Education and Training

Relevant science education might accelerate the process of generating useful and affordable village technology adaptations. There are other potential links between educational efforts and improved tools and techniques as well.

Increases in the material standard of living come with advances in productivity. This is accomplished through upgraded technologies, which embody human knowledge, and increase the skills of the people. When better technologies and skill development opportunities are widely available, increases may be seen in the local standard of living.

Conventional development strategies and programs tend to concentrate resources on a narrow range of activities. Scarce capital and R&D funds are channeled to industry, which employs only a very small part of the work force. Costly training programs yield small numbers of graduates for a few sectors of the economy. A high rate of economic growth may occur in these sectors, but most of the benefits reach only a few people. At the same time, the vast majority of economic activities remain stagnant, experiencing no (or very slow) increases in productivity. Important sectors of the economy may decline, as traditional materials become scarce and some of the more capable workers move to the cities.

The appropriate technology approach therefore includes the question, “How can we create conditions in which productivity in most important activities will increase?” With the resources used to train one engineer, it would be possible to train 10-50 or more farmer-inventors who would have incentive to focus their efforts on raising productivity and earnings in the traditional sectors of the economy. Such a shift in the emphasis of technical training could mean that people would no longer be forced to simply wait for industrialization to make them either prosperous or destitute. Instead, they could become involved in the development of new tools and skills that emerge from the old, setting into motion a dynamic process of productivity increases that actually involves the whole society.

Educational and training opportunities are also more than a strategy for raising the productivity of ordinary people. They have intrinsic value too, in that they broaden the intellectual and technical perspective, widen the horizons of general knowledge, and help liberate individuals from the oppression of drudgery tasks, poverty, and political domination. This “humanistic” perspective, which asserts that relevant learning opportunities are inherently worthwhile, can be seen at work in non-formal education efforts offering reading and vocational skills to groups of out-of-school adults. Such an orientation favors promotion of technologies and programs, which have educational consequences for the poor majority. Too often, however, development planners are not interested in the widespread development of skills and knowledge that comes with decentralized technology and participatory community development programs. Any extra effort required to initiate an educational process may be seen as an obstacle to achieving the more measurable goals (e.g., the number of wells and hand pumps installed or the number of patients examined). The disregard of informal training effects when pursuing narrow goals can be seen regularly in the way large programs are organized.

The benefits of informal training, community organization and an increased local level of experimentation and problem-solving do not show up in the calculations of categorical programs (which focus on one kind of development objective, such as improved health or housing). These benefits are effectively invisible, and they are not taken into account—except by the few categorical programs that focus on these as their own particular objectives.

The example of the 2800 small-scale cement plants operating in the People’s

Republic of China illustrates how widespread training benefits can follow directly from choice of technology. These cement plants provide cheap cement for local infrastructure construction projects such as irrigation canals; they employ ten times as many people (per unit of output) as the conventional rotary kilns; and they provide workers with a range of practical technical and administrative skills which serve as a valuable foundation for other small industry activities. In this ease, the skills of the rural population have broadened significantly—more than would have been the case had the centralized “higher technology” rotary kiln been chosen.

Valuable informal training effects can also be seen in a wide variety of private, day-to-day activities. For example, while in most poor countries managerial and entrepreneurial talent is thought to be in short supply, children of ethnic groups controlling particular economic activities (e.g., shipping or retail sales) become exceptionally talented and successful business people. They do this without enrolling in formal business training programs. Rather, they participate in daily business activities, and have a high motivation to learn. Informal “learning by doing” can also be seen when communities undertake their own development projects. Mistakes are more evident and more likely to occur on a scale, which is correctable by the participants. Appropriate technology advocates should be aware of these natural informal educational processes, and should think about ways to open them up to more people.

Local Resources

“Personal and local resources are imagination, initiative, commitment and responsibility, skill and muscle power; the capability for using specific and often irregular areas of land or locally available materials and tools; the ability to organize enterprises and local institutions; constructive competitiveness and the capacity to cooperate.”

–John Turner, Housing by People, 1976

Formal and informal learning opportunities—whether science education offered in the classroom or the chance to acquire managerial skills in a factory or business— are crucial in mobilizing these local human resources. Skilled, creative local people will, in turn, be able to better use local material resources—often the only alternative in poor countries:. “To construct using renewable resources is not a sentimental fad in an area without exportable products to pay for imports …. In a low cash economy it is the interactions of human resources with the immediate materials of the land that provide for the richness and fullness of life.”

—Peter van Dresser, Homegrown Sundwellings, 1977

We noted above that learning opportunities are often overlooked in the calculations of development planners. Likewise, the local labor and materials are frequently ignored when planners consider the assets of a poor community.

One of the prime considerations in the development of appropriate village technology is to find ways in which people can invest their unemployed labor to produce something of value. If these people are not fully participating in a market economy (which is commonly the case), it is not a question of what manipulations an economist can suggest to maximize the yield on their time and capital; capital, in this case, is not easily measured because it is in the land and the trees and the bamboo. Conventional economic analysis has little to say in such a situation because such capital is generally ignored.

The investment of cash has the effect of mobilizing the efforts of other, distant people; money for sheet metal, for example, pays for the efforts of the workers in the mill and the miners who extract ore and coal, along with the transport and “middle” workers necessary to bring this material to the community. If we can accomplish the same task by mobilizing our own effort (e.g., building effective grain storage bins using our own labor and locally available basket materials and clay), we can avoid spending cash on sheet metal for bins. In other words, labor and local materials can be converted into capital, without any cash input. Which we choose (or are forced) to do depends on whether we know about alternatives, whether opportunities to earn cash are available, what skills we have, and which use of time and effort will most easily accomplish the task at hand. Whenever jobs that pay cash are few but local materials and labor abundant, a reliance on cash investment poses an unnecessary obstacle to the construction of more effective grain storage bins, basic houses, or new agricultural tools.

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