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2. Theoretical issues: Culture in education and development

2.1 Introducing a conceptual framework
2.2 The concept of culture
2.3 The culture concept in development
2.4 Culture and economics in development
2.5 Culture and education: The chalkface of development
2.6 Culture in education and development: A new language of debate

2.1 Introducing a conceptual framework

We are coming to the end of the United Nations World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-97). The decade has four aims: to enrich cultural identities; to broaden participation in cultural life; to promote international cultural cooperation; and to acknowledge the dimension of development.

This fourth dimension - the relationship, between culture and, in this case, educational development - provides a fundamental underpinning of this study.

The observance of this decade is evidence of a growing awareness of the vital importance of the cultural dimension in any human, societal or development effort (UNESCO, 1991). Culture, if important to this effort, is especially so in the area of education where great opportunities exist to,

"unlock the potentials of individuals for a fuller life, not just economically but also culturally and socially" (ibid.)

The education of girls is a particularly cultural matter, especially so in a country like Ghana. So also is the researching of the problem and the searching for solutions.

Culture, Education and Development are complex and problematic concepts shaped by historical and ideological forces. They also depend for meaning on context and the various purposes and interpretations provided by the writer in the development of a conceptual framework.

Broadly, we are engaged in an enterprise in which issues of gender and schooling will be interpreted from a cultural perspective. The substance or 'content' of the investigation will be viewed within a framework determined by the interplay of our three concepts. How we carry out our investigation, it is argued, is also equally part of our cultural enterprise and will be explained in section three which deals with methodological issues.

2.2 The concept of culture

Given the obvious centrality of culture in our daily lives it is a little curious to find it being referred to as 'the forgotten dimension' (Verhelst 1987) and the 'neglected concept' (Smith and Bond, 1993; Thomas, 1994). Culture in education and development seems to have come onto the stage rather late in the day and at a time of crisis in the worlds of development theory and Aid.

It is not as if the study of culture is in anyway 'new', rather it seems that in the developments of the concepts itself, and particularly its application to the fields of education and development, much of its utility has been lost. Robert Klitgaard, (1994) in his paper, "Taking Culture into Account: from 'Let's' to 'How'" puts it well,

"If culture should be taken into account and people have studied culture scientifically for a century or more, why don't we have well developed theories, practical guidelines, and close professional links between those who study culture and those who make and manage development policy?" (Klitgaard, 1994, p89)

Much of what has been written about the term 'culture' (and there has been an awful lot) seems to agree that there are two dimensions to the concept:

First that culture exists on both an individual and social level, being concerned with what particular individuals think, learn and do and also with what a society considers important or meaningful.

Second that culture as a concept has come to relate to both the desirable e.g. ideas of kultur and 'civilisation' in the 1840's and the descriptive, current 'value-free' use of the term much in favour with sociologists and anthropologists.

If culture is about individuals and societies and the way such people and groupings are described and evaluated, it is concerned surely also with ideas and beliefs held by those individuals, personally and collectively?

In 1990 the Dutch Centre for the Study of Education in Developing countries (CESO) produced a, "Position Paper on Culture, Education and Productive Life in Developing Countries", in which they argued that the concept of culture is more that Ralph Linton's 1964 "configuration of learned behaviour" arguing that it is fundamentally ideational, culture not being "behaviour and customs" but the ideas which are used to shape behaviour and customs" (CESO, 1990).

Culture, then, is knowledge: a system of shared ideas, concepts, rules and meaning that underlie and are expressed in the ways that people live (Keesing, 1981).

Thierry Verhelst (1987) writing from a grassroots NGO development perspective extends this ideational view by suggesting that culture as a concept must not only be descriptive but useful. For him it is centrally concerned with problem-solving and the "original solutions" human beings generate to deal with "problems the environment sets them". Verhelst, like the CESO authors, take culture to be very much a concept embodying change, empowerment and the process of decision-making.

Culture is also, of course, intertwined with language be it the day to day modes of communication of the rural people of Northern Ghana or the Aid-speak of the fax-machines and mobile telephones in the offices of Accra. Brian Bullivant makes a brave attempt to present a comprehensive definition of culture embracing all the aspects discussed so far:

"Culture is a patterned system of knowledge and conception embodied in symbolic and non-symbolic communication modes which a society has evolved from the past, and progressively modified augments to give meaning to and cope with the present and anticipated future problems of its existence " (Bullivant, 1981 p3)

Culture is therefore concerned with two things:

a) the knowledge and ideas that give meaning to the beliefs and actions of individuals and societies.

b) the ideational tool which can be used to describe and evaluate that action.

Culture, then is both about what people think and do and how we describe and evaluate those beliefs and actions.

2.3 The culture concept in development

In 1982 UNESCO organised a World Conference on Cultural Policies (MONDIACULT) at Mexico City at which the concepts and definitions of culture and development were formulated.

Those attending the conference were concerned that the concept of culture in the 1960's and '70's had come to refer only to the restricted sense of a nation's products: its art and literature and what distinguished one society from another.

