Power of culture

Recently we have heard some rumblings among certain pundits inter alios that our free education does not equate to the return of investment and behavioural change that the late honourable Errol W. Barrow envisioned.

There are some who argue that for the 52 years of free education on the island, the investment has not resulted in the candidly analytical thinkers one would expect. Furthermore, conversations with several academics have revealed that the disinterest the youth are showing towards reading any educational material was mind boggling to say the least.

In a conversation with some young people last week, I mentioned that when I was their age or younger I spent as many hours as possible reading books by Enid Blyton, many of which were “hand me downs”. These young people, who appear to boast of their dislike for reading, said to me with derision in their voices “Maam, you obviously did not have a life.”

I too was about to give up in despair, when on a recent visit to the City I happened to overhear a conversation between two shoppers. These shoppers both females were speaking to each other very quickly in dialect so I actually did not understand the conversation until a few minutes after they had gone on their merry way. So what sounded like “I got a klm fia” was actually a “Kindle Fire”.

Let me explain, these two females who were very flamboyantly dressed in the latest designer wear with tattoos covering every inch of their exposed skin, along with gold caps on their teeth and several body piercings were not the type one would associate with reading books on a Kindle Fire.

So poor prudish me had to seek clarification from my niece who is usually a font of information on all things current. She explained that there is an ebook that everyone young and old, male and female is reading (something about “50 shades of grey”).

This of course peaked my interest (no, not the book), in the behaviour/act of reading. Why was I so interested? Since reading is an act of the educated, the opening statements about education being wasted (my words) is inaccurate and the behaviour we expect may be hindered by a stronger intervening force called culture. The article this week is about the influence of national culture on education.

To begin with, a definition of national culture is “the collective programming of the mind” which distinguishes “the members of one group or category of people from another.” One can therefore assume that it can also refer to “nations, ethnicities, religion, occupations, organisations or genders” (Hofstede, 1980).

So how did we acquire this programming? Well according Hofstede, we acquire our culture from the previous generation who passed it on to us. We in turn will pass it on to future generations but before we do this we will add something to it. It can then be argued that culture is temporal, emergent and dynamic in nature so it is not rigid as some would like to think.

Nevertheless, the complexity of national culture remains the same and can still be described as the shared values, meanings and beliefs of a nation. Moreover, it can be argued that culture can be taken for granted since it is the first thing that we learn whether we are in school or at work.

Consequently, culture forms the basis of the communication style of a people and their way of life. For instance, although when we communicate it reflects our own distinct cognitions, our spoken word mirrors our cultural experience and intonation (tone of voice) use of language (dialect) and non-verbal cues. Together they all reveal our national culture.

By the same token, education transforms the quality of our oral communication skills. So generally speaking one could argue that our level of education reveals our level of learning. So the question is, does the level of learning experienced by Barbadians reflect the return of equity on the investment in education over the last fifty two years. To determine this let us examine the definitions of education and learning to determine if we can provide some answer to this predicament.

According to my friend google.com, education is a formal process through which values, knowledge and skills are passed from one generation to another. In other words the educational process plays a part in imparting the knowledge of our culture to individuals.

This occurs at some point in time and hence is finite. Moreover, one can conclude that education and culture are interconnected and is acquired from institutions like schools, churches and universities where tutors impart their wisdom on their audience.

On the other hand, learning is believed to be “the process of adopting knowledge, values and skills that are evolutionary in nature and that emerge from one’s inner self”. Furthermore, learning has no set standards and can evolve at any time on a personal level.

Subsequently, psychologists have defined learning as “a relatively permanent change in behaviour due to experience” (Ormrod, 1999).

Given these definitions and perceptions, one can suggest that although individuals have been exposed to education for over fifty years, some of them do not demonstrate any permanent change in behaviour. This does not at all suggest that they have not been educated.

So what was the vision in terms of free education in Barbados? I believe that since there were high levels of illiteracy among the people (where large numbers were unable to read and write) so the former leader envisioned that the ordinary man should be able to read as suggested in the opening vignette.

So what is my point? The success of free education is being able to see “ordinary people” reading ebooks on their Kindle Fire, even though the contents of the book may not be accepted at Sunday School and their verbal skills do not reflect the level of learning that certain pundits suggest are indicative of our educational standards.

This may be hindered by the influence of culture. So does this not show that although learning and education are two different concepts, free education was worthwhile? Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail: darengreaves@gmail.com, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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