Seven Questions: Wiring the World’s Poor
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Most of the world?s population, including the vast majority of the developing world, remains unwired. Everyone agrees on the need to bridge this digital divide, but there?s hardly agreement on how to get the job done. Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett has been at the center of the debate. In a recent conversation with FP, Barrett fired back at his critics and sounded off on the future of the Internet.
FOREIGN POLICY: Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of One Laptop per Child, accused Intel and you personally of approaching Third World development from a market perspective. How do you respond?
Craig Barrett: Well, I think that was only a characterization put forward by Mr. Negroponte. Let me provide some factual background, which may allow you to judge our actions on their merits. We?ve been involved in supporting education as a philanthropic activity since the company started, 38 years ago. We?ve put well over $1 billion dollars into supporting education in the last decade. We?ve trained over 4 million teachers around the world in the last five years, and we?ve committed to train another 10 million over the next five years. So, I took Negroponte?s comment with a grain of salt. If there was anybody making a marketing comment in the room, I think perhaps it was Mr. Negroponte himself.
FP: There?s a school of thought that says, just give computers to children in poor countries and they will start a revolution. What?s lost in that approach to technology and development?
CB: What you potentially lose is: You spend a lot of money to give kids laptops that might be more intelligently spent on creating the infrastructure?training teachers and creating the environment for education. In all fairness, if you listen to Nick [Negroponte] and the constructionist approach to life, they take the attitude that most teachers in the emerging economies have a fourth- or sixth-grade education, that they?re only competent to lead students in song and dance. And if you give kids computers, they will set up their own communities, their own content; they?ll learn collectively. That is what drives Negroponte and the One Laptop per Child approach. That is not the unanimous position of educators around the world. It has not been the position of companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, who recognize that technology is just a tool, and who suggest that you need not only the tool, but the connectivity, the content, the teacher training to make it all work.
FP: In many places where people talk about bridging the digital divide, there?s still no electricity or access to clean drinking water. Why not spend money on bridging those basic services first?
CB: We operate off of the philosophy that every child ought to have a generically equal opportunity. And you could argue that means every child should have clean drinking water, three square meals a day, and a roof to sleep under. And there are lots and lots of people working on clean drinking water. We also think that if you give the kids in the Third World clean drinking water, food, something to sleep under, they also need to be able to have a productive adult life. They?re going to need to earn a living, and they need some education. So our focus has been on education, because we look around and we see lots of people working on those other topics.
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