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Assessment of cognitive abilities in multiethnic countries: The case of the Wolof and Mandinka in the Gambia

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Assessment of cognitive abilities in multiethnic countries: The case of the Wolof and Mandinka in the Gambia
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    Assessment of cognitive abilities in multiethnic countries The caseof the Wolof and Mandinka in the Gambia   (Article begins on next page)  Citation Jukes, Matthew C.H., and Elena L. Grigorenko. 2010. Assessmentof cognitive abilities in multiethnic countries: The case of theWolof and Mandinka in the Gambia. British Journal of Educational Psychology 80, no. 1: 77-97. Published Version doi:10.1348/000709909X475055  ccessed May 10, 2011 9:55:01 PM EDT Citable Link http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:4553282 Terms of Use This article was downloaded from Harvard University's DASHrepository, and is made available under the terms and conditionsapplicable to Open Access Policy Articles, as set forth athttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#OAP  Ethnic Groups and Cognition Testing 1 Assessment of Cognitive Abilities in Multiethnic Countries: The case of the Wolof and Mandinka in the Gambia.  Matthew C. H. Jukes 1, 2   1 Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA 2 Partnership for Child Development, Imperial College, UK    Elena L. Grigorenko 3, 4   3 Yale University, USA 4 Moscow State University, Russia ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This research was funded by the Partnership for Child Development and by grants from the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. We would like to thank Margaret Pinder, Gijs Walraven and the field research team at Medical Research Council, Farafenni, The Gambia: Elisa Bariau, Helen Ba ň os Smith, Alasan Camara, Dodou Trawally, Sheriff Kanyi, Lamin Janneh, Abass Sillah, Lamin Colley, Saja Sey and Jarai Bangura for their hard work and Omar Mboob and Momodou Touray for many insights into the Wolof and Mandinka of our study region. We would also like to thank the people of Alkali Kunda, Bambali, Bassik, Dibba Kunda, Jajari Kunda, Jumansare Ba, Kani Kunda Wharftown, Kani Kunda Suba, Ker Bamba Lowe and Kumbija for their  participation in the study. Finally, we would like to thank Jodi Reich and Kelly Nedwick of Yale University for their linguistic advice.  Ethnic Groups and Cognition Testing 2 Abstract Background. The use of cognitive tests is increasing in Africa but little is known about how such tests are affected by the great ethnic and linguistic diversity on the continent. Aim. To assess ethnic and linguistic group differences in cognitive test performance in the West African country of the Gambia and to investigate the sources of these differences. Samples. Study 1 included 579 participants aged 14-19 yrs from the Wolof and Mandinka ethnic groups of the Gambia. Study 2 included 41 participants aged 12-18 yrs from the two ethnic groups.  Methods. Study 1   assessed performance on six cognitive tests. Participants were also asked about their history of education, residence in the city, parental education and family socioeconomic status. Study 2 assessed performance on two versions of the Digit Span test. Recall of the numbers 1-5 were compared with recall of numbers 1-9 for both the Wolof (who count in base 5) and the Mandinka (who count in base 10). Results. Study 1 established that Wolof performance was lower than that of the Mandinka on five out of six cognitive tests. In four of these tests, group differences were  partially mediated by participation in primary school and migration to the city. Group differences were substantial for the Digit Span test and were not attenuated by mediating variables. Study 2 found that digit span among the Wolof was shorter than that of the Mandinka for numbers 1-9 but not for numbers 1-5. Conclusions.  Several suggestions are made on how to consider the ethnicity, language, education, and residence (urban vs. rural) of groups when conducting comparative cognitive assessments or collecting normative data.  Ethnic Groups and Cognition Testing 3The adaptation of cognitive tests to new populations and settings presents a number of challenges. One issue that has received relatively little attention is the adaptation of tests for use in multiethnic countries (Carter, et al., 2005; van de Vijver & Phalet, 2004). Many assessment tools srcinated in the countries of Europe or North America, where only one or two languages are spoken. The situation is different in most African countries where cultural and linguistic diversity abound, with an estimated 3,000 spoken languages and 8,000 dialects (Owino, 2002). The Gambia, where our research was conducted, provides a good illustration of such diversity. The country is a thin (~40km wide) strip of land on either side of the River Gambia with a population of around 1.7 million (UNPD, 2005) and yet there are eight indigenous languages spoken in the Gambia (Gordon, 2005) in addition to the colonial language of English. The aim of this article is to outline the factors affecting cognitive test performance in such multiethnic settings and to examine these factors empirically using data from the Gambia collected from two ethnic groups, the Mandinka and the Wolof. We use the term “ethnic group” in this article to refer to  people who identify with each other on the basis of a common ancestry and a preference for endogamy and who share common cultural, linguistic, religious, behavioural, and  biological traits (Banks, 1996). In this article we discuss “ethnic group differences” in cognitive performance. In theory, these differences may arise from any of the dimensions of ethnicity outlined above, broadly classified as environment or genetic in srcin. However, the focus of this paper is on the environmental determinants of cognitive test  performance, both because selective hereditary pressures tentatively hypothesized to influence the evolution of cognitive abilities (Rushton & Jensen, 2005) are unlikely to differ between the Mandinka and Wolof, given highly similar population histories of the  Ethnic Groups and Cognition Testing 4two tribes, to our knowledge, and also because even the staunchest supporters of the hereditary position for srcins of group differences in cognition suggest that environmental influences are substantial (Rushton & Jensen, 2005). The Growing Need for Mother-Tongue Assessment The challenges faced by cognitive testing in multiple ethnic groups in Africa have received little attention. Most assessments of children’s mental abilities in sub-Saharan African have involved school-based tests of educational achievement typically conducted in a limited number of colonial languages or other lingua franca. However, there are several trends in assessment on the continent requiring the development of measures in children’s mother tongue. First, the use of cognitive assessments other than educational achievement tests is increasing in Africa. There has been widespread use of cognitive tests to assess the impact of health and nutrition interventions in early childhood and in school age (Clarke, et al., 2008; Grigorenko, et al., 2006; Holding, Stevenson, Peshu, &  Marsh, 1999; Jukes, Drake, & Bundy, 2008; Jukes, et al., 2002). Similarly, the expansion of early childhood care and education program in Africa (UNESCO, 2007) has led to an increase in the use of school readiness tests and other measures of cognitive development. In all such cases, the use of mother tongue as the medium of assessment produces a more valid measure of children’s abilities (Carter, et al., 2005; Claassen, 1997; Foxcroft, 1997;  Grieve, 2005; Owen, 1991). Second, there is an increasing recognition of the importance of mother tongue as a medium of instruction for the early grades of primary school (Alexander, 1995; Chumbow, 2005; Heugh, 1995; Luckett, 1995; Trudell & Schroeder,  2007). Scholars and writers from across Africa stated in the Asmara Declaration that “all
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