Page last updated at 00:09 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 01:09 UK

Intel cites US education 'crisis'

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, San Francisco

intel forum.
Developers heard education is at the crux of driving tomorrow's innovations

The chairman of the world's biggest computer chipmaker has said the US "education system is in crisis and failing the youth of today".

Craig Barrett, who made his "one political statement" at the Intel developers' forum being held in San Francisco, urged US politicians to act.

He told the audience: "Nations are as strong as their educational systems.

"The rest of the emerging world recognises this is the key to staying competitive."

He went on: "It's time our political leaders acknowledged that and declare there is a crisis and do something about it."

He told the BBC his views were based on his role as a roving ambassador for Intel, which sees him travel the globe on behalf of the company.

"Every country I visit recognises the importance of education and striving to raise their level of educational capability.

intel forum
Craig Barrett said research and development were key to progress

"If you look at Eastern Europe, China, Russia, India, Latin America there is an increasing focus on education. Government leaders see that their competitiveness and the future of their country depends on the quality of their workforce and the education of their young people.

"We in the US have to recognise that. And it's not just the US. Japan, the UK and Western Europe have the same challenges going forward."

But he told the BBC the answer was not just about throwing money at the problem. For him, the greatest technology breakthrough in the classroom comes from effective teaching.

"Good teachers are the magic in the classroom.

"Personal computers aren't magic, they are just a tool. What you need to make the educational process work is a good teacher who is knowledgeable in the subject and can get kids excited."

Human element

The last time Mr Barrett gave the keynote address at the forum was as chief executive back in 2005. Then, he pushed home the message of how great Intel's chips were compared to the competition at Advanced Micro Devices. He also expounded on how everyone would be using computers with Intel Itanium chips.

There is such an immense amount of technology that can do such an immense amount of good around the world
Craig Barrett
Intel chairman

This year, the focus was more personal and political, with talk of Intel's products left to other speakers at the conference.

While Mr Barrett lamented problems with the educational situation in the US, he also pointed to how technology is being used to impact on real people's lives and effect change.

"There is such an immense amount of technology that can do such an immense amount of good around the world," he said.

To illustrate what Mr Barrett meant, he brought a series of guests on stage to demonstrate his other mission to "bring back the human element to technology".

Dr Johnny Lee, who recently earned his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University, talked of how he converted a Wii remote control into a sensor that can track digital pens to draw or write on an electronic chalkboard.

intel forum
Dr Johnny Lee told Mr Barrett sharing one's work is as important as doing it

The whole system costs about $50 and Mr Lee gives the software away free on his website. It has been downloaded 600,000 times.

He told the BBC: "It works great as an educational tool and I know some schools have a class project to make pens and now they have around 30 electronic systems where this is used."

Matt Flannery, the chief executive of, was another person Mr Barrett called on to play a starring role at the forum.

His website helps people in developed countries invest in people starting small businesses in poor nations through micro-financing or mini-loans of $50-$200 (25-100).

He said: "So far we have affected 600,000 people's lives and it's allowing people to start a water sanitation business, working mothers to start a seamstress business and people to start rice farms."

Brian McCarthy, a student from Oregon, talked to the audience about a project he was involved in to use plastic solar cells as a new option in solar technology.

The 18-year-old told the BBC it was thanks to his teachers that he is headed to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and looking at working in the field of renewable energy.

"My teachers were great educators, with great after-school programmes and pushing us to go beyond what we were doing," he said.

'Inspire and empower'

At the end of his keynote speech, Mr Barrett threw the gauntlet down to those at the forum to do their bit to make the world a better place.

To spur people into action, Mr Barrett offered developers a $100,000 (50,000) prize for the most innovative idea for using technology to improve education, health care, economic development or the environment.

And if money failed to do the trick, then Mr Barrett hoped a "thought for the day" message left on the pillow of a hotel he was staying at would help.

The note said: "A small deed done is better than a great deed planned."

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