sent their youth to study abroad, to Germany, Austria, England, France. It took a good generation to build not the workforce but the ability to produce a knowledgeable work force. In Serbia, about 1820 (a bit after Napoleon) we got mostly liberated from Ottoman Turks, (Erdogan variety), opened “A Great School”, then sent the brightest and smartest to Vienna, Prague and Paris to study. Elementary schools started work in the country. When the smart and the brightest came back from Vienna, Prague, Paris, they became professors at Great School. Few years after, we were able to produce a handful engineers, doctors, historians, geographers and such, that could actually do some work. Until then, we had to rely on foreigners, experts mostly fro Vienna, Prague or Paris. Few years before WWI, we were able to produce significant number of people who were more than just literate. Alas, WWI took most of them – there was a battalion of “1300 corporals”, university students trained for war, which they joined, and some came back, but not too many. In 1918 it was all over again, but we had infrastructure, schools and universities were established in the 1860’s and continue to work after 1918. In 1941, WWII came, the communists took over, yet educational system was pretty much intact. Communist could not send students to Vienna or Paris, so they turned to uncle Stalin and the Soviets came to teach us, just like in 1917-18 their grandparents fled the revolution. You can call communists this and that, but stupid they were not. Education was the most important thing – in order to industrialize the country. Stalin did that in 1930’s for USSR. The relationship with Stalin soured in 1945, so we were on our own, but managed somehow to get to the level of middle of the pack of western countries. Today, there is very little industry in Serbia, NATO took care of it in 1999. Slowly it is getting better. Serbian students are in high demand in Europe. Two years ago, Germany took, purchased, offered jobs to an entire generation of medical doctors. Whoever graduated that year, was offered a job in Germany, right after school. Why would Germans do that? Don’t they have their own doctors? Or maybe there are two categories of doctors in Germany, well paid Germans, and second class Serbians. It turns out, the former reason – they do not have nearly enough doctors coming from their schools. Nor for lack of knowledge, more to lack of money, you see, even their education is expensive or maybe high schools do not produce enough students of quality needed to finish medicine.
Where is Canada/USA in all of this? My bet is they are now where Serbia was in 1850. Not enough people with expertise on all levels, primary, secondary, post secondary, without foundations of a system able to produce them. Yes, that is where they are. It is worse, we simply did not have any teachers. They have a whole well off class of educators. Most of them do not posses enough knowledge to teach. Now they need to get rid of most of that and start sending people to China, Russia, Iran, Thailand, Serbia to educate them. Why there? Because in those countries there enough teachers capable of teaching in English. Yes it is that bad. Don’t ask me for sources to see how bad things are, eh, “we have the best education system in the world here in Canada, you know, envy of the world”. Maybe Iranian and Russian teacher feel envy when they hear how much Canadian teachers are paid, but that is the end of it. In some sense, I am the source. For 20+ years I have been working for a government agency that tests elementary and high school students, mainly math and English. In 1997 we delivered the first sets of data. English was so-so, but math was terrible (even Canadians admitted that). After then, English literacy improved a bit, math went slightly down. Kids who were 10 and 12 in 1997, would be 30+ today – new crop of teachers. How can students who were seriously bad in math, in formative years, become suddenly good teachers and teach the kids something? If somebody does not understand why 10 and 12 are formative years an foundation for later, please check the curriculum in Russia or China.
Yes, Canada and USA are in 1860’s now, but think they are in 2060’s. Who knows if they continue like this, perhaps in 2060’s they sink in stone age, population collapses, and rich tourists from China and Iran come to see stone age people in their natural habitat, like we go to Yellowstone and British Columbia to see grizzly bears? Maybe somebody declares them a species in danger, so we somehow protect them from extinction?
Getting out of denial is the first step to recovery. However, historically, it takes a social revolution to seriously change the foundations of a society. If a revolution ever happens in North America, I guess it will be more like 1789 France than 1917 Russia. After all, technological situation in USA and Canada is closer to 1789 France than 1917 Russia.
