MEMORANDUM: Reflections on "Assisting Educational and Cultural Development" and the Cali Meeting 

DATE:   Nov. 26 1974

TO:      F. C. Ward and 0. Harkavy

CC:      R. H. Edwards; F. X. Sutton; Middle East Office Staff

FROM:  Courtney A. Nelson

           Reading Champ's education review paper and attending Bud's population review meeting at Cali have forced me to think about our work in these fields in the Middle East in a broader context. I want to share these thoughts with you both to see if you think they may be relevant to the Foundation's work beyond the Middle East program. 


Beirut, Lebanon 1973

          Since the Curfew Paper (May 15, 1973), we have consciously distinguished between programs in the Middle East designed to improve the workings of social institutions and those aimed at the modernization of individuals. The latter encompassed work in childrearing and the cultural development of women, Arabic language teaching, psycho-linguistics (especially on how children learn) and science and mathematics education. The former category included programs in the social sciences, management, agriculture, law, population and the environment. 

          We have begun to realize, however, that much of our work aimed at individual modernization is hampered by our inadequate understanding of the nature of the phenomenon itself. The modernization of individuals is clearly a process that deeply affects the underlying attitudes, values and beliefs of a human being. 

          By organizing our work functionally, we in the Foundation have assumed implicitly that individual modernization occurs in the context of work or training in the modern sector of society. Certainly, this is the case. In agriculture, it has been demonstrated that to overcome initial resistance to changing farming practices, a new system must promise at least a 30 % increase in yield. But after that threshold has once been crossed, the resistance is lower to subsequent innovations. Similarly, Inkeles and others have shown that some attitudes and values change in the modern direction from employment in factories.  

          Formal education directly seeks to prepare children for life in the modern world, but generally it is more concerned with transmitting information than with altering attitudes, beliefs and values as such. Could it do a better job of preparing children for modern life if it addressed these deeper elements of personality more directly?  Is enough known about the process of individual modernization to permit them to be dealt with effectively in education?  Are there ways to short-cut the modernization process by seeking to change attitudes, values and beliefs outside the modern productive and education systems of society?  Is the case for attention to these factors strong enough, and the Foundation's ability to work on them clear enough, for us to shift resources from our already strained commitments to attack individual modernization more directly? 

          I believe each of these questions merits an affirmative answer. 


          In education we and others in the business have concentrated on designing systems to transfer the informational content of western education to the children of developing countries. Dissatisfaction with the results has led to a shift in concentration of donor effort gradually downward from the universities through secondary to primary levels and now, with Coombs, to non-formal mechanisms in addition to the formal. This shift of focus seems to me to be going in the right direction but the process has continued to the point where we must begin to question whether our original objectives of transferring informational content are really adequate. 

          If one approaches the development problem from a somewhat different perspective, and asks what behavioral changes are required for individuals from traditional cultures to function effectively in modern society, we may find that our educational objectives have been much too narrow. The catalog of necessary behavioral changes is not complete, but it seems that rather radical changes in ability and perspective are involved. Observations based on western patterns of development would indicate that changes in time perspective, ability to defer gratification and thus to plan and to save, a heightened sense of individual responsibility, a broadened awareness of human potential, and hence ability to accommodate ambiguity and change, and an expanded domain of rationality at the expense of the supernatural, are all elements of individual modernization. If this is true, the process has much to do with changes of underlying attitudes, beliefs and values. 

          This does not mean that information and skills are unrelated to modernization, but one would guess that once underlying attitudes, beliefs and values become modernized, the acquisition of information and skills is a relatively simple process. Even if one accepts this analysis, a number of very difficult questions arises concerning the nature of the attitudes, beliefs and values which need to be changed and the methods by which this can be brought about, but let us defer considering these questions in order to consider individual rnodernization in respect to the population programs. 


          I left Cali with great respect for the quality of our population program staff and for their knowledge of the current state of research in reproductive sciences, policy-oriented social sciences related to fertility, and family planning programs. Nevertheless, I came away with the nagging suspicion that these activities can have but modest impact on the overall world fertility rate. There are doubts about the ability of government policies of either a pro- or anti-natalist bias to seriously affect the growth rate. These are compounded by doubts that social science research has much influence on government policies. Furthermore, there are doubts that even well managed family planning programs or vastly improved contraceptives will have much impact on fertility, except in those areas where families are seriously trying to lower their fertility. The suspicion remains that in many developing countries, if not most, family fertility objectives are higher than is healthy for the societies in which they live, or for themselves as individuals. 

          Simon Kuznets is fond of pointing out, on the basis of a rigorous analysis of most of the world's knowledge of demographic trends, that when in history people decided they wanted to limit their populations, as happened in Tokugawa, Japan and in 18th and 19th century France, they did so whether contraceptive technology was available to them or not. Moreover, they did so whether the government wanted them to or not. The question remains, why did these populations decide they wanted to limit the number of their offspring? 

          Conversely, why don't more of the people suffering in poverty around the world today decide they wish to limit their offspring?  This question of motivation seems to me of the utmost importance but did not seem to be a priority topic at Cali. 

