Raising the Standard of Living in Underdeveloped Countries. Can Technology Help?

Matthew Edwards


1. Introduction

This paper is a follow up from Ethicomp 2010 which proposed that there is a core curriculum in technology education, and that industry could find a place within the public school system. This article will pursue an actual tie between industry interests and a State run university in the US. It is poised to have a positive worldwide effect.

There are arguments in education that address whether or not technology in the classroom is a help or a hindrance. For example, using a calculator for math computation in the classroom speeds up a student’s ability to quickly complete rigorous tasks and calculations, yet some argue this creates an unhealthy dependency on technology that will potentially damage the learning process.

From an industry perspective, technology allows those with basic skill sets the ability to accomplish complex tasks. For example, a person can run a cash register with complex transactions using credit cards, cash, or checks, and the cashier may actually have poor computation skills. They can do these tasks with amazing accuracy…most of the time, and as long as the power is up and going.

Using the basic concept that technology can be used to bring individuals to higher performance levels than would otherwise be possible, I will pursue the idea that the economy of underdeveloped countries can be changed for the better by introducing technologies that give illiterate populations the ability to perform tasks that have been heretofore out of their reach.

2. Background

I work as a professor at a university in the western United States. In the summer of 2010 I had an opportunity to pursue answers to an intriguing problem. The problem is the ever present state of poverty and lack of safe and energy efficient housing in underdeveloped countries. I felt that somewhere between modern technology and hard work lie answers to this perplexing dilemma.

I designed an inexpensive, fireproof, hurricane proof, and earthquake resistant residential structure and building system using modern technology, and discovered that I could simplify complex tasks using computer modeling, 3-D printing, and color-coded building plans, to deliver a visual training system that can be understood by illiterate populations.

By creating new innovations that allow the end user to participate without the extensive knowledge base that was once necessary, much of the world’s populations can now take active roles in stimulating the economy of their country. In many of the sub-Saharan countries of Africa the average daily wage of a laborer is less than 3 US dollars. Presently, an illiterate worker only completes tasks that are simple and of no profound effect; digging ditches, carrying materials, and in essence, doing only those tasks that would otherwise be done by basic machinery accept for the monetary savings had by using what is paramount to slave labor.

3. Project and Method

Using students from our CAD/CAM 3-D design department, and pulling a small team of professors including myself, one professor from CAD/CAM, and one from our CIS department, it became apparent that modern technology not only provided design tools, but also created a visual learning environment for the end user in the building industry.

Using university faculty, students, and a couple of individuals from industry, the formula and idea to utilize this new building process to help underdeveloped countries became more focused.

My methodology will focus on utilizing educational studies about adult illiteracy, economic statistics from underdeveloped regions around the world, but especially related to Native Americans in the United States. This phase of the data collection is based on both primary and secondary data which includes high school dropout rates, suicides rates, and the lack of economic development and societal segregation. I will also include research that pursues questions, concerns, answers, and ethical dilemmas surrounding the potential use of modern technology in underdeveloped countries.

4. Current Results, and future potential

So far my findings indicate that we can take modern technological innovations and move those applications into the building industry, bringing the less qualified end user more fully into the equation. As we have witnessed, the building industry is a major player in the world economy. When this industry is not flourishing, thousands of connected industries suffer, and the economy likewise falters. In Africa, there are millions of educated people who live in squalid and filthy conditions because there is no infrastructure supporting a middle class building industry. There are many factors, such as the lack of financing that contributes to this condition. However, there is not a wide gap in living standards between this “middle class” educated society, and the illiterate poor.

Many of these governments have desires to provide housing for their civil servants, professors, and military personnel, but without an infrastructure that can handle such an extensive task, it is not economically feasible. Part of the infrastructure is human ability, and must come from within to be economically sustainable. The other part is an inexpensive system to build structures that will provide safety from natural disasters, and provide privacy and aesthetics that basic dignity requires.

Our building would provide a method to deliver social networking opportunities to underdeveloped countries by facilitating a “safe cyber café” of sorts. This structure provides a somewhat bullet proof environment that is inexpensive.

This paper will expose current world conditions in underdeveloped nations, and will explore how the appropriate use of modern technology may be the answer to turning the tide of poverty. This is a significant contribution in the ethical use of technology in construction management since few studies of this nature reflect this topic.