At the annual  Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, hundreds witnessed the birth of a new generation of technologies and saw inspiring presentations. But what seemed to resonate most with the educators on hand was the keynote address delivered by Intel Board Chair Craig Barrett on Aug. 19. His central message: We must achieve global education reform and bring greater innovation to the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Barrett visits more than 30 countries a year, he said, and has worked in the technology industry for 40 years. His experience has led him to a primary realization: We need to bring technology to all countries, improve people’s lives, and connect the world.

As he took the stage–a solitary figure on a platform the size of a football field–Barrett stood looking out over his audience. Behind him a dazzling visual and auditory display depicted innovators demonstrating their inventions and schoolchildren discovering technology. 

Watch video highlights of Barrett’s speech,
including info on a $100,000 education
innovation grant.

"There’s five billion plus people out there where technology can directly impact their daily lives, and can help them out of poverty, and improve their education," said Barrett, after the presentation ended.

He went on to explain that every country he has visited understands that good education, healthcare, and economic development are the path to the future–every country, that is, except for the U.S.

"The future is dependent on the education of the workforce," said Barrett, "but we don’t spend enough time investing in education, incentivizing investment. The lack of a research and development (R&D) tax credit is very revealing. Our government refuses to acknowledge that investing in R&D for the future is important."

Barrett contends four basic ingredients will make a country competitive:
1. Smart people–nurtured by education
2. Smart ideas–enabled by R&D
3. The right environment for collaboration–developed by wise tax policy and funding
4. IT connectivity, broadband, and local content to connect to the culture–achieved via tech literacy

Many educators and education advocates agree with Barrett, saying government-funded R&D is crucial if the U.S. educational system is to compete successfully with other nations.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), says that the federal government needs to spur investment in R&D to improve learning because, though "private companies, such as Intel, do what they can, ultimately the basic research needs to be conducted and funded by the government."

Krueger says no company, no matter how big, could do all the basic research needed for new technologies. "We, meaning both public and private sectors, need to work together to do the extensive R&D necessary to learn how new technologies can benefit learning in the 21st century."

Agreeing with Krueger is Marc Liebman, superintendent of Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. Until the late 1970s, he says, California school districts typically invested approximately 2 percent in R&D, the development of new curriculum, instruction, and teacher development, "But that went away when the state took over the funding of school districts," says Liebman.

He agrees with Barrett that if the education industry doesn’t invest in innovation and doesn’t redesign its schools and classrooms, learning in the U.S. will become antiquated.

"There is little support for innovation in changing the face of education," says Liebman. "We are supposed to do better, but there is little support for the actual work. We have federal and state governments that test what we have always done instead of what we ought to be doing in the future. The result is little innovation."

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) says that the educational marketplace is very challenging as an "incubator for systemic reform and innovation, thus the ATTAIN act and EETT [federal programs funding education technology], as well as tax credits for companies to invest in R & D, serve as a catalyst for improving teaching and learning through innovation."

Other educators place the priority elsewhere. The genuine challenge, they say, is getting their colleagues to apply what’s already been researched and developed.

"It seems to me that the field of education needs more ‘conduits’ who take the research, comprehend how the research could be useful in practice, and educate teachers, policy-makers, and leaders on the practical implications of research in the activities in which they are involved," explains Jane McDonald, a noted education scholar who now heads her own education-research consultancy. "In other words, the bridge from research to practice is not well traveled."

But whether it’s funding at issue, or the lack of practice, Barrett’s speech illuminated the needs of many students in today’s schools. His remarks also highlighted the latest trends in open-source software, micro-financing, and solar energy.

Barrett called to the stage MIT freshman Brian McCarthy, from Oregon, developer of plastic solar cells (usually silicon) for solar energy and third-place winner of Intel’s Science Talent Search (STS), and asked McCarthy to explain how education inspired him.

McCarthy explained how his high school science teacher was able to find him an internship studying with college-level scientists and learning about what interested him–energy.

"I think our current system focuses too much on test scores," explained McCarthy, "because, in reality, no student is going to be excited about taking tests."

The key to inspiring students, McCarthy contends, is to invest in STEM by enabling young people to participate in more science-based opportunities such as internships and after-school programs. He then thanked Barrett and Intel for his $50,000 scholarship to the college of his choice.

Some think Intel is focused too narrowly on developing chip technology and not investing enough in general education, but many others believe Barrett’s work is on par with that of Micorsoft’s Bill Gates in giving students across the world the opportunity to become innovators. Barrett certainly is among the leading corporate advocates for education now that Gates has set aside his corporate role. 

"Barrett is an ambassador for education," says Krueger. "He articulates the need for competitiveness and investment in STEM education. I wouldn’t say he’s stepping into Gates’ shoes, because he’s been speaking out on education for as long as Gates, but just like Gates, he is a vital education spokesperson in the business community."

Wolf, too, lauds Barrett for the way he advocates the use of technology in the classroom "to improve teacher quality, teaching practice, as well as furthering the science of learning."

Says Wolf, "The Intel Teach program is an example of where Intel’s Foundation has trained millions of teachers in the US and throughout the world about the effective uses of technology in the classroom. His efforts are to be applauded and replicated in corporations across this country–not only those with technologies to offer but those companies in need of a high-quality, highly skilled workforce."

Barrett ended his keynote by offering developers a challenge for next year’s IDF. Intel will offer four awards of $100,000 each to the developer with the most innovative idea in one of four categories: education, healthcare, economic development, and the environment. Those interested can find more at www.intelchallenge.com.

"At a lot of hotels in Kuala Lumpur, the staff puts fortunes and advice underneath your chocolates on your pillow," said Barrett. "The one I remember the most said, ‘A small deed done is better than a great deed planned.’"

Links:

Intel Developer Forum 2008

Craig Barrett’s Keynote