Water treatment and supply: intermediate education in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

In 1973 the economist E.F Schumacher wrote ‘Small is Beautiful’. In this he created the vision of a concept known as ‘intermediate technology’. Directly from this grew the popular ‘appropriate technology’ movement. An appropriate technology, in the ideal sense, is designed with special consideration of the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. The term ‘appropriate technology’ is continually used when referring to water supply and treatment technologies in international development. The widespread provision of hand-pumps in Africa by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) fully characterises the approach and remains the most prominent display of technologies, transferred on a charitable basis, between the developed and developing countries. However, after years of NGOs working with hand-pumps in Africa the first signs are showing that there are widespread problems with the current approach. In many cases the nature of ‘appropriateness’ is determined from the perspective of an external technical expert and not by the communities themselves. The lack of appropriateness is leading to severely unsustainable projects. This paper explores the linkage that has not been clearly mapped in technology transfer, i.e., the use of scientific and technical education. The focus of the transfer is on developing the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate ‘appropriateness’ from the perspective of the end user. It explores the concept of ‘Intermediate Education’ – a method of using experimental learning to address a systemic weakness in safe water provision in development.

Keywords: appropriate, education, intermediate, international development, technology

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