Since the conference UNESCO has broadened the definition, defining culture as, 'the whole complex of distinctive spiritual material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs" (UNESCO, 1982).

What is interesting about this definition is that though it is broader than the view of culture as books and buildings it still conceives culture as a feature or component of social life rather than something intimately bound up with what individuals and groups do within a society.

FIGURE A - Six indicators of the cultural dimension of relationships within a development project (UNESCO, 1995)

1. The relationship with time - e.g. perceptions of the future and the tradition in collective representation. Relationship of time to an individual's economic situation, organisation of the day, seasons, etc.

2. The relationship with the environment - e.g. perceptions of nature, use of scarce resources, dominating/dominant environment; spatial perceptions; relationship of individual to different modes of life (sedentary or nomadic).

3. The relationship with the body and food - e.g. perceptions of sickness and death, attitudes to fertility, sexual distribution of labour, hierarchy.

4. The relationship of individual to the social group - e.g. notions of identity (family, tribe, ethnic, group, nation), relationship of project objectives to group norms and aims.

5. The relationship with the hierarchy and power - e.g. perception of authority, the decision-making process, relations between individuals and administration, hierarchical relations at work etc.

6 The relationship with economy and innovation - e.g. perceptions of money and goods, perceptions of work (e.g. to survive, grow richer); attitudes to innovation, knowledge and initiatives.

In terms of development this still presents a problem of 'culture' being viewed as something that is acted upon (and which in turn is promoted or defended) rather than something that is as much part of the doing as it is the receiving.

The World Bank who addressed the question of culture at an International Conference in Washington on April, 1992, concurred with the UNESCO definition of culture adding, interestingly, that though "culture matters",

"we are a long way from achieving a synthesis between the rigor of current economic analysis and the intuitive and qualitative character of much of the current work on culture and development, or the localized quantitative work done in some anthropological field investigations" (Serageldin, 1994 p2)

Though this says as much about the Bank as it does qualitative or anthropological research, it does reveal a problem which lies at the heart of the debate to accord greater importance to the cultural nature of development, namely the pre-dominance of economic models of development which are not only perceived of as being "value free" and a-cultural but also as unquestionable.

The reference to the 'localized' nature of 'current work on culture and development' reveals another problem concerning the validity and generalisability of studies which are essentially local and of an in-depth character. A solution - and one adopted by this study - is to ground 'local' case studies within broader scenarios that are framed locally and nationally, thereby counterpointing the rich qualitative picture with the larger view which draws its strength from a wide range of quantitative and qualitative studies. This question will be explored in more depth in section three.

2.4 Culture and economics in development

Underpinning all development issues in Ghana is the question of poverty. To understand the cultural domain of poverty and its influence on education it is necessary to explore, briefly, the relationship between economics, culture and development.

A recent international conference at the University of London's Institute of Education tackled the theme of, "Partnerships in Education and Development: tensions between Economics and Culture" (24-26 May, 1995).

Three major 'tensions' were identified:


the economist and anthropologist who essentially see the world differently, a vision that shapes not only their perception of their own discipline but it would seem the work of others;


the strongly held perception that economics - and some would say development - are rational, value -free, enterprises carried out in an a-cultural environment;


the predominance of economics over anthropology as a discipline in development.

A result of this dichotomy has been the creation of two worlds of enquiry: the macro and economic viewed largely through the statistical survey and which is often urban-oriented; and the micro, anthropological picture sustained by 'thick' description Geertz, J.P. & La Compte, M.D. (1984) gathered from repeated visits to the home and village.

A more productive line of enquiry is to view the distinction between economics and culture as analytically false. Stirrat, in his paper, "Economics and Culture: notes towards an Anthropology of Economics", given at the same London conference argues that,

"Economics, both in terms of what economists do (theoretical economics, economic analysis, etc.) and in terms of what they normally study (production exchange and consumption), is cultural activity" (Stirrat, 1995)

As we shall see when looking at the issue of poverty in relation to girls and schooling in Ghana it is necessary to view the issue from both the macro and micro and to recognise that at both levels are questions of priorities, values and decision-making.

The contribution of the economic anthropologist to the world of development and aid is sadly undervalued (though it is interesting that the Society for Economic Anthropology based in the United States of America has about four hundred members) and may have something to do with the diverse paths taken by the two disciplines and the fact that agencies such as the World Bank are largely staffed by economists of the more classical kind.

Richard Wilk, in his excellent introduction to the subject of 'Economics and Cultures' (Wilk, R 1996) illustrates how culture and economics can contribute to development in the sort of questions it asks:

"How do farming families stay together and deal with poverty? How do people organize together and struggle successfully against the rich and powerful? What happens to local cultures faced with global corporations, global telecommunication, and computers in the workplace?" (Wilk, R 1996)

For us the questions are similar: how do families in Ghana cope with poverty, particularly when faced with the direct costs of schooling? What priorities do parents place on the economic value of educating girls? And at the macro level: what impact have structural adjustment programmes had on the development of primary education in the rich and not-so-rich areas of Ghana?