          More attention was focused there on studies that associate fertility rates with such factors as the age of marriage, the education of women, the employment of women, the status of women, social security schemes, infant mortality, or the distribution of income. I don't doubt that a fairly high correlation of fertility with these factors is normally found but, except for the case of the age of marriage, it seems likely that their relationship is associative rather than causal. 

          In Kuwait, a country with a high level of women's education, broad distribution of income, total social security, rapid upward mobility, low infant mortality, complete urbanization, readily available contraceptives, and most of the other trappings of a developed society, the crude birthrate of the native Kuwaiti population is still 46 per thousand. It may be argued that considering their individual wealth and their plethora of educational and occupational opportunities there is no reason for Kuwaitis to limit their population; but I don't see that the individual prospects for Kuwaitis are much different from Kansans or Minnesotans in these respects. Unless the fertility rate can be explained entirely in terms of the status and occupational opportunities for women, we need to look more deeply into the underlying values and beliefs of Kuwaitis, and other people, before we will understand their fertility behavior. Kuwait, by achieving the social infrastructure of development without having to go through the long and arduous process of increasing individual productivity, seems to offer some evidence that fertility is more associated with individual values, attitudes and beliefs than with income, social security, education, infant mortality and the other aspects of modern society. This is an unproved assertion but, if substantiated, it should have a serious effect on the way we spend our money in the population field. 

Research Need  

          I have tried above to make the case that progress in achieving educational and population program objectives may be seriously inhibited by the slow pace of individual modernization in developing countries, and that individual modernization involves changes in underlying attitudes, beliefs and values. If this is so, the question remains as to whether there are actions that governments and foreign aid agencies can take which could hope to accelerate the process. The first priority should go to research that would extend our knowledge of the nature of psychological modernization and the process through which it occurs. 

          One must admit that the intellectual tools for analyzing individual modernization are not ideal. The modest skimming of psychological literature I have been able to do, with Terry Prothro's guidance, seems to indicate a lack of a general theory of psychological development. Indeed, the notion of psychological modernity is itself controversial. There is, however, growing interest in the field. The state of the art is nicely summarized by Richard Michael Suzman in an article entitled "Psychological Modernity," which appeared in the International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Volume XIV, 3 -4. 

          Suzman sets out to demonstrate that there is a wide range of beliefs, values, perceptions and behavior which are related closely to the central institutions of society and which form a "modernity syndrome."  This syndrome is thought to be connected to central and pervasive structures of personality and cognition, relevant to functioning in society and significantly influenced by education and occupation. He believes the central attributes of personality concerned to be authoritarianism, field independence, and ego development.  

          The central hypothesis is that "in general, modern men are more field independent and differentiated, more conceptually abstract, and have higher levels of ego development."  The concept of field independence has to do with analytical ability, inner guidance for action, and "the ability to break an existing set and extract a precept from a confusing and embedding concept."  This presumably is related to the flexibility of individuals in understanding and coping with change in a social setting.  

          Larry Kohlberg and Jane Loevinger, working independently, have begun to develop models of ego development (Kohlberg calls it “moral development") in terms of stages. Loevinger's stages are summarized in the Suzman article as follows: 

-- The Impulsive stage is characterized by impulsiveness and a fear of retaliation, with people seen as sources of supply and in which an exploitative orientation is often adopted. 

-- The Self Protective stage is characterized by a fear of being caught, a lack of personal responsibility, and opportunism. The person is concerned with control and being controlled. 

-- The Conformist stage is characterized by conformity toward external rules, and identification with parents and authorities is strong. 

-- In the Conscientious stage, self-evaluated standards, self-criticism and guilt for consequences are salient, together with long-term goals. 

-- At the Autonomous stage, the person is more able to deal with conflicting inner needs than is the Conscientious person. 

          Other work, more familiar to me at least, by David McClellan, Alex Inkeles and Erik Erikson on individual modernization is also valuable in beginning to chart the terrain. I believe the Foundation could substantially enhance the amount of work being done, as it did in the reproductive sciences, by concerted grant support. 

Operational Implications  

          Assuming such a program were undertaken, what could we hypothesize might come out of it which would enhance our efforts in the fields of education and population?  Here one can only put forward some guesses and I do so only to illustrate that the results of this kind of basic research are likely to have important operational implications.  

. . . education. In education, psychologists and anthropologists have studied the childrearing practices of many traditional societies. They have demonstrated that from birth, parents instill in children sets of values and beliefs to prepare the child to perform well in the social and physical environment of his society. These traits are reinforced throughout the life of the individual when the traditional society is relatively static. At the present time, when the demands on adults in developing countries are changing so rapidly, there is a natural lag in changing childrearing practices, partly because few people are consciously trying to do so.  

          One can hypothesize that individuals who, through education or occupation, become members of the modernized sector of society will raise their children quite differently from the way they themselves were brought up, but the bulk of the people in most developing countries remain in the traditional sector and therefore change their childrearing practices very slowly if at all. This means that children from traditional families will encounter serious adjustment difficulties when they enter school. (The high repeat and dropout rates of elementary schools in rural areas may be a reflection of this phenomenon, but other factors matter here as well.) 

