ABSTRACT: This article presents the findings of a field-based study which employed ethnographic techniques in the form of extensive participant observation and semi-structured and informal interviews to determine the major informal learning strategies employed by Melanesian people in Western Province, Solomon Islands (WPSI), and the contexts in which such strategies were most prevalent. Major strategies were: observation, passive and active imitation, partial and full participation, listening, and asking. The educational implications for teachers in Western-style classrooms in Solomon Islands and in non-industrialised societies in general are discussed.
The conceptual framework which informed the research presented in this paper originated in the work of Kneller (1965). He suggested that learning processes or strategies, that, is, activities which foster learning, are an integral part of almost any human learning. According to Kneller (1965), the principal learning processes were watching, doing and listening, and that the emphasis which was placed on each of these varied from one culture to another, and from one learning task or content area to another. Kneller (1965) also mentioned the importance of contextual influences on learning processes, and observed that the peer group, social power structures, and the social status of teachers all influence learning. Thus there are essentially three facets to learning: content, strategy, and context.
In reviewing the literature on culture and cognition, Scribner and Cole (1973) presented substantial evidence indicating that it was unlikely there are any significant cultural differences in cognitive processes. All people have the ability to perform basic cognitive activities such as memorisation, generalisation, concept formation, use of abstractions and logical reasoning. Scribner and Cole (1973) suggested , therefore, that the differences in learning behaviours exhibited by individuals from different cultural groups was not the result of varying cognitive ability. Like Kneller (1965) and Lave (1988), Scribner and Cole (1973) acknowledged that variations in learning behaviours, including the selective use of particular learning strategies, are substantially influenced by the sociocultural context in which learning occurs.
Each culture, then, has its own informal learning system, comprising strategies, contexts and content, which students from that culture bring to the formal learning environment of the classroom. The resulting interaction between the informal and formal learning systems has profound effects on classroom behaviour and the outcomes of formal learning. Such interactions have been examined in a variety of cultural settings, and the findings of several of these studies are reviewed briefly below, particularly in relation to learning strategies.
These studies have further established the importance of students' cultural background on their learning system and the extent to which this affects learning in cross-cultural classroom situations, that is, those in which the culture of the home differs substantially from the culture of the school (see, for example, Levin, 1978; Philips, 1983; Harris, 1984; Christie, 1985; Jordan, 1985; Sanders, 1989; Little, 1990; Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo, 1992). Whilst it could be argued that the strategies and contexts of learning described in these studies are found in many other cultures and even in classrooms, the important point is that each culture places emphasis on particular aspects of the learning system and often much less emphasis on the strategies and contexts demanded in classroom situations. In fact Harris (1984) has shown that some aspects of a student's home culture may be in serious conflict with the demands of classroom learning.
The contextual elements of informal learning in Solomon Islands have been dealt with elsewhere (Ninnes, in press) and will be reviewed below. This paper focuses in particular on learning strategies as the second major element of informal learning systems, since strategies are part of the "more subtle, subjective aspects of culture that affect instructional interaction and learning" (Cushner, 1990: 101). These learning strategies are then related to the contextual framework previously developed. In reporting results, particular content areas will be discussed, although content is not the primary focus of this paper.
Harris (1984) notes that observation, imitation, personal trial and error, real life performance, mastery of context-specific skills and person-oriented learning are the dominant informal learning strategies employed by Aboriginal people at Milingimbi in North Australia. He contrasts this with schools which employ oral or written instruction, demonstration, practice in contrived settings and the learning of decontextualized, generalizable principles.
Within the Native American context, various authors note the presence of learning strategies such as observation, imitation, verbal instruction, and participation in everyday activities. Questioning is often discouraged and quietness is encouraged (Philips, 1983; Sindell, 1974; Souaid, 1988; Spindler, 1963; Cazden and John, 1971).
Most of the anthropological literature reviewed below pertains to parts of the Solomon Islands other than the Western Province in which the present study occurred. The exceptions are Scheffler's (1965) work on the island of Choiseul and Capell's (1943) and Russell's (1948) work in the Marovo Lagoon region at the eastern end of New Georgia. Each of these authors however mention informal learning in only a brief and cursory manner, the major focus of their work being elsewhere.
The learning strategies of observation and imitation consist of watching someone performing a skill and then copying them at the same or a later time. These strategies are reported from the islands of Bougainville (Oliver, 1955), Malaita (Hogbin, 1939; Cooper, 1973; Ross, 1973) and Guadalcanal (Hogbin, 1964). They were used to learn skills such as fishing, swimming, dancing, weaving, rope making, fighting and house construction.
