Intel chairman Craig Barrett, introduced as the company's chief ambassador, delivered the opening keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum this morning, highlighting technological innovation and its impact on the globe - just as you'd expect him to do. But Barrett - with a quick apology for briefly jumping into politics - also had a subtle message for Washington.
The U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world. No big secret there. We've known for some time that other countries are kicking our butts when it comes to advanced technology. But technology wasn't what he was talking about. It was education. "Nations are as strong as their educational systems," he said, noting that in his travels to emerging countries around the globe, technology and education seem to go hand-in-hand. There are countries, he said, that are just coming out of the dark ages but recognize that a quality education and the influence of technology are the keys to building a solid future. There's only one country on the globe that doesn't think that way, he said. And it's the United States.
Brian's project was an investigation of plastic solar cells as a new option in solar energy technology. Headed to MIT (instead of Stanford, Barrett noted with a wink and a chuckle), Brian said he hopes to be part of a team developing new sources of energy. That's all great - but Barrett wanted to know what drove Brian to tackle such a subject as solar energy technology. Brian's response: science and physics teachers who encouraged him to tackle projects and go after internships where he could challenge his thinking and pursue uncharted territories.
So, does a teenager from Oregon have any any advice for the members of the audience - or legislators in Washington who probably aren't listening? "You read in the newspapers how math and science scores are down but I think there's too much focus on test scores," Brian said. Students don't excited about taking tests, he said. They want the experience, through internships and after-school programs. "Unless we change that perspective, I don't think we're going to see that shift in a positive direction."
I recently had a chance to chat with a high school math teacher, who accompanied his wife to a conference I attended. We chatted briefly about technology in his classroom and extra curricular opportunities to get these kids excited about careers in technology. That's when he told me that budget cuts have pretty much eliminated after-school programs and that all of the energy in the classroom is spent preparing for standardized tests. Some kids, he told me, slip through the cracks - but it's not the ones who are failing that go unnoticed. The kids who get excited about math and science are bored and unchallenged in the classroom, where teachers spend the bulk of their time helping kids who are falling behind in test preparation. Unfortunately, he said, that means the kids who have potential to excel don't get the attention and encouragement they need.
Of course, there are exceptions out there - Brian is a great example of one. But unless the U.S. starts changing the way it thinks about technological innovation and Washington starts recognizing the global impact that Silicon Valley technology has, this nation will continue to fall behind the rest of the world - in economics, jobs and innovation. On that note, we're off to the rest of the conference to see what great things developers have created using the latest in cutting-edge technology.
The Intel Developer Forum begins today in San Francisco and continues through Thursday.