Please do not understand the text as bashing Western countries. Some 40-50 years ago, it was not like this. Canadians designed and produced excellent military jet – Avro. When USA learned about it, all the work stopped, at the moment of readiness for production, documentation was transferred to Arizona, and few essential people. I learned that from my neighbour a few years ago. Robotic arm that Soyuz Station uses is made by Canadians. First computers were indeed made by USA, Bill Gates not-withstanding. Many things they have built on this continent are still what they call now “cutting edge”, some are very old. A canal connecting Hudson river to lake Eire was built in USA in early 180’0s, I believe 1825-1835. That act cancelled British advantage – St. Lawrence, in English hands, was a direct route to fur country – Great Lakes. Now the USA could penetrate fur country without needs to go to war with the English. After all, it was on the USA/Canada border that the first electrical power plant was built. Today nobody says electricity, the word is Hydro, the first plant was hydro powered. We may question the Moon landing; the fact remains in Space they did fly. Then there was Space Shuttle. It worked work at the time when Russian Space program was if not dead, at least in agony. We may also question 9-1-1, the fact that those buildings were built at the first place is extraordinary. Building them was a feat. Destroying them required different skills. Even bringing a building down to its footprint is not a small thing.
Universities are somehow still able to function, way better than elementary and secondary schools. Text books are still excellent, way better than what we had in Serbia, which I know for sure. I cannot tell about Russia or Iran. I know from experience that they were stronger than us, and still are, in mathematics and many technical branches, books or no books. Even some high school books are very good. Elementary school text books,- not so. Well, there was even no government sanctioned curriculum until after 2000! How can one write a good text book for non existing curriculum, eh? Everybody was teaching what they saw fit. The system would produce a flash of excellence, once in a while; statistics is in play all the time
Inertia is a great power, both in mechanics and in social sphere. Once good/bad system is established (i.e. education, health, transportation, energy), it is hard to destroy, almost impossible. Russian science was dismantled cruelly in 1990’s; there were even a few officially recognized ‘lost generations’ of human capital. Suddenly they make hyper-sonic rockets. It was not Putin who re-built education and technical base from zero up. The system was there, dormant and pushed aside for a while; it took Putin to wake it up. Fundamentals were built by Peter the Great; Czarism kept it in good health and appreciated education (I mean real education, not training, not skills learned on the job, no cross training). Lenin and Stalin gave it a another strong push. From feudal country before 1917, they industrialized quickly and in mid 50s were on par with USA. All the time, schools functioned and still are, more or less the same way. Peter the Great, Romanovs, Lenin, Stalin, Putin, even drunken Yeltsin run the schools the same way. They did privatize everything, even parts of health and education, but the core remains intact, not because Putin does not want to change it, but because the core naturally refuses to change. Like Newton’s inertia, good system, or bad, tends to stay in current state. A force is needed to change the state and bring system to another level, better or worse.
There is good inertia in the West too, but it is heavily suppressed at the moment. Smartness is evenly distributed, over Europe, Russia, China, Indonesia, Brazil, USA or Canada. Due to immigration, USA and Canada even have advantage in numbers due to influx of immigrants. The trick is how to use good inertia for the benefit of the people. For last 15 years the brightest Canadian kids went to study business and accounting, to became financial brokers. The studies were based on Case Studies, not much theory, not much thinking. It is politically incorrect to demand from kids to add and multiply fractions – we have phones and computers. That is true. But the purpose of learning times table is not to become good in arithmetic. It is a brain exercise, for in life and schooling brain muscles are as important as physical muscles. Interestingly, it is OK and laudable for kids to wake up 6 AM, do some skating and physical exercise, then shoot 500 pucks into the net. We are a hockey nation. Asking for kids to work on homework two hours a day is insulting. Hence, no homework is given to students.
Physical infrastructure is there – Canadian schools are spacious, well heated, well equipped, perhaps the best in the world. For USA, not sure, but great majority are in good shape and equipped. We have smart kids, good school buildings, computers and all, human capital is there. We just need someone to teach us how to teach students, and what to teach them. Existing books will do, for a while. But to do that we must eat a big chunk of humble pie. There is no shame in asking for help. However, a revolution would be necessary. I have no expertise nor experience in that domain, so no more talk from me.