Another learning strategy reported in the literature is that of participation, in which children are involved to a greater or lesser extent in actual adult activities as they are being performed. This strategy has been reported from Malaita (Hogbin, 1939; Ross, 1973; Burt, 1982), Guadalcanal (Hogbin, 1964), Isabel (Bogesi, 1948, 1949), Choiseul (Scheffler, 1965) and Marovo (Russell, 1948) to learn skills such as dancing, food gathering, household chores, gardening, ritual activities, sibling caretaking and canoe handling.
A third major learning strategy in Solomon Islands is listening. Children receive verbal instructions and hear stories, songs and everyday conversations. This strategy has been reported from Malaita (Hogbin, 1939; Keesing and Fifi'i, 1969; Cooper, 1973; Maranda, 1975; Keesing, 1978; Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo, 1986a, 1986b), Bougainville (Oliver, 1955; Delpit and Kemelfield, 1985); Guadalcanal (Hogbin, 1964), and Marovo (Capell, 1943). Using this strategy, children learned such things as societal values, correct use of language, word taboos, myths and folklore, genealogical relationships and their associated behavioural obligations and privileges, gardening techniques, and names of plants and animals.
a) To determine the nature of the informal learning strategies used by
Melanesians in Western Province, Solomon Islands (WPSI), and relate these
to the contextual elements of the informal learning system outlined above;
b) Suggest some of the implications of these informal learning strategies for Western-type classrooms in Solomon Islands and in non-industrialised societies in general.
Thomas' (1985) study of the relationship between culture and curriculum in Solomon Islands is one of only two detailed studies of the relationship between culture and education in that country. He approached the task from the perspective of an officer in the Ministry of Education, and therefore tended to have an educational administration orientation. Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo (1986a, 1986b) have made a significant contribution to an understanding of language socialisation amongst the Kwara'ae of Malaita, but their field data on informal learning consists principally of tape recordings of family discourses (Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo, 1992: 22), and thus lacks the broad perspective on informal learning derived from extensive observational data which is presented in this paper.
The study was based at Goldie College, a co-educational United Church secondary boarding school near Munda in WPSI. The school predominantly draws its students from WPSI. Field work was conducted at the college and during field trips of up to 3 weeks duration to various sites in the province including the islands of New Georgia, Parara, Choiseul and Vella La Vella. Data collection was most intensive during the last 2 years of my 4 years residence as a science teacher at Goldie College.
a) Participant observation of children and adults involved in a wide variety of activities. Participant observation notes were recorded when incidents occurred or as soon as possible afterwards for a period of 22 months. The notes were regularly reviewed in order to evaluate the range and type of data being collected. I was fortunate in obtaining a head start to immersion in the world of Solomon Islanders, by being resident at Goldie College for the two years prior to commencement of data collection, and for two years before that in Vanuatu which has cultural features similar to Solomon Islands. During our stay in Solomon Islands, my family and I tried in every way possible to take part in the life of the Goldie College community and to live in a manner similar to the Solomon Islander families living at the school. We learned to speak the national lingua franca Pijin, which is similar to Bislama in which we had become fluent in Vanuatu. Almost everybody in Solomon Islands speaks Pijin. I also made considerable effort to learn the local vernacular Roviana, which previously had the status of a lingua franca in the Western Province and which is spoken by most people over about forty-five years of age associated with the United Church (Early, 1981). Rudimentary words and phrases were also learned in Babatana, the lingua franca of Choiseul, and Bilua, the lingua franca of Vella La Vella. The former in particular was useful as many College staff came from Choiseul and the language was commonly heard at Goldie College.
During the period 1988-1990 my wife and I with help from various friends worked a substantial subsistence garden in the bush behind the school and adjacent to several other staff gardens. This project provided many opportunities to share experiences, develop friendships, observe people interacting, break down social and cultural barriers and learn language. It also created opportunities for Solomon Islanders to teach us, giving us more of an image as 'commoners' rather than 'big men,' the latter being a common way in which expatriate missionary teachers are perceived.
