children · education · technology

Applied anthropology and technology

I have been working on an article about activism in developing nations, namely bringing alternative energies to rural impoverished communities.

Barefoot College (see youtube video), works with women to teach them on a grassroots level how to be solar engineers and run and operate a household solar power system. The college also has a lot of other programs helping women with economic independence and with human rights

The group Portable Light just won an award for their work with the Huichol. Sheila Kennedy at MIT created portable, flexible solar panels, which the Huichol women sewed onto their bags so they had a portable power source.

A third group, Light up the World Foundation, develops and installs LED lights and solar power systems in individual households and businesses.

These are example of opportunities for any anthropologist interested in the politics and accessibility of technology, using alternative energy and skipping the whole “industrial revolution” phase while growing/developing/whatevering a nation, or mostly importantly working with different groups to help provide safe, affordable, less polluting alternatives to kerosene and wood fuel.

And of course, everyone’s heard about the One Laptop per Child initiative.

However, an interesting point to bring in: many of these types of groups come in with the idea that by providing light they are helping children receive an education (being able to study at night > children can finish homework > children receive good education). However, in many nations the rudimentary education provided to students is more detrimental than helpful. Children learn how to perform certain skills in an industrialized economy, and yet they don’t learn enough to pass their final exams, or there are no jobs for them when they graduate. During all of these years of education, they have also become isolated from their traditional ways of subsistence – farming, hunting, fishing, or whatever. They are stuck between two different economic and cultural systems and cannot function in either one.

So not only is it important to provide children with Internet access and computers and non-toxic light sources, it’s also important to make sure they are receiving an education that will serve them as adults.

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