Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University. He is a tech entrepreneur who founded two technology companies, including Relativity Technologies in Cary. This article is reprinted with permission of BusinessWeek.

DURHAM, N.C. – Students have 2 million minutes—the time from the beginning of eighth grade to high school graduation—to build the intellectual foundation they’ll need for professional success. That’s the premise of a new documentary, Two Million Minutes, that’s making waves in education and political circles.

The film tracks six students—two each in the U.S., India, and China—during their senior year of high school. The Indian and Chinese students work diligently on math and science, while the American students work hard but appear less focused and leave plenty of time for video games and social lives. The message is that because of our education system, we’re getting left behind.

Two Million Minutes provides a provocative glimpse of the global competition now facing U.S. students. And the conclusion many are drawing is that to keep our edge, our children need to study more math and science and work harder. It is true that the U.S. education system should be improved; that’s essential for economic success.

But the solution isn’t for us to become just like our new competitors. We need to do what we do better.

Years Ahead and Miles Apart

The documentary was produced by Bob Compton, a venture capitalist. Compton says that an increasing number of companies in his portfolio are moving research and development to India and China. To understand why, he traveled to India and visited their schools. He was stunned by the career aspirations of children as young as 5 and the advanced education that middle and high school students were receiving. Indian students in the same grade as his teenage daughters were two or three years ahead in math, physics, biology, and even subjects like world history and English literature. He left India wondering how his daughters, and American children in general, would be able to compete in the 21st century.

Two Million Minutes is the fruit of that wondering. One of the two U.S. students depicted is Brittany Brechbuhl, 17, who’s in the top 3% of the graduating class of a highly ranked school in Carmel, Ind. She dreams of becoming a doctor but also wants to enjoy life. Neil Ahrendt, 18, is senior class president at Carmel and a National Merit semifinalist. But he isn’t sure what career he wants to pursue.