We also cooked and ate local food, made copra on a drying rack in our outside kitchen, went fishing with local people for various kinds of fish including bonito and kingfish, had two babies at the local hospital, raised a pig, held feasts for our children's first birthdays, adopted dress habits similar to those of the local people, joined in fellowship meals and groups and participated in church life.
b) Semi-structured interviews of 10 selected indigenous consultants. In these interviews each consultant was asked to relate how they had learned to perform particular tasks. Some consultants were interviewed more than once. The average number of interviews per consultant was 1.9 and the average total time spent interviewing each consultant was 2.1 hours The ten consultants, consisting of 5 females and 5 males, were from a variety of islands in WPSI (Choiseul, New Georgia, Parara, Vella La Vella, and Marovo), had a broad age range (20-59 years) and occupational history (carpenter, home duties, nurse, domestic worker, teacher, pastor), and had been known to me for an average of 2 years and 9 months before the first interview. Interviews were conducted in Solomons Pijin or English.
c) Informal interviews. As a participant in the very wide range of activities described above, I had the opportunity to partake in everyday conversations about the events that were occurring and elucidate the participants' perspectives on them. Records of these conversations were kept as part of the observation notes, with care being taken to note the topic being discussed, who initiated the conversation, who made each statement and in what context. Where possible, verbatim notes were recorded in order to reduce the possibility of imposing my own interpretation on statements.
Learning by observation involves watching another person performing an activity and then copying them at a later time (cf. definition of imitation, below). Data collected in this study confirmed the important role which observation plays in the WPSI learning system. Observation occurred both within the context of the peer group and when children were in the presence of members of the older generations. The following example is one of several anecdotes collected which illustrate learning by observation. To maintain confidentiality, names of participants are represented in this and following anecdotes by the use of random two letter codes. All anecdotes are direct quotations from the filed journal and are enclosed in inverted commas.
"FN bought a small rice bag full of okete nuts at the market. She wanted
to roast some in order to preserve them, but didn't know how. So she asked
DB and EP. Both said that though they'd seen it done several times before,
neither of them had actually tried it. Nevertheless they knew which leaves
to use, how hot to make the fire and how to arrange the leaves, hot stones
and nuts so that the nuts would be cooked properly. So the three of them
did it together successfully."
In this incident, there is a lengthy time lag between the learners DB and EP seeing the activity performed and performing it themselves. Nevertheless they knew the relevant details of the task and how to implement each step. This is also an example of the unrestricted nature of knowledge pertaining to life skills. In this incident, FN wanted to know how to cook the nuts, and she simply needed to ask her friends to show her how to cook them and they did.
Several of the consultants reported learning by observation. Skills learned in this way included fishing, canoe construction, weaving, cooking, and housework. In most of these cases, learning occurred with members of the older generations. This use of observation for learning life skills parallels the findings of researchers working on Bougainville (Oliver, 1955), Malaita (Hogbin, 1939, Cooper, 1973; and Ross, 1973) and Guadalcanal (Hogbin, 1964).
One particular aspect of observation which was often recorded in the field notes and reported by consultants was role playing. This kind of learning strategy was not mentioned in other accounts of learning by observation in Solomon Islands, such as Hogbin (1939, 1964), Cooper, (1973), and Ross, (1973). Among other things, children were observed role playing choir performances and house building. Consultants reported that they role played activities such as looking after babies, throwing spears, catching fish, gardening, paddling canoes, and house building. Role playing was most commonly reported as occurring within the context of the peer group.
Imitation means seeing something happening and copying it at the same time or immediately afterwards (Harris, 1984). This study identified two kinds of imitation: passive and active. Passive imitation involves no mutually conscious interaction between the imitator and the imitated. The following example illustrates passive imitation of an elderly man by a WPSI child. Many other incidents of a similar nature were observed.
"Outside the church building an old man of about 60 was cutting grass
with a sariff. Nearby a boy of about 5 attacked the grass with similar
movements, but instead of a sariff he used a flat stick about 4 cm wide and
40 cm long."
Consultants to this research did not generally distinguish between observation and passive imitation. In some cases there is an implied or stated time lapse between looking and doing. In other reports the time lapse is not clear.
Active imitation involves a conscious interaction between imitator and imitated. This is sometimes referred to as 'showing'. Active imitation is often accompanied by verbal instruction which is discussed further below. The following anecdote illustrates the use of active imitation of an elder to foster learning in WPSI. A middle aged man, EN, was organising a group of people preparing a mortuary feast for EN's two uncles. The group consisted primarily of a circle of teenage boys who were cutting up pork and parcelling it in leaves.