          The school environment is likely to be particularly difficult for the child if it is modeled on a foreign system of education. In transferring modern educational structures and curricula from advanced countries, we have implicitly assumed something about the attitudes, values and beliefs of the students who are to be educated in these systems. If a child survives in school long enough, he presumably acquires many of these attributes. Empirically this seems to be borne out by the alienation that has been observed to occur between the educated child and his surroundings. When the education process proceeds to the point of graduate study abroad, we often observe that individuals seem to be more at home and productive in the society in which they received their highest training than in their home cultures. 

          As we understand more about what happens when the traditionally raised child goes to school, we should be able to adjust the educational process to accommodate traditional values more smoothly. We should also be able to identify those aspects of traditional childrearing that most inhibit effective functioning in modern institutions. It would be possible under certain conditions to alter childrearing objectives through educational programs for the mothers. 

          If one were to attempt to design childrearing programs and educational programs which seek to enhance the modernization of attitudes, values and beliefs on the basis of present knowledge, the results would probably be unacceptably western in orientation. At present we have an inadequate understanding of which attributes of modernization are essential to the process, and which merely reflect western culture. It may be possible through comparative research, for example with Japanese society, to distinguish the essentials of modernity from the cultural trappings they wear in the West, and then to dress them up in forms more familiar to the developing society.  

          I have come to believe on the basis of observation that our typical concentration on cognitive development is too narrow. Even at the Ph.D. level, we often find that academically successful people tend to be inadequately conscientious, autonomous, and imaginative to make good use of their extensive training. We need a deeper understanding of the psychological processes involved before we can come to grips with some of the key elements of human development. 

          One set of operational objectives in the field of education would be to find ways of adapting childrearing practices that fit modern purposes, and of adapting educational systems to fit the local culture. Another set of activities could be to design non-formal experiences that supplement formal education and relate classroom experience to the realities of the society.  

. . . population. In the population field, the objective must be to shorten the demographic transition between a lowering of mortality rates and a lowering of fertility rates. Decreasing fertility rates presumably occur because of people's changing perceptions of the necessity or desirability of large families. Traditional attitudes, values and religious beliefs throughout the world seem to have included strong motivation for high fertility. By the same token, the modernization process seems inherently to include motivation for lower fertility. (One might even speculate that the level of development of a population is more closely correlated inversely with its fertility rate than with its per capita income.) 

          We should be very sensitive to opportunities for working with religious groups that seek either directly to reduce fertility or to improve the quality of the home environment. Changes in the home environment and in the attitude of mothers toward children may provide the key to lower fertility. Programs which seek to educate mothers on such questions as nutrition, the ways in which children develop, the importance of early childhood experiences, sanitation and the causes of disease, etc., may have greater impact on fertility than direct exhortations to reduce birth rates.  

. . . women. If we were to increase attention to individual modernization outside formal institutions, we would need to re-evaluate the importance of women's role in development. As the key person in the family who transmits the values and attitudes of culture to children, and as an important decision-maker on fertility, the woman has been surprisingly neglected in development programs. It is true there is a rising awareness of the importance of women in development; however, much of the new energies are being devoted to attempts to change women's status and social roles for essentially ideological reasons without understanding the cultural environment in which development takes place.  

. . . mass media. If we were to decide to concentrate on modernizing attitudes and beliefs, particularly of women, we would probably conclude that mass media should have a greater share of our attention than it has in the past. In many cultures it is very difficult to reach the woman with direct communications, except through radio and, in some cases, television. Television is likely to be the most important modernizing force in the long run because of its sheer power, but in the short run radio will reach more people. The radio has been used for transmitting direct messages concerning farming, fertility and formal education, but I doubt that it has systematically been employed in changing attitudes and values except in communist states. 

          The style of communications used in development should also be reviewed in the light of the level of psychological development of the target audiences. If, as Loevinger suggests, people at different stages of ego development march to very different drummers, the choice of medium and the source of the message become crucially important to its reception. 


          This began as a response to your paper on education strategy and to the Cali Conference on population strategy. I have departed from the themes we usually discuss under those rubrics out of a deep sense of misgiving about the long run success of programs currently followed in these fields. Individual modernization appeals to me as an alternative route that we should explore. 

          W. Arthur Lewis concluded some 20 odd years ago that the development process is a desirable activity, not because it increases human happiness or contentment, but because it increases the range of human choices. Economic development, at least to the point of meeting basic nutritional and shelter requirements, is necessary to make choices possible. But it is not sufficient, and of this we have all become increasingly aware in the past decade. We have also become aware that it is impossible for the entire world to achieve the European or American standard of material well being with any technology now known without severely damaging the world environment. 

          If we were able to redefine development objectives in terms of increasing human potential through enhancing the level of individual maturity, we could recapture a lost sense of the possibility of progress in human affairs. We may, at the same time, make a mid-course correction in our programs that will enable them more effectively to increase human welfare.

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