Two simultaneous revolutions in the developing countries-in education and in communications-can be expected separately and through their interaction to have an impact which is as yet only vaguely foreseen. They promise changes not merely in degree but in kind. As education pushes toward universality, and as the communications network makes more and more sweeping use of printing, broadcasting, film-making and other new methods, the effects will be not only on the economy but perhaps on the basic civic structure of the societies concerned. Whether the long-run political results will be beneficial is another and quite different question. And whether the side effects will strengthen the social fabric is likewise in doubt. But, whether for good or ill, overwhelming changes are going to occur. We should think about them if we are concerned with the welfare of Asia and Africa and Latin America, or with the relations of their societies with the rest of the world.

A look at the size and shape of the educational revolution is necessary before we consider the communications revolution with which it interacts. We start with the proposition that the developing countries should be able to achieve important shortcuts, proceeding directly to new methods of instruction. Ironically, the underdeveloped state of both their education and their communications is a positive boon in that new methods will be far easier to introduce than if there were more substantial vested interests committed to old-fashioned ways of doing things, hence inclined to regard progress along any new lines as a threat. The developing nations should be able to use audiovisual techniques instead of depending exclusively on individual teachers and the printing press. Contact of the best teachers with the mass of the country's pupils should be possible through multiplication by electronics. At least some of the principles of programmed learning can enter the new textbooks. Wide currency can be given to supplementary reading that is interesting to the student instead of imprisoning the mind in the narrowness of one textbook. The oral approach and other new methods of language teaching can replace the formal-grammar systems that have proved so arduous and so ineffective.

Yet the circumstances in which these developments will take place are so unprecedented and suggest so many reciprocal relations with economics, politics and sociology that the path toward the ultimate goals will be cluttered with obstructions and diverted through many detours. Some examples may suggest how bizarre the circumstances can be.

Think, for instance, of what would be involved in introducing audiovisual methods of instruction into Asian and African schools. Planners can calculate the economic requirements for broadcasting systems and receivers. They can even project the need for training operators of the equipment and for supplying electricity many leagues from any present source. But there is an additional need that is so homespun and down-to-earth that nobody ever thinks of it. For the new systems to work there must be conditions of light and acoustics which probably do not now exist in one in a thousand Afro-Asian school buildings. What chance will McLuhan have in a building with perhaps half a dozen different grades in one room, no partitions, no sidewalls if the school is in the tropics, and with a corrugated metal roof that produces a deafening roar throughout much of the rainy season? It is of course technically easier to remodel or rebuild school buildings than to create a national broadcasting system, but this is a good illustration of the unexpected troubles, arising from the humblest sources, that can block a system in which all the much more sophisticated elements seem to have been accounted for.

For another example of frustrations from extraneous sources, consider the illogicalities in the rules about customs duties. Countries trying to achieve self-sufficiency in one branch or another of the communications industry constantly let their own rules prevent attainment of the objective. Foreign books come in duty-free, but the paper which local publishers need to manufacture their own books is subject to duty. Exposed film or prints may enter without duty while raw film that the local film industry needs for its production draws a heavy tax. Some years ago an infant industry for casting Bengali printing types in East Pakistan collapsed because of high duty on the special metals required, while competition in the form of metal already cast into Bengali type came in free. Such illogicalities are not peculiar to the developing countries. We can cite embarrassing analogues at home. But the Asians and Africans and Latin Americans in general have so small a margin for error that they cannot bear the burden of such absurdities.

Turning to another aspect of economics, one of the issues in African educational publishing is whether there should be a competitive system or a state monopoly. That would seem to be a basically African issue, though foreigners might be expected to favor one course or the other according to ideological preference. But it is astonishing to report that the greatest encouragement toward a state system has come from Harold Macmillan, lately Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain. After leaving Downing Street and returning to the publishing house that bears his name, he undertook a series of African safaris, signing agreements with several countries to coöperate with state publishing enterprises which had been given a theoretical monopoly on educational publishing. Macmillan would no doubt say that he did not invent the trend toward statism in Africa, and that the coöperation of his house should at least improve the quality of the books published. But it is still a fact, wryly noted with special bitterness by Macmillan's business rivals who happen to be Labor-minded, that a Tory enhanced the prospects of socialism in African publishing more than any socialist or any African.