"To one side but adjacent to the main circle were 3 younger boys about
10 years old who were also wrapping up pork parcels. They were tying them up
in a simple way - just wrapping a shred of leaf around a couple of times
and tying an ordinary knot. EN saw how they were doing it and came over
and showed one boy how to do it, step by step, explaining each step
verbally. First he looped one end of the rope over his thumb, then he
wrapped it several times round the parcel, then he put the free end through
the loop and tightened it by pulling on both ends. Then he put the parcel
on the pile and showed one of the other boys how to do it in the same way.
Then EN went back to cutting up the pig. The second boy that he'd shown
then continued doing it correctly, but the first boy was wrapping the rope
around above his hand instead of below it."
The use of active imitation or showing was reported by several consultants for learning skills such as digging, planting and harvesting, fishing techniques, and cooking. In the majority of these reports, a member of the older generations showed the consultant how to perform the task. One consultant reported that her parents did not show her how to make a garden, but simply told her to go and do it.
As noted above, previous Solomon Islands ethnographies have not distinguished between observation and imitation. However, Harris (1984), in his ethnography of informal learning among one Aboriginal Australian group, did make such a distinction, and the replication of Harris' finding in the current study indicates that the time lapse between seeing and doing is an important one. Furthermore the learning strategy of active imitation found in the WPSI informal learning system is identical to the strategy which Sanders (1989) referred to as 'showing', and this indicates that this kind of learning may be widespread in Melanesian societies.
In this analysis 'participation' is a learning strategy which involves the learner being closely involved in doing that which is being learned. This definition of participation incorporates the concept of 'trial and error' used by Harris (1984). This research has revealed that participation often only occurs after a period of observation, and that for some knowledge areas there is an intermediate stage of 'partial participation'. In this intermediate stage, the learner usually performs the easier parts of the task, and someone else performs the more difficult parts. Analysis of anecdotal data pertaining to partial participation shows that it is older people who judge the relative difficulty of the tasks and decide which parts children will perform. The timing of the onset of full participation also varies, and appears to be related to the area of knowledge involved and the context in which the participation is occurring.
The linear relationship between observation and participation can be implied from data obtained from observations of children playing. An analysis of the actors involved in one observed incident will illustrate the connection between observation and participation. In WPSI, children were often seen playing a game which could be called the 'Rubber Band Game'. It involves two players throwing or flicking rubber bands onto the ground about 3 to 5 metres in front of the players, attempting to land the rubber band so that it overlaps one already on the ground.
"A large group of children were playing or watching the rubber band
game. Instead of tossing the rubber bands, they stretched them over their
thumbs and dinged them towards where the cement floor met the wall. There
were two games in progress simultaneously. GT, EW and GB in one group, two of
whom played at one time, the third taking over from the loser. The other
game was between EM and EL. At one stage FZ and BP were also playing but
they wandered off after a few minutes to play at watering plants,
collecting water from the tank in half coconut shells and carrying them off
behind the kitchen. AE was also wandering around, with EL keeping one eye
on her and at one stage taking a bush knife away from her."
Many similar instances have been noted in which younger children watch older members of their peer group playing. One or two year olds are often present while older children play. Their observation is not systematic or concentrated, but over time it appears that the younger children learn how to play the game and eventually begin to play themselves.
The above incident involves children aged 6 years old or over except for AE who was two years old at the time and who acted as only a peripheral observer in the incident. Fifteen months later, children born in the same year as AE were seen playing the rubber band game at Goldie College. In this incident, the youngest children were only observers, while the older children either watched or participated actively, or alternated between watching and participating.
Many cases of partial participation were observed in WPSI, and these were corroborated by consultants' reports. The following incident is an example of the way household chores are learned by partial participation.
"An old woman, EJ was sweeping the road in front of her house. As she
made piles of leaves and flowers, her two grand-daughters CC and DG aged 8
and 6 respectively used a rice bag to pick up the rubbish and take it and throw
it in the sea. When she finished sweeping the road, she swept the sand
between the road and the sea. The girls would sometimes wander off if no
rubbish was ready, then EJ would call one of them when it was ready."
In this incident it can be seen that the children are not performing every aspect of the task and that adults and other older people make judgements about the level at which children will participate. Three consultants also report that as children they partially participated in household chores such as fetching hot coals for starting fires and lighting adults' cigarettes, fetching pots, carrying firewood, collecting leaves for cooking, digging up potatoes, cooking, washing clothes, and collecting dry coconut shells for the fire.
Many other instances of learning life skills by partial participation were observed during the period of fieldwork. These included fishing, food gathering and production, and handling and navigating canoes. In addition to life skills, important values are learned by partial participation. One obvious example is learning to share. Many instances were observed in which parents sent children to give surplus food to neighbours. It can be seen from the above analysis that partial participation occurred most commonly in learning contexts which involved the presence and active participation of members of the older generations.
