Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Untying a Few Knots in Survey Research: The Cameroon Experience-A Third World Perspective

Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Untying a Few Knots in Survey Research: The Cameroon Experience-A Third World Perspective

Article excerpt

Considerable interest has been shown and much discussion has taken place among anthropologists and sociologists on the need to adapt research techniques to specific environments (Borg, & Gall, 1983; Krathwohl, 1993). However, there is still a paucity of educational articles that provide a general strategy for using traditional survey methods in a Third World context that will enable the research enterprise to meet recognized standards of rigor and scholarship. Hence the purpose of this article is to furnish the reader with both practical and technical guidelines for conducting a field study project in a developing country. The guidelines were developed as a result of the difficulties encountered while conducting educational research in Cameroon.

In the summer of 1987, a comprehensive survey (in English and French) was designed to gather data from the 1976 through 1986 graduates of the Bilingual Grammar School (BGS) in Buea, Cameroon. The questionnaire, which included closed and open-ended responses, was based on the objectives of the BGS program and was designed to assess the pedagogical aspects of the school's program as well as the graduates' perception of their language use, social and occupational behaviors, and further education (Ekane, 1988). Specifically, the purpose of the study was to ascertain whether the experience of bilingual education, from the graduates' perspective, was a success or failure, and to ascertain the graduates' activities since leaving school. This information, which was considered to be of enormous significance to education policy architects and BGS administrators, would help provide the data necessary to conduct rigorous formative evaluations needed to improve the program.

As originally conceived, the research design was to utilize a random sampling technique for purposes of generalizing the findings. Furthermore. another initial thought was to include informal tape-recorded interviews of some of the graduates surveyed.

Problems and Issues

Given the nature of the environment, attempts to conduct a pilot survey with my initial research model were fraught with uncertainties and outright challenges which necessitated changes in the research plan. Here were the problems I encountered:

1. The graduates were widely dispersed throughout Cameroon and some foreign countries. A majority were unfamiliar with traditional survey methods and therefore would have difficulty completing a typical questionnaire.

2. Obtaining an accurate number of graduates in the 1976 to 1986 BGS classes was difficult since school records did not have a final-year list of graduates or their home addresses.

3. To further compound the problem of locating graduates, the streets in most cities and towns did not have names, and the houses did not have numbers. (This situation exists to date.) Furthermore, a mail survey was ineffective since the mail system is still very rudimentary, and it takes too long to get responses. In addition, the telephone system, which is vital in following up delayed responses in Western technologically developed societies, cannot be relied on in Cameroon at the present time.

4. Even before pilot testing began, a few friends and local educators pointed out that some graduates would be fearful and suspicious of our intentions. The suspicion may arise because some of our targeted audience would consider the researcher as a government informate since the bilingual option chosen by the government is a politically charged and sensitive issue. Therefore, it was necessary to develop a strategy that would build a trust relationship which would dispel suspicion and fear in the minds of our target population.

5. It was necessary to select and train research assistants with these problems in mind in order to facilitate the research process.

6. Finally, the above problems also necessitated additional checks and balances which would ensure that valid and reliable data was collected. …

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