For an example somewhat the other way round: Abdoulaye Diop, publisher of Présence Africaine, is the most ardent advocate of Africanism in the continent's publishing. But he has felt it necessary to use Paris as his headquarters and place of publication because jealousies among the possible African centers, such as Dakar and Abidjan, are so intense that French- speaking Africans will accept books with a theoretically objectionable "Paris" on the title page more readily than the name of a city in any African country except their own.

Or, as a commentary on how hard it is to get small capital for components of the communications industry, note the comment of a Middle Eastern banker: "If a publisher has a ton of raw paper, that is perfectly good security on which I will be glad to lend him money. But if he goes and ruins that paper by printing words on it, I can't lend him a piaster!"

II

The educational revolution is proceeding apace, but that is not to say that education is getting better and better everywhere in Asia and Africa. Indeed there has been retrogression in some places. The reasons for this have been varied, some quite irrelevant to education itself. There has been diversion of American foreign aid from developmental to military purposes, and there has been disruption from such causes as the Chinese invasion of India and the Indo-Pakistani war, the Middle East War, civil war in Nigeria, economic prostration in Indonesia. But some of the other reasons relate to the educational revolution itself. There has been too-easy acceptance of foreign schemes not really suitable for the local educational system. New curricula have been handed to teachers whose minds are rooted in the old. Teaching methods absolutely dependent on new teaching materials have been introduced before the materials are available. And, because of the need for a great increase in the number of teachers, too many countries have had a teaching force up to one-fourth of whose members may themselves have had an education no higher than sixth grade.

Many Asian and African educators realize that more deliberate speed in the reforms would have been advisable. But for better or worse the great movement is under way, and its main outlines seem clear:

The reality of the movement toward universal elementary education is beyond question. Even if quality has gone down because too much was attempted all at once, education has pushed out beyond the cities to the remotest provinces. To some extent even the nomadic tribes are included, with schools that move back and forth with the seasons. A closely reasoned and statistically responsible projection for the future can be found in a document called "Draft Model for Educational Development in Asia." It was prepared by UNESCO specialists in 1965 in response to a request from the Ministers of Education of the Asian member states. According to that study, seven years of elementary education will be universal-in practice, not merely on the statute books-by 1980 for all of the eighteen Asian countries studied except Afghanistan, Laos and Nepal, and even those three are expected to achieve universality sometime after 1980. At the time of the study the percentage of elementary-age children actually in school varied from 10 percent in Afghanistan through 57 percent in India to 98 percent in Taiwan.

The distinction between continuing and terminal education will be more frankly recognized. The pretense will be abandoned that every little Asian or African presenting himself at school is an eventual candidate for an Oxford D.Phil. The number of students who do in fact continue into higher education will of course increase greatly, but there will be more realism about the others. An effort will be made to serve the real educational needs of the far greater number who will not go beyond seventh grade. Although it would be a sad mistake to shape Afro-Asian education too exclusively in response to the need for technical skills, it is a fact that vocational education is woefully underdeveloped. More intelligent attention can be given to that important subject in the new curricula. There is a real determination to respond to actual local needs and interests rather than to copy something from a British or American school.

New methods of instruction are being tried out in many countries of Africa and Asia. Some of these will prevail, and elsewhere still newer systems will be tried. And new methods require new educational materials and new training of teachers. There are already quite a number of efforts, widely scattered, to adapt some of the recent inventions such as the new mathematics and sciences, new methods of language teaching, some elements of programmed learning and novel forms of student participation.

Meanwhile, the changes in secondary and higher education should also be dramatic, though the trends in each may well be in opposing directions. In high school the changes will be toward satisfaction of local needs. In the universities, on the other hand, there will be an effort toward closer matching of the qualities and standards of higher education and advanced research in developed nations. The UNESCO study indicates that school enrollment in the secondary years in the eighteen countries studied will grow from 12 million to 46 million by 1980, while the growth in what we would call junior colleges will be from 2 million to 6 million.