During observation, children see how things are done. Later they try things for themselves. In some instances, they only perform part of the task: they partially participate. Later, and in other cases, they participate fully, performing the entire task. Participation allows an individual to attempt, practise and perfect skills previously only observed. Observation plays a reduced but still significant part in the learning process during participation, as individuals continue to observe others performing the same task or other parts of the task. They use these observations to evaluate and fine-tune their own performance.
The data collected on participation as a learning strategy in WPSI can be divided into two categories: those in which individuals were observed performing a task alone, and those which involved a group. The data on individuals can be divided further into two sections, namely those who were performing a task which they had probably previously observed someone else doing, and those for which there was probably no a priori observation. These latter incidents could be said to involve pure trial and error, whereas in the other incidents, individuals and groups were using knowledge gained from watching others to help them perform the task at hand and hone their skills.
Only two incidents were observed which clearly fit into this category. Each involved a child playing with interlocking bricks called Duplo and Lego, which neither child had at home. One of these incidents is reproduced below and involves an 8 year old boy, EW, who had come to our house with his family for a birthday party. After the meal, the children were playing on the floor with various toys.
"EW sat on the floor playing with Lego. He didn't know how to join the
pieces. He tried to join two squares together by their bases. When this
failed, he discarded one square and tried another. After discarding three
squares he turned the fourth over and fitted top to bottom. He tried to
fit blocks on the baseboards. He could see some others stuck on, and kept
glancing at them, but he glided his own block across the top of the studs
without pushing it at the right moment. He did this on 4 separate
occasions without success. On the fifth attempt the block was in the right
position before he pushed and fitted it in. He then connected a row of
blocks across the baseboard."
In each of the two observed incidents the child had no prior experience with the toys, and no one around him could or would help him. Each learned how to attach the blocks by trying it until he succeeded. This kind of 'learning by doing' appears to be relatively rare. In most situations, the learner has a priori knowledge of the task gleaned from observation or partial participation, or there are other people available with whom they can discuss how to do the task or who will tell them how to do it. When such an external knowledge source is absent, children employ trial and error as a learning strategy.
There are many skills which individuals practise and perfect whilst utilising knowledge gained from previous observation. Sometimes these skills are also learned in a group situation, at other times individuals perform the tasks more or less alone. One skill is caring for young children. Many cases of sibling caretaking were observed in WPSI. One of these follows:
"A girl of about 6 led her 2 year old brother down to the sea to go to
the toilet. While he was squatting on the beach, she ran up to watch the
rubber band game in progress near by, then ran back to check him. When
he'd finished she wiped his bottom, buried the evidence and carried him
Three female consultants also report looking after younger siblings from the age of about 6 years or being looked after by older children.
A large number of examples have been recorded of children learning by participating fully in a peer group. This section will present some examples of group learning which show the kinds of knowledge learned in these contexts and the way in which other learning strategies are utilised by the group.
In this study, children were observed performing many different tasks in peer and other groups. These included fishing, sibling caretaking, dancing, singing, playing games, canoeing, washing clothes, and building. The following example demonstrates the general ways in which learning occurs as children participate in these activities. It occurred prior to Christmas. There were to be various Christmas activities and much time was being spent preparing and practising for them.
"A group of girls is practising a singing/dancing routine to be
performed at Christmas. They practise behind a kitchen about 40 m away.
They almost always sing the same song through once or twice from beginning
to end, dancing as they sing. Last night they did 'Guni Tava Sa Podo' (He
is Born Today) 8 times altogether with a short break in between. They
finished off their practice session with a different song sung only once.
This morning they went through 'Guni Tava' 4 times with breaks between, and
tonight another 9 times with breaks, then finished with a different song to
the tune 'Sloop John B'."
My journal records that this group practised 'Guni Tava Sa Podo' on at least 6 of the next twelve days, for up to one and a half hours at a time. Each session followed a similar pattern to the others, with the song being sung from beginning to end several times with a short break between each rendition.
This example is significant because it reveals that repetition is an important aspect of learning by doing or participation. Although multiple dancing practices condensed into a two week period is possibly a somewhat contrived situation, nevertheless the principle of learning by repetitive participation is applicable to many 'real life' skills, which are perfected or fine-tuned in this way over a long period of time.
