Intel chairman: Hi-tech studies can transform Mideast

Says Hi-tech education for children and adults could induce Palestinians to abandon terror.

intel biz 88 224 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
intel biz 88 224
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
The heads of Intel and other giant information technology (IT) corporations agreed at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos to promote computer education in the killing fields of Rwanda, Intel board chairman Craig Barrett disclosed to a handful of reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday. Could such a project be adopted in Gaza and the West Bank to induce Palestinians there to abandon terror and replace it with hi-tech education for children and adults? Barrett, who came to see the progress in some of Intel development and manufacturing installations in Jerusalem, Kiryat Gat, Haifa, Petah Tikva, Yakum and Yokne'am during a whirlwind 24-hour visit, told The Jerusalem Post that it could happen, but only if there were full cooperation among all the governments, banks and private corporations. The governments could facilitate such a project, especially by minimizing red tape, and the banks could provide the financing, while technical knowledge would come from the private sector. "We at Intel believe that corporations have an obligation to give back to society, but public-private partnerships are more effective than either side doing it alone," the 68-year-old engineer said. "We were excited about this partnership at Davos and will start in Rwanda in Africa to try to jump-start the whole educational process." He added that he has had "several conversations" on what to do in Gaza and the West Bank. "There is a huge opportunity, but the respective governments have to get together to allow free movement of people, resources and expertise. Intel cannot do this alone. Intel promotes educational work in Israel for Jews and Arabs, and the fact that we are not doing it in the West Bank and Gaza is crazy," he said. "We have tried for two years to establish an IT center at Gaza's Islamic University, but due to the chaos and restrictions, we were unable to get enough concrete to finish the building. It's hard for me to think the students don't want it." Barrett, who had a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his office along with Intel-Israel's South African-born general manager, Maxine Fassberg, immediately after the briefing with reporters in the company's Jerusalem development center, said he wanted to raise the issue. "I don't mean to minimize the political problems, but it is impossible to do this without cooperation," he said. "We can replicate in Gaza and the West Bank what is going on in Rwanda as long as governments cooperate." Intel, founded in California 40 years ago to produce the world's first silicon microprocessor for computers, launched the computerization revolution that has changed the world. It has 92,000 staffers worldwide, about 6,800 of them direct employees in Israel, with thousands more externally connected to the business. Some of its global education initiatives have been launched in Jordan, where the king and queen were active in the project; Egypt, where first lady Susan Mubarak serves as a sponsor; and one of India's states. "You need someone at the highest level to make sure the commitment is there and to pull down the roadblocks," Barrett said. He noted that many world problems would disappear if national leaders were engineers, "who think about the right decision to solve problems, but political leaders have other motivations and techniques." Israel has had excellent success in information technology, he added, calling it one of the world leaders in hi-tech startups. He advised countries that wanted to revolutionize their economy to lower corporation taxes. Ireland did so from 40 percent to 12% and, with its good education system and reduced bureaucracy, transformed its economy and boosted its productivity. Intel has invested $1 billion in education in the past decade, taught some five million teachers around the world about computer use in schools, and plans to do the same with eight million more during the coming decade. "It's good to be back in Israel," said Barrett, where the Kiryat Gat FAB28 fabrication center is being completed and the country's first major "green [environmentally friendly] building" is nearing its completion at Haifa's development center. Barrett also attended a ceremony at Intel-Kiryat Gat marking the training of the 150,000th child in the corporation's pupil educational program. "Israel is obviously important to us for engineering and manufacturing. The size of our investment here speaks for itself," he said. Asked about threats of an academic boycott and other economic measures against Israel in Britain and even the US, Barrett said that such efforts were "counterproductive." "Those who want to do it should worry about promoting education in this area, and the educational level of Palestinians should be raised to give hope and opportunity in the future," he said. "If boycott plans were stopped, energies could be focused on how to help neighbors expand their economy. The world would be a much better place." Intel developed a $200 "ClassMate" laptop to promote education among schoolchildren. While the goal of a laptop for every child is far from being achieved, Barrett said, it has made a difference. In developed countries, laptops constitute half of all personal computers sold. He doesn't see textbooks being replaced completely by chips in laptops, but portable computers can be used to store and update classroom material. Asked about the US presidential primaries, the Intel chairman said business needs free trade, investment in basic research and development and education. "Typically, Republicans are more inclined [toward] free trade than Democrats. Both are for education. Competitiveness legislation has been passed by both parties. I don't see very much difference. Hi-tech businesses prefer legal immigration of educated people, and both parties favor this, but illegal immigration tends to drive the agenda," Barrett commented, adding, "This has been one of most interesting election cycles we've seen for a long time."