2.5 Culture and education: The chalkface of development

The relationship between culture and schooling is now well understood (see for example Stenhouse, L, 1967). The culture of schooling within the context of developing countries, however, throws up fewer studies.

One of interest, however, has emerged from the work on school effectiveness and the management of change and institutional development carried out by the Norwegian Per Dalin and his colleagues at IMTEC.

Dalin, like others, recognises both the primacy of schooling as a transmitter of culture and the way schools generate not only a culture of their own but the constraints and opportunities to becoming "learning organisations".

He suggests that school culture can be viewed at operating at three levels (quoting Hodgkinson, 1983):

1) the transrational - where values are conceived as metaphysical based on beliefs, ethical codes and moral insights.

2) the rational - where values are grounded within a social context of norms, customs, expectations and standards, and depend on collective justification.

3) the subrational - where values are experienced as personal preferences and feelings; rooted in emotion, basic, direct, affective and are behaviouristic in character. They are basically asocial and amoral.

They go on to suggest that few schools are clear about their values at the transrational level citing as exceptions the Steiner or Montessori schools which consciously set out to educate children in a particular way. Rather, they argue, it is at the rational level where most schools express their values through curriculum objectives, norms, rules, daily practices etc. At the sub-rational level it is suggested individual teachers can play an important part in mediating values and norms at a personal level. To what extent, teachers in a more collectivist cultural setting do this is interesting and it is something we will return to when looking at a cohort of teachers, and pupils, lives in our case studies.

Values and norms, therefore, are manifest at the individual level, the group level (e.g. in the classroom), the organisational level i.e. at the school and the society levels.

'School culture' Per Dalin and his colleagues suggest is a complex phenomena appearing at their three levels and in the various relationships between the individual and the larger groups to which he or she belongs.

This kind of analysis is important for it helps us identify the loci of change e.g. do we want to 'develop' individual teachers or try to effect change at the school or community level? Understanding what constitutes school culture is also important in that it tells us about which factors promote and hinder change within a particular school or broadly educational setting. Finally, a great deal of evidence suggests that for any meaningful educational development to occur it must be rooted in the school - in the head teacher's office or, depending on the nature of the change, the individual classroom.

The relationship between culture and schooling is nowhere better illustrated than in the debates concerning school effectiveness. The cultural-relatedness of what is or is not an effective school is well illustrated in a recent (and very useful) work by Ward Heneveld (1994). In brief, Heneveld suggests that what we currently understand by effectiveness i.e. student testing be broadened to embrace a network of inter-related factors - sixteen in all - which can be grouped into 'supporting inputs' e.g. strong parental and community support; 'student outcomes' e.g. social and academic skills, enabling conditions such as effective leadership; and the larger contextual factors: cultural economic, political etc. that frame the whole enterprise. He represents his conceptual framework in the following way:

Figure B1: Conceptual framework: factors that determine school effectiveness Source: Henveld (1994)

If we analyse the clusters of factors for a moment we see that in fact they are really sets of criteria for what the author considers "effective" at a particular place within the education system. All the factors or criteria are, to quote Lawton, "selections from a culture".

Factors such as 'variety in teaching strategies' or 'frequent homework' selected to represent effective teaching/learning processes come not only from research - much of it conducted in Western classrooms (girls in most Third world countries experiencing 'frequent homework' at the well or the farm rather than with their school books) but from cultural contexts which accord different values to not only the nature and purpose of schooling but the role of the child in society. This is not to deny that Heneveld's factors are not important, but rather to suggest that the 'cultural' is not just a contextual factor as illustrated but a determining feature of the factors selected and the language used to describe them.

The cultural nature of development, economics and schooling presents, as we have said before, a number of concerns which need to be addressed if we are to make good use of the culture factor in educational development.

2.6 Culture in education and development: A new language of debate

As we draw to the close of this section it seems useful to identify a number of key 'basic facts' that we need to keep in mind when considering the incorporation of culture in education and development work:

· First, that any consideration of the term 'culture' must acknowledge both the descriptive i.e. what people think and do and the normative i.e. what values are attached to that description.

· Second, that when we view the term 'culture' in its development context it is important to remember that culture is both the product 'acted upon' and the process by which those actions occur. What we are saying is that, as with economics, development is essentually a cultural activity.

· Third, that educationists and development workers wishing to make greater use of culture should not underestimate the decisive role played by economic and political dimensions in their work.

· Fourth that at the school level culture operates at a number of levels - the transrational, rational and sub-rational - and between the various individuals and groups concerned. The very language of the debate on issues such as school effectiveness or curriculum development is as cultural as is the context in which the debate occurs.

· Lastly, that in using (and misusing) culture we need to take seriously the difficulties in both clarifying the complex and yet avoiding the oversimplification of what is a major yet potentially rewarding task.