Interview data also suggest that participating in group activities is an important learning strategy. Consultants identified canoeing, cooking, sibling caretaking, swimming, fishing and singing as knowledge areas in which they themselves gained competence by doing them with others.
Although participation was identified as an important learning strategy in Solomon Island ethnographies (eg, Hogbin, 1939, 1964; Bogesi, 1948, 1949; Russell, 1948; Scheffler, 1965; Ross, 1973; Burt, 1982), the current study has greatly expanded the understanding of this learning strategy particularly with regard to the contexts in which it occurs and the content of learning in these contexts. Furthermore, this research has broadened the theoretical understanding of participation by identifying several types of participation and detailing the relationship between participation and other learning strategies. The prevalence of the three learning strategies described so far suggests that informal learning bears important resemblance to informal learning in Polynesia as described by Levin ((1978) and Ritchie and Ritchie (1979) and amongst Native Americans (see, for example, Spindler, 1963; Cazden and John, 1971; Sindell, 1974; Philips, 1983; Souaid, 1988). However, compared to the informal learning system of Aboriginal Australians at Milingimbi described by Harris (1984), the learning system in WPSI involves less use of personal trial and error because the extent of prior observation usually diminishes the need to employ such a learning strategy.
Many incidents were observed in which children were given verbal instructions or were learning by listening to songs and stories. The following anecdote is one example of learning from a member of an older generation:
"We went to tea at GE's parents' house. Also present were all the BBs,
GE's paternal uncle, four of GE's brothers and sisters and 2 of GE's
uncle's kids. One of the latter, a male, had his young son with him. They
live in Honiara and the little boy did not recognise GE and BJ. GE gave
him a plate of food and he looked frightened and half hid behind his dad.
GE said 'Aunty. I'm you're Aunty. Perhaps you don't know me because I've
been at Goldie and you've been in Honiara.' Later in the evening she said
to him 'Come and shake hands with your Aunty. Come and shake hands,' but
again he was too shy."
Other observed incidents involved children being told to share food with others, sit still in a moving canoe, to not disturb adult conversations and to say 'thank you'. Consultants reported that their parents told them how to behave properly, especially towards particular kin, how to cut down large trees and clear secondary growth for a garden, and how to plant and harvest sweet potato and taro. Some of these instructions occurred within the context of particular activities, whilst others occurred before the time in which the children would need the knowledge. For example, when visitors arrived whom children had not previously met, their parents would tell them 'That's your aunty, your mother's sister' or 'That's your cousin, your uncle's child.' Incidences of children being told stories about mythical characters and local customs were also observed and reported by consultants.
Although listening was a common learning strategy in WPSI, its use was limited to particular content areas, especially those concerning genealogies, proper behaviour and customs. The use of listening as a strategy for learning life skills was usually employed simultaneously with observation or some degree of participation.
Only a small amount of data was collected pertaining to this learning strategy. That which was collected revealed two key types of questions asked by children: those requesting information and those seeking help or advice. The first kind is typified by the following case.
"This afternoon AK was outside the lab talking to BK who had come up
to the library with her mother. FG was standing in the doorway of the lab. AK
and BK were speaking in Roviana. AK has grown up in Honiara, and speaks
Bilua and a little Roviana. At one stage in the conversation BK used a
word that AK didn't know, so AK turned to FG and asked her in Pijin the
meaning of the Roviana word. FG told her and AK replied to BK in Roviana."
Six of the ten consultants also reported asking or being asked information seeking questions about genealogies, relationships and identity of strangers and the names of plants and animals.
The second kind of question is that seeking advice or help in performing a task. The following incident illustrates this kind of learning strategy:
"BK found a shoe and was trying to put a shoelace in it. Her mother, AP,
saw her start by putting it in the holes nearest the ankle so she said to
her 'Lopu vasina. Pa kalina mae' [Not there. (Start) on this side].
Having finished lacing it, one lace was much longer than the other, so BK
took it over to her mother and asked her to fix it. She took the other shoe
and laced it then took it to her father to fix it when she'd finished."
One consultant recalled asking her mother to help her with weaving, and another asked her older sister for help with the same skill. The latter also said that her seven year old daughter often asked her when she wanted to learn how to perform tasks such as weaving or making string bags. A third consultant reported that his adult son asked him for advice on the best way to mark a tree he had cut down for making a canoe.
As with the learning system in Polynesia reported by Levin (1978) and Ritchie and Ritchie (1979), asking in WPSI was restricted to information gathering questions or as indicators of a desire to learn a particular task. Probing questions, particularly those relating to motives and reasons, were almost never observed. The discouraging of certain types of question parallels a similar phenomenon found among several Native American groups (see, for example, Philips, 1983).
