Ex-Intel chair slams inadequate Irish education

THE recently retired chairman of technology giant Intel has predicted we will end up an economic backwater if we do not radically reform how we educate our workforce.

Craig Barrett, who stepped down in May 2009, said companies like Intel could thrive without ever hiring another Irish person and the Government had to justify investment.

He said he already warned the Government of this at last year’s economic forum at Farmleigh.

But he said a significant investment in mathematical and scientific teaching was required if the country was to compete with emerging economies in China, India and South America.

“I don’t think Ireland has a choice. Ireland will return to a backwater of Europe and the world if it doesn’t. I think Ireland [needs to be] looking forward, looking ahead, these are the only directions it can move in,” he said.

In an interview with John Murray on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show, Mr Barrett said governments here had been “coasting” for the past 20 years.

He said this was not good enough and instead of relying on tax revenues from policies developed in the 1980s, such as low corporation tax, the country had to reinvent itself.

This, he said, could be achieved if policies were adopted to encourage research and innovation.

“In the area of education Ireland was doing okay, not exceptionally. In the area of research and development Ireland was doing OK, not exceptionally. And if you wanted to be successful going forward OK wasn’t good enough,” he said.

Mr Barrett, who was also chief executive of Intel from 1998 to 2005, said the quality of teaching in Ireland needed to improve.

He said nobody without a third-level degree in maths should be teaching it and bad teachers should be sacked: “If you assume maths and sciences are key capabilities for the future ... and you are not doing a good job education young people in maths and science you have a problem. That is why I told your Government leaders you are coasting. You are living off what you did 20 years ago.”

He said Ireland needed enterprising universities along the lines of Stanford in America, which has been a key pillar in the success of Silicone Valley.

Mr Barrett said Ireland had no such institutions and this compromised its ability to move ahead of other economies: “[The developing economies] are coming from countries with good education heritage, they are willing to work for a lot less... so there has to be a new game plan. A new blueprint.”

The path to recovery, he said, would have to involve an effort to produce workers with a skills-set capable of making the most of innovation and emerging opportunities.

“The future of Ireland’s economy will be directly related to quality of workforce and the quality of ireland workforce will be dependent on education capability,” he said.

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