Western Schools Called Unsuited to Third World

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After years of well-meaning but largely unsuccessful attempts by international organizations to promote literacy in developing nations, it may be time to abandon modern Western educational methods in these areas, and use "culturally appropriate systems," according to Daniel Wagner of the University of Pennsylvania.

Research in several Moslem countries has shown that more children and adults become literate in Islamic schools than in modern public schools, said Mr. Wagner, an associate professor of education. He presented his analysis at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (aaas) held last week in Washington.

"There are built-in reasons why literacy programs fail," Mr. Wagner said. "There is doubt as to which language should be taught. Most Third World countries are multilin-gual, not just bilingual. And there is doubt about how to convince people to learn to read a language they don't speak."

In addition, he said, Western educational systems do not "fit" with the philosophy and values of traditional societies. This, he said, has created conflicts for individuals and societies.

Traditional Islamic schools, part of the largest non-Western educational system in the Third World, concentrate on the rote learning and recitation of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. Rote learning has been condemned by Western scholars for developing the memory at the expense of logical and creative thinking, Mr. Wagner said.

In traditional Moslem societies, however, such extensive verbal knowledge of religious texts carries cultural value and social status, the researcher added.

Special-education teachers tend to "react negatively" to handicapped students who show no special abilities but "more positively" towards handicapped students who are also gifted, according to a recent study.

Denise E. Shiver, who conducted the study while a doctoral candidate at Texas A & M University, presented eight "case descriptions" of handicapped students to 160 teachers and teacher candidates.

The subjects were asked to rate each of the eight students described, using 10 pairs of adjectives such as "neat or sloppy," and "valuable or worthless."

As a result of the research, Ms. Shiver concluded that special-education teachers subconsciously have negative attitudes toward handicapped students in general. But if a handicapped student also happens to be gifted, she noted, teachers' attitudes are more positive.

Ms. Shiver, now a school psychologist in the Houston area, said her research points out problems that might be addressed in teacher-training programs.

And she expressed the hope that teachers' high expectations for gifted handicapped students will enhance the achievement of such students.

Vol. 01, Issue 16

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