(5) Education will be increasingly directed toward specific manpower needs. That has both good and bad implications. It is good because the manpower needs are genuine and must positively be filled if a nation is to progress. Also, the practicality of the manpower argument appeals to sister ministries of finance, industry, commerce and economic development from which education seeks support. But there is reason for concern about too much emphasis on technical skills. A projection of manpower needs as a basis for educational planning was introduced by Frederick Harbison in the famous Ashby Report on Nigerian education a decade ago. It proved to be one of the most useful concepts for guiding educational development, and it continues to be of value. As long as the term "manpower needs" is given enough breadth the approach is clearly beneficial. But the danger is the tendency of a narrow manpower specialist to forget that man does not live by bread alone. The need is to educate the whole person, no matter at how low a level the education will stop, and whether the individual is destined for a career as a spindle-tender in a cotton mill or a creative thinker at the summit of the country's intellectual life.

(6) Adult literacy, which excites automatic enthusiasm among developing- country politicians and Western do-gooders, is not of comparable importance. Each country has to decide whether it can afford both full development of school education and a simultaneous effort to save a generation or half-generation of people who had no schooling. If a real job can be done on the new generations as they come along, a developing country would be justified, if forced to it by economic necessity, virtually to forget about the older people.

But if something is to be done with the dropouts and the unschooled, then a specially designed effort is required, quite different from anything in the school system itself. Reading materials for adult new-literates need the same language simplicity as primary-school books, but the content must be such as will interest adult minds. Some Asian and African and Latin American countries will undoubtedly reach the negative decision suggested above, but others will make a major production of adult literacy. Because of the numbers involved while the educated new generation is replacing the old, that will be a large order.

III

These revolutionary developments in education need the oncoming communications revolution to make them work. But, in turnabout fashion, the communications revolution depends on education to provide the staff for handling its intricate machinery and to create the mass audience to receive its messages. Unexpected things will no doubt happen as these movements proceed, but predictions can be made about the main lines of development.

First, if there is to be a truly mass system of communication, it will be necessary to develop methods and devices permitting lowest possible unit cost per citizen reached. That, in turn, will have critical meaning for all branches of the communications industry. Included will be printing, publishing, broadcasting, filmmaking and the industries producing the needed supplies such as paper, ink and adhesives for printed matter; radio and TV receivers; and batteries and small generators to provide electricity at points remote from power sources. The economic as well as technological by-products of this will be history-making in themselves. In some of these areas Western technology itself must advance; in others, the problem is merely to transfer the existing technology to the developing countries.

Second, the communications system will be "multi-media," whether for the general public or in school use. Many Asian and African and Latin American schools a decade hence may well have not only classroom teachers, not only books, not only radio, not only TV, not only films, but elements drawn from the whole range of modern methods of communicating with masses of people. Electronic and other new media should increase rather than decrease the need for traditional materials such as printed matter. That is not merely because the overall educated public will be enlarged but also because of the need for consolidating and making permanent the powerful though transitory impact of the lesson received through electronics. The need for conventional materials can thus be expected to increase not only in the classroom but also in supplementary school use (notably in school libraries) and in general public use. Introduction of new media will surely cause some economic dislocations, but in the long run there should be many more readers of newspapers, magazines and books and a great expansion of school and public libraries.

Third, there will be a strong incentive to seek multinational solutions of many communications problems. The extent to which the possibilities can be realized will of course depend on political and other considerations, but economic logic clearly points in that direction. It is beyond the economic capability of each small country in Africa, for instance, to have its own full book-publishing industry, its own satellite or even its own full programming for educational TV, its own production of films, its own paper mills, its own manufacture of receivers and batteries.

Every country, no matter how small, must have its own printing plant; yet here too it will not be possible for each nation to support a plant large enough to produce at the low costs that can be achieved only with mass production. Two of the largest printing plants on the African continent are in Guinea and Ghana. These huge modern establishments, built in Conakry and at Tema near Accra with Eastern bloc assistance, are far larger than the two countries would require even years from now. Each of the two leaders, Sékou Touré and Nkrumah, had the vision of profit through serving the printing needs of all of West Africa, and they were right in the basic thought. Aside from the problem of competition with each other, the two plans were theoretically sound. If politics would permit it, a large modern plant able to capture the economies of mass production should be able to give the region better books at much lower prices. An even smaller country, Kuwait, also has a regionally significant printing enterprise, producing the magazine Al Arabi, which has wider general readership than any other publication in Arabic. Still another tiny country, Lebanon, is an active center of book publication and distribution for the whole Arab world.

