Technology in Developing Economies

Education is a fundamental issue that developing nations must address in order to take any sort of leading role in the high-tech world economy. If a nation has the financial resources to provide access to technology, this access is of little use without the appropriate training (see The Bermuda Project). Even within the United States, the demand for skilled individuals in certain occupations, such as computer programmer, dramatically exceeds supply. However, achieving the requisite technical training in developing nations is easier said than done. Such countries face several key obstacles in educating their citizens.

Insufficient Educational Infrastructure

Developing nations often lack the necessary backbone for their education programs in very basic ways. Generally, this occurs when demand for eductation outpaces the capacity to establish and fund institutions. India, for example, contains a series of seven government-funded technical institutes known as the Indian Institutes of Technology, which are among the most elite and selective technical institutes in the world. At the same time, many of India's universities suffer from problems as fundamental as lack of electricity, old textbooks, and professors who frequently fail to show up for lecture with no advance warning. The lack of electricity and modern textbooks are especially crippling to education in fast-developing, technology-based areas.

Parents Cannot Afford to Send their Children to Schools

Before an individual's technical training can begin, his or her need for basic education must be met. Often times, however, parents do not have sufficient monetary resources to send their children to school. In some nations, educational vouchers serve as a partial solution to this problem by allowing parents to send their children to private schools where public schools are of very low caliber. However, vouchers do little to aid parents who are reliant on their children's labor to subsist. Mexico recently adopted an interesting strategy to combat this short-coming of the voucher system.

Brain Drain

Developing nations gain very little from education their population if they are unable to retain the workers they train. Oftentimes, workers with technical training can enjoy higher salary, better working conditions, and higher standards of living in western nations than in their home nations. As a result, the most educated citizens of developing nations — who earn the skills to make them eligible for employment in western nations — often have little incentive not to emigrate.

Until the 1990s, approximately 70% of graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology emigrated, largely to the United States. As salaries and job opportunities improve in India, this figure has now dropped to approximately 30%. Additionally, the problem of brain drain is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many citizens of developing nations who move overseas send money back to their families, thereby still benefiting the economy of their homeland. On the other extreme, China has mastered a system of "reverse brain drain," encouraging their best and brightest to go overseas, receive training, earn a degree, and then return home to China. This system successfully offsets some of the financial burden of educational to Western nations, but it relies on a strong sense of nationality and ties to one's homeland.

by Joe Cackler, Emily Gu, and Mike Rodgers
for CS 201: Computers, Ethics, and Social Responsibility
at Stanford University
on March 17, 2008