The following discussion of the educational implications of informal learning strategies is drawn primarily from the author's experiences as a teacher in Melanesian societies. However, as noted above, there are broad similarities between the informal learning strategies employed in various non-industrialised societies, and these often contrast to a substantial extent with the learning system required in the classroom. Therefore the following discussion, whilst not prescriptive, can act as a resource from which teachers working in a variety of non-Western societies can select strategies which they feel may be useful in, or which can be adapted to, their cross-cultural classrooms on the basis of their own classroom observations and their knowledge of their students' cultural backgrounds. The suggestions are grouped under headings comprising the learning strategies discussed above.
The teaching of practical skills such as laboratory, industrial arts and home economics techniques may be effectively taught partly by using demonstrations repeated over a period of time. The level of verbal explanation in these demonstrations need not be great (although see implications of imitation, below). Such a practice would be congruent with the occurrence of learning by observation of members of the older generations prevalent in the Solomon Islands learning system described in this paper. Students may be able to retain the understanding they have gained from these demonstrations for a substantial period of time without the need for constant practice.
The use of demonstrations mentioned above can be supplemented by verbal explanations, provided the language used is suited to the students' aural comprehension ability. If adequate amounts of equipment are available, opportunities can be provided for students to imitate the teacher as the demonstration is occurring or immediately afterwards. Such techniques are congruent with the employment of active imitation of elders by Solomon Islands children described above.
Since observation precedes participation in the informal learning system employed by children in WPSI, students from similar backgrounds may be willing to engage in activity based learning activities if their own participation has been preceded by a suitable period of observation of the materials' use (eg. through demonstrations). In situations in which students are required to participate in activity based learning activities without prior observation or familiarity with the materials and procedure, they may use strategies such as trial and error or observation of other students' efforts to determine procedure in preference to strategies such as reading written instructions. Since in the informal learning system partial participation tends to be predominant in contexts involving elders, the level of participation by students may be significantly less if an elder such as a teacher is also participating in the activity. In the informal learning system, full participation most commonly occurs in the peer group context. Thus student participation levels in the classroom may be greatest when students are working alone or in groups consisting solely of peer group members. As there is often a gradual shift from observation, to partial participation, to full participation in informal learning, in the classroom students may be more willing to engage themselves in activity based learning experiences if the level of participation is graded over time, starting with observation, then partial participation and finally full participation.
As listening to instructions and stories is an important strategy within the WPSI informal learning system, students are usually willing to listen to teacher monologues provided that the level of language used is comprehensible to them. Preceding monologues with a statement such as 'I'm going to tell you a story...' may increase students' desire to listen. Teacher expectations concerning students' appropriate classroom learning and social behaviour may be effectively transmitted and reinforced through verbal explanations without the need to threaten the imposition of sanctions. The use of oral learning aids such as songs and mnemonics may be very effective.
The relative rarity of the use of asking as a learning strategy, the predominance of information seeking questions and the relative absence of probe-type questions within the WPSI informal learning system all have important educational implications. First, students may not ask the teacher many questions. Second, questions asked in class may be predominantly of the information gathering ('Who?' or 'What?') type rather than those probing for motives or reasons ('Why?'). Third, students may not understand alternative (non-information gathering) uses of oral questions such as the evaluation of student progress. Thus teachers may need to overtly explain to the students the role in the classroom of unfamiliar questioning styles in order for such questioning styles to be effective.