An even stronger case for regionalization can be made when it comes to newer techniques such as educational broadcasting by satellite. Even aside from the possibility of multi-channel broadcasting in different languages, think of the prospect-politics permitting-of an educational program via satellite serving Latin America in Spanish or one or another of the different parts of sub-Saharan Africa in English or French. And there are equally logical possibilities for reaching Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian language; West Pakistan and parts of India in Urdu; East and West Bengal in Bengali; Ceylon and parts of South India in Tamil; and any one of several groupings of Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Perhaps politics will prove an insuperable obstacle, but some kind of modus vivendi has been found on comparable issues that seem at least as delicate- for instance, the division of the Nile waters among Uganda, Sudan and the U.A.R. So logical a scheme as regional educational broadcasting might be workable at least with respect to subjects which are not especially sensitive politically-such as mathematics and the natural sciences, including health and agriculture.

A number of projects looking toward regionalism in education have been started. There was a modestly successful project, centered in Cameroun, for joint textbook production with Chad, Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville) and the Central African Republic. The organization called SEAMES (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Secretariat) based in Bangkok is barely under way, but a hopeful sign is that the Asian Development Bank has indicated readiness to coöperate with SEAMES for providing capital for educationally oriented facilities for regional use. And attention should be given to the West African Examination Council, a kind of "College Board" that should have significant influence on school curricula. Some degree of uniformity in secondary school curricula is a prerequisite to effective multi-country use of textbooks, films, and radio and TV broadcasts.

The fourth and last of the predictions that might be risked at this distance is that there will be even more intense competition for control of the channels of communication. Many of the motivations will have little to do with education. They will include ideology, nationalism, profit and individual political ambition. That is nothing new in the world, and it is not unknown in our own history. But the temptations will be much greater in Asia, Africa and Latin America because of both the newness and the uniqueness of the pervasive system created for educational purposes but susceptible of use for quite different purposes. And given the huge potential for growth in the communications industry, there will be severe temptations to establish monopolies or otherwise control supplies of component parts of the system.

IV

What will be the effect of all these developments? In the business- industrial field there will be an elaborate series of interconnected movements relating to the needs of the new industries for capital, personnel, equipment and materials. There may be an impact on the construction industry in connection with remodeling schools as well as building new ones. In arranging to meet all those needs the countries may proceed in hit-or-miss fashion, or the requirements may be wisely integrated in overall national plans. Either way, there will be a conflict of values or of desired ends.

One economic question that will recur frequently is whether a country should strive for autarky in providing the continuing supplies, such as paper and batteries, which the communications industry will need. As an example, take the case of paper supply for a country that happens to be sugar-producing. In the long run will it be best for the country to continue bearing the foreign-exchange burden of importing paper? Or should it join with neighbors in some regional scheme? Or should it create its own paper industry for which the raw material might be bagasse (the fiber remaining after sugar has been extracted from cane)? If the last alternative is chosen, what fuel will replace the bagasse formerly burned as the chief power source for the refining industry?

Another kind of decision relating to the communications industry has to be made with respect to foreign investment. Joint ventures with experienced foreign firms from developed countries may be especially useful not only in bringing in capital and managerial experience but also in supplying patent rights, knowledge about how to train personnel and access to world sources of equipment and raw materials. But even aside from xenophobia and other psychological factors that have brought disaster to some of the joint efforts in other fields, there are delicacies as to the country's foreign- investment laws. And especially careful planning is needed to coördinate company training plans with the public vocational education system. Each tentative answer leads to new questions, and the process seems never- ending. It does appear, however, that national planners in more and more of the Asian and African countries-sometimes even with the help of computers- are now capable of envisaging the full gamut of relationships among the different factors. Too often in the past the new countries have jumped headlong into some project and then discovered that the effect on some other sector was highly adverse. There is now reason to hope that the social and economic side effects of the changes in education and communications can at least be anticipated, even if not in all ways provided for.

