With the United States currently fighting two wars abroad and facing a health care crisis and an economy on life-support at home, Pentagon officials are hoping to meet a looming threat to America's future global dominance -- not to mention national security -- by boosting capacity in elementary school classrooms across the nation.
In January, the Pentagon approved a proposal by their risk-taking research agency, DARPA, to invest $45 million into efforts to increase enrollment in computing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs (CS-STEM). To do so, DARPA wants to develop extracurricular initiatives to target and engage elementary aged kids, with the agency planning to trail those students right through college graduation. "Monitoring should begin in middle/high school," DARPA's solicitation states. "And continue through a student entering college, declaring a major, graduating and, ultimately, end with the student's career decision."
The Pentagon's interest in childhood education reflects a desire to compete with growing international competition from countries like China, India and Iran, which are rapidly outpacing America's scientific and technological prowess. It's also a response to retirement rates and the hastening departure of brilliant Baby Boomers who staff top-tier institutions, companies and military research facilities. According to the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators, more than half of science and engineering degree-holders are over 50, with retirement rates expected to continue increasing for the next two decades.