Mental capacity and executive strategies among Zulu-speaking children.
The poor school performance among black children in South Africa is best understood by focussing on the generative mechanisms which underlie performance. This research was undertaken within Pascual-Leone's neo-Piagetian Theory of Constructive Operators, which models cognitive functioning as a bilevel system of content-specific schemes and situation-free silent operators. Of the seven silent operators posited, Pascual-Leone is able to distinguish cognitive competence, or mental capacity (structural M, or Ms), from learning (L structuring) which is dependent upon environment. The M-construct is a reserve of mental attentional energy which can be applied to task-relevant schemes to boost their activation weights. The Compound Stimulus Visual Information (CSVI) task was used to distinguish the amount of M-power subjects employed in a given task (functional M, or Mf ), as well as the efficiency with which they used this Mf. Children from the black township of lndaleni, outside Richmond, Natal, South Africa, were selected. Thirty subjects in each of four age groups, seven-, nine-, eleven-, and thirteen-year-olds, were tested. The Children's Embedded Figures Test (CEFT) and the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) test were administered in groups. Two versions of the CSVI were given: the Free Response (CSVI-FR) and the Tachistoscopic version. The latter was analysed in terms of first look (CSVI-1STL), which gives an estimate of Mf, and repeated looks (CSVI-TACH) which estimates the number of attending acts made over the task. The CEFT was found not to distinguish cognitive style in the sample. As the sample was of low socioeconomic status and rural, it was argued that the subjects were predominantly field dependent.Results were analysed for the total sample as one FD group. Results showed eleven- and thirteen-year-old children's arousal executives were increasingly poor (i.e., the eleven-year-olds brought one unit less than their available M to the task.). Performance on the RSPM showed a dramatic decline in percentile rank with age, which confirmed these increasingly poor arousal executives. This concurs with a regular cross-cultural Piagetian finding which shows no formal operational thinking in certain cultures. All subjects evidenced poor temporal executives (i.e., made fewer attending acts than predicted in task analyses). In the CSVI-FR analysis It was shown that children employed more efficient temporal executives as the stimulus became more complex, but their maximum performance still did not reach the predicted level. The results confirm patterns found among children from other disadvantaged environments. Proposals are made for further research to isolate the factors involved in the poor arousal executive strength of the present sample, which conflicts with a previous finding that Zulu-speaking children employ their full Ms.The findings are related to the poor educational environment of the children and suggestions are made for improving school performance by encouraging active problem solving. This would focus first on maximising M arousal, afterwhich temporal executives may be improved. Further, a warning is made to those who see training as a useful method to improve performance, for this does not maximise arousal and temporal executives within the child, but rather reduces the demand of the task.