JITE v32n3 - At Issue - Appropriate Technology in the Technology Education Curriculum

Volume 32, Number 3
Spring 1995

Appropriate Technology in the Technology Education Curriculum

Charles C. Linnell
Clemson University

  1. It is low in capital costs.
  2. It uses local materials whenever possible.
  3. It create jobs, employing local skills and labor.
  4. It supposes that people can and will work together collectively to bring improvements to the communities, recognizing that in most of the world, important decisions are made by groups rather than by individuals.
  5. It involves decentralized renewable resources, such as wind power, solar energy, water power, methane gas, animal power, and pedal power (such as the highly efficient machine, the bicycle).
  6. It makes technology understandable to the people who are using it and thus suggests ideas that could be used in further innovations. (p. 8)

Appropriate technology represents a less capital-intensive, more human-oriented form of technological innovation that can act as an impetus for development and improve the standard of living in economically disadvantaged areas and developing countries.

A technology is appropriate because the people themselves have found it suitable to their needs ( Melcher, 1980, p. 6 ). Technologies that are "appropriate" do not have a negative effect on the natural environment or the health and well-being of the indigenous population. Examples of appropriate technologies used in developing countries include brick manufacturing in Ghana, pedal power used for irrigation and transportation of people and goods, and sail windmills used for irrigation purposes in Ethiopia ( Congdon, 1977 ).

The appropriate technology movement began to gather momentum after the publication of E. F. Schumacher's ( 1973 ) book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered , in which he introduced the concept of intermediate technology , which used the best of high and low technology. According to Schumacher , intermediate technology is the

technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. ( p. 179 )

Schumacher, an economist, stated that the basic philosophy for the appropriate technology movement is to provide an opportunity for the smooth transition between "labor-intensive" and "capital-intensive" industries ( 1973, p. 179 ).

The rate of change and the sheer volume of information that students are expected to absorb increases exponentially every day. This increase influences the way that students assimilate knowledge and form opinions and ideas about the world around them ( Pytlik, Lauda, & Johnson, 1985 ). Many people in the world have a very low standard of living and in many developing nations poverty has become a fact of life. Understanding how specific appropriate technologies can improve the quality of life for people in economically depressed areas in the United States and in developing countries throughout the world will give a sense of altruism to students' understanding of the application of technological skills.

The technology education curriculum and laboratories are a good environment in which to introduce appropriate technology. By making comparisons, experimenting, and problem solving, students can begin to understand how using low-consuming, low impact technologies can benefit a country, instead harming the environment and/or the indigenous population. Integrating appropriate technology into the Technology Education curriculum can (a) increase students' understanding of specific technological and sociological issues, (b) present opportunities for integration with other disciplines, and (c) create an environment in which the students will be able to develop hypothetical solutions and/or products that will improve the standard of living. Developing a technological conscience would be a major learning outcome of the study of appropriate technology. By observing the positive and negative results of a technology that is introduced into a developing country (e. g., the Bopal, India chemical explosion), students can weigh the pros, cons, and the appropriateness of the technology.

Designing and creating hypothetical appropriate technology situations would give students experiences in creating positive and humane social and technological solutions. For example, students might be asked to solve the problem of providing an economical irrigation system for a poor, rural village in Africa. What might be the most efficient appropriate technology system that could be introduced? Many topics could be explored, including solar energy, photovoltaics, pump design, the study of fluids, and small scale hydro projects. Through the process of extrapolation, and by comparing other cost-efficient alternative technologies, the best solution for the problem could be chosen and constructed. This would require that the students research the most efficient low impact, durable technological solution available.

Students need to understand, process, and adapt to a modern world that is constantly changing. In order to do this they need to understand different technological possibilities and limitations. Discussing appropriate technological solutions to specific human, environmental, and social problems will not only make them more technologically literate, but will help them realize that they can be active and contributing members in a global society.


Linnell is Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial Education, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina.


Darrow , K., & Rick, P. (1976). Appropriate technology sourcebook . Stanford, CA: Volunteers in Asia.

Melcher , J. (1980). Connections: A curriculum in appropriate technology for fifth and sixth grades . Butte, MT: NCAT.

Pytlik , E., Lauda, D., & Johnson, D. (1985). Technology, change and society . Worcester, MA: Davis.

Schumacher , E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered . New York: Harper and Row.

Reference Citation: Linnell, C. C. (1995). Appropriate technology in the technology education curriculum. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 32(3), 83-86.