Bogesi, G. 1948 Santa Isabel (Part 1). Oceania 18: 208-232. Bogesi, G. 1949 Santa Isabel (Part 2). Oceania 18: 327-357. Burt, B. 1982 Kastom, Christianity and the First Ancestor of the Kwara'ae of Malaita. Mankind 13: 374-399. Capell, A. 1943 Notes on the Islands of Choiseul and New Georgia. Oceania 14: 20-29. Cazden, C. B. and John, V. P. 1971 Learning in American Indian Children. In M. L. Wax et al (eds) _Anthropological Perspectives in Education_. New York: Basic Books. Christie, M. J. 1985 _Aboriginal Perspectives on Experience and Learning: The Role of Language in Aboriginal Education_. Geelong: Deakin University. Cooper, M. 1973 Langalanga Religion. Oceania 43: 113-122. Cushner, K. 1990 Cross-Cultural Psychology and the Formal Classroom. In R. W. Brislin (ed.) _Applied Cross-Cultural Psychology_. Newbury Park: Sage Publications. Delpit, L. and Kemelfield, G. 1985 Building on Melanesian Foundations: Viles Tok Ples Skuls in the North Solomons. In P. King et al (eds) _From Rhetoric to Reality_. Proceedings of the 15th Waigani Seminar. Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea. Early, R. 1981 Western Province (Central Islands) Language Use and Intelligibility Survey. Mimeo. Honiara: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Harris. S. 1984 _Culture and Learning: Tradition and Education in North-East Arnhem Land_. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Hogbin, H. I. 1939 _Experiments in Civilization: The Effects of European Culture on a Native Community of the Solomon Islands_. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. (Reprinted 1964) Hogbin, H. I. 1964 _A Guadalcanal Society: The Kaoka Speakers_. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Jordan, C. 1985 Translating Culture: From Ethnographic Information to Education Program. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 16 (2): 104-123. Keesing, R. M. 1978 _'Elota's Story: The Life and Times of a Solomon Islands Big Man_. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press. Keesing, R. M. and Fifi'i, J. 1969 Kwaio Word Tabooing in its Cultural Context. Journal of the Polynesian Society 78: 154-177. Kneller, G. 1965 _Educational Anthropology_. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Lave, Jean. 1988 _Cognition in Practice : Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Levin, P. F. 1978 Students and Teachers on Tubuai: A Cultural Analysis of Polynesian Classroom Interaction. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis. San Diego: University of California. Little, A. 1990 Understanding Culture: A Pre-condition for Effective Learning. A Special Study for the UNESCO World Conference on Education for All, Thailand, 5-9 March, 1990. Maranda, E. K. 1975 Lau Narrative Genres. Journal of the Polynesian Society 84: 485-491. Ninnes, P. M. 1991. Culture and Learning in Western Province, Solomon Islands. Unpublished Masters Thesis. School of Education. Bedford Park: Flinders University of South Australia. Ninnes, P. M. In press Informal Learning Contexts in Solomon Islands and their Implications for the Cross-Cultural Classroom. International Journal of Educational Development. Oliver, D. L. 1955 _A Solomon Island Society: Kinship and Leadership among the Siuai of Bougainville_. Boston: Beacon Press. Philips, S. 1983 _The Invisible Culture: Communication in Classroom and Community on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation_. New York: Longman. Ritchie, J. and Ritchie, J. 1979 _Growing Up in Polynesia_. Auckland: Allen and Unwin. Ross, H. M. 1973 _Baegu: Social and Ecological Organisation in Malaita, Solomon Islands_. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Russell, T. 1948 The Culture of Marovo, British Solomon Islands. Journal of the Polynesian Society 57: 306-328. Sanders, A. G. 1989 Kamasu Perceptions of Learning: Traditional Training and Formal Schooling. Papua New Guinea Journal of Education 25: 29-39. Scheffler, H. W. 1965 _Choiseul Island Social Structure_. Berkeley: University of California Press. Scribner, S. and Cole, M. 1973 Cognitive Consequences of Formal and Informal Education. Science 182: 553-559. Sindell, P. S. 1974 Some Discontinuities in the Enculturation of Mistassini Cree Children. In G. D. Spindler (ed.) _Education and Cultural Process_ . New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Souaid, C. 1988 Inuit-controlled School System Clashes with Traditional Lifestyle. Information North. Newsletter of the Arctic Institute of North America 14: 1-4. Spindler, G. D. 1963 Personality, Sociocultural System, and Education among the Menomini. In G. D. Spindler (ed.) _Education and Culture_. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Thomas, E. A. 1985 Changes to the Secondary School Curriculum in the Solomon Islands 1973-1983. Perspectives from an Analysis of the Culture-Curriculum Field. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis. Armidale: University of New England. Watson-Gegeo, K. and Gegeo, D.1986a Calling-Out and Repeating Routines in Kwara'ae Children's Language Socialization. In B. Schifflin and E. Ochs (eds) _Language Socialization Across Cultures_. New York: Cambridge University Press. Watson-Gegeo, K. and Gegeo, D.1986b The Social World of Kwara'ae Children: Acquisition of Language and Values. In J. Cook-Gumperz, W. Corsaro and J. Streeck (eds) _Children's Worlds and Children's Language_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Watson-Gegeo, K. A. and Gegeo, D. W. 1992 Schooling, Knowledge and Power: Social Transformation in the Solomon Islands. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 23: 10-29.