The human resources approach to national development has challenged educators to find ways of communicating with village people that do not rely on the written word. Pictures are being used increasingly as a way to deliver messages to illiterate groups. Recent cross-cultural research has shown, however, that many of the assumptions made about the kinds of information that can be delivered through pictures needs to be re-examined.
Part I of the study sets forth the rationale for using pictures in nonformal educational settings and examines two current approaches to the problem of picture perception. The "constructive" theory maintains that pictures are inherently ambiguous and require active interpretation on the part of the viewer. The "registration" theory suggests that pictures give information which derives from the ecology of light. In this view, the recognition of graphic depictions is considered to be a fairly passive matter and a gift allowed to us by the environment. The evidence of cross-cultural research in picture perception which fives support to each of these positions is reviewed.
Part I also discusses cross-cultural studies of intelligence and examines a body of literature which demonstrates that the intellectual demands of village life are often such that they do not stimulate some of the higher cognitive processes identified by Piaget. The author takes the position advanced by Piaget and Vygotsky that the development of conceptual awareness advances from an intuitive level to one of conscious understanding. Bruner's thesis concerning three modes of learning is also discussed. The traditional modes of learning in village settings are enactive (learning by doing) and iconic (learning by modeling). Symbolic learning which is learning by being told, usually takes place out of the context of ongoing action and, as such, is a radical departure from traditional practice. Like written language, pictures provide a form of symbolically coded experience, and in many cases the learner must be consciously aware of the cures of pictorial expression and how they are used, in order to properly decode their meaning.
Part II details an empirical study carried out in Nepal with four samples of adult subjects: villagers with no schooling, villagers wit some primary or secondary schooling, workers in a furniture factory in the capital city of Kathmandu, and students at Tribhuvan University's Institute of Engineering. A series of sixteen experiments was carried out. The abilities tested were the recognition of depicted objects, the understanding of spatial relationships in concrete situations, and the comprehension of pictorial space. In an effort to avoid introducing arbitrary graphic conventions, photographs and line drawings based on photographs were primarily used as the pictorial stimuli. The recognition of familiar objects in pictures was found to be a great deal easier than the comprehension of pictorial space. The village samples showed a generally poor understanding of euclidian and projective relationships both with regard to real objects and in interpreting pictures. The furniture factory workers and the engineering students performed at higher levels on all experiments, showing that environmental influences or specific experiences of some kind are important both in the development of spatial abilities and in the understanding of pictorial space. On the other hand, topological relationships in pictures were easily grasped by almost all of the villagers.
The author concludes that perspective information was understood at only an intuitive level by the majority of the villagers tested and could not be consciously applied to the interpretation of spatial relationships in pictures. Projective information was consistently interpreted topologically by most of the village subjects. The author suggests that the recognition of familiar objects in pictures is largely an ability which does not require special learning, but that the interpretation of pictorial space is an active process which calls for conscious awareness of projective principles . Recommendations for the design of visual materials for use in nonformal educational settings are made.