One area in which no computer is needed to predict that there will be a change is that of the consumer-goods industries. New markets can be reached, and the desires and interests of the once remote country people will be subject to many of the same influences that affect city folk. That will not be an unalloyed good, but there are observers who view the prospect with favor. They think not merely of the stimulus to the consumer- goods industries but especially of the spur to increased production in the countryside itself, as new incentives and rewards are offered to the mass of the rural population. The hope of someday getting a flashlight or a radio or a bicycle could thus introduce an entirely new factor into the rural economy. Even advertisements of such gadgets could-in this view-have public benefits comparable to the editorial content of the publications or broadcasts.

The chain reaction will go on and on. Highway development is part of the communications revolution, and it will stimulate other parts. Conversely, improvement in other communications will be among the influences leading to still more highways. And as printed matter goes into the villages there will be requirements for an expanded postal system and for better ways of transmitting small amounts of money. If, as is contemplated in several Asian countries, there is a movement toward "subscription selling" of groups of books, like our method of merchandising encyclopedias, that could have a significant effect on branch banking because of the need for collection points for the installment payments. In fact, a banker in Afghanistan said he would be glad to have his bank make such collections without fee because the system would bring into the bank large numbers of people who might eventually become depositors. As to the postal system, there was a fine example in Iran recently: the fortnightly mass-circulation magazine for new literates was directly responsible for the opening of a couple of hundred new post offices because the publication had the requisite number of subscribers in villages that had never before enjoyed postal service.

V

But will all this tend to snuff out local culture? Will a kind of internationalized Western music, reaching every village by some mass system, drown out the gamelans and sitars and talking drums? Will the flood of second-rate Western cultural artifacts and the dubious messages of our mass media so clog the channels that local culture will have no chance? Even within one country, will the historic subcultures be buried in a banal national uniformity? All that is of course possible. But one of the reasons for thinking the disaster may not occur is the change of attitude, compared with ten years ago, on the part of Asian and African intellectual leaders. The change has been noteworthy in the case of the communications specialists who run the machinery of publishing, broadcasting and film- making. They have given new encouragement to folk music, folk drama, folk dance, poetry-reading in the national language and design motifs from local crafts. Granted that they have multiplied rock and roll at the same time, there has been apparent sincerity in the effort to use modern devices as a means of preserving the traditional culture.

The attitude toward national languages in Asia is especially interesting. A decade ago the overwhelming majority of Asian educators snorted at any suggestion that there was a future for national languages in higher education, and in this they were frequently encouraged by foreign advisers. Now, however, in one country after another there has been recognition that the standard of English commanded by most university students is inadequate for intelligent use of English-language textbooks. There have been movements-some of which have progressed quite far-for introducing university-level textbooks in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Bengali, Burmese, Thai and Indonesian; and there is an increasingly successful effort to provide young people with interesting things to read in their own language. Meanwhile, although most people agree that the average quality of English has declined in the last decade, the number of people with some functional command of the language has increased.

One effect of the strengthening of national languages in Asia will be that writers will have a national audience to address. That will be a great encouragement; so often in the past, writers have felt that they had first to achieve mastery of English and then rush their manuscripts off to London or New York, even if the audience they wanted to reach was composed of their fellow citizens at home.

But pessimistic observers will see dire misfortune in civic life, whatever the educational or cultural benefits in formal terms. They think that the communications system will be controlled by demagogues, and that a better system will merely make it easier for malefactors to gain popular support for their evil purposes. That could happen, but there is at least an equal chance that better education and the immediacy of knowledge of what is going on in the country and the world will not only expose demagoguery but provide a curb on corruption, stimulate individual output of energy and useful work, and perhaps in some countries (especially in Africa) create a sense of nationhood which has not so far existed. The simultaneous revolutions may bring results inconceivable at present-such as the universal practice of family planning or a renascence in poetry. We can only be sure that, for good or ill, monumental changes are coming in both education and communications, and that all phases of life in Asia, Africa and Latin America will be affected by them.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now