Ashok R. Kelkar





Nonverbal Media in Education arc here to stay


            There is no doubt that, whatever be our political orientation left, right, or center and whatever our assessment of man’s place in the world religious, secular, or in between, man in modern times has accepted the importance of education in shaping the future in the course of his history.  Whether we are deeply sceptical of it, the sheet pressure of population and of raised expectations about the level of education to be to be attained by different segments of it as defined by age, sex, and class, if not any other considerations, have made us recognize the need to open up channels of education outside formal education.  Education in these other channels will be neither formal with fixed schedules of work and play nor informal as in a family circle or a play group but semi-formal as in the response to a work of art and so partaking of both.  In opening up such channels we may sometimes have to give up the luxury (some would say the necessity) of fact to face communication between the teacher and the taught and accept distancing in education as a fact of life.  Indeed we may have to accept severely limited opportunities for the teacher to receive feedback and offer monitoring and for the taught to offer talkback and receive first aid-in other words accept the broadcast mode of distanced of communication rather than the telephonic mode.  Not only are new channels being opened up, but new media of education other than the hitherto dominant discourse through language are being explored and exploited.  In particular the audio and the visual media being harnessesd to semi-formal and distanced education in varied multi-media combinations.  It is being claimed that not only may they supplement discourse through language by way of illustration but also they could sometimes take over the property of discursivity and compete with languages.


            In short, in spite of the serious reservations and resistance evinced in the earlier stages, the new distancing and broadcast channels of semi-formal education are here to say either in the older medium of language discourse (for example, the earlier experiment of an open university in Britain) or in the newer audiovisual and multi-media combinations  (for example, the newer experiments in Continental Europe and the developing countries). (The very holding of this Colloquium is a proof.)  But this very acceptance of the newer channels and media imposes on us the need to be mature and self-critical.  We need not feel too insecure and media, and too impatient to take a broad, long-term view of the ends and means of education.  If we fail to b e maturely self-critical, we lay ourselves all too open to the glamour of the passing fashions and to the sales pitch in behalf of the marketers of the new gadgets and outfits.  More sinisterly, we leave education vulnerable to manipulation for the promoting of the antisocial ends of powerseekers both conventional and not so conventional.  Shail we, in that case, throw the proverbial baby away with the bathwater?  More likely, we may drown the baby the baby in the bathwater.  We mustn’t let that happen, must we?  There is all the reason for returning to the basics.

But then What is Education all about?


            Every society arranges for some education of the young.  This arrangement may be looked upon as the conscious aspect of the wider process whereby a human being becomes a member of that society, of some community of people sharing their life and at the same time a party to the culture, the lifeways of that society-in short, the process through which a human being comes a person, gains a personality of some kind.  Education is an aspect of the twin processes of social and cultural assimilation of the young, that is, of ensocialization and enculturation, to assign them their technical designations.  Looked at this way, education may be said to continue even beyond the youth of the educand.


            Every society may also arrange for some education of the incoming outsider and thus arrangement correspondingly becomes an aspect of the twin processes of  social and culture assimilation of an outsider, that is, of  adsocialization and acculturation.  The outsider may be young or adult.  He may actually be an immigrant form another society or an aspiring entrant to a class of the society (Eliza Dolittle of Bermard Shaw’s Pygmalion or Monsieur Jourdain of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme are no mere isolated stage creations.  There are so many of their living counterparts knocking at the door).


            Why does a society take this trouble?  There are two very good reasons.  A human being.  Unlike many animals, is not born fully equipped genetically to cope with life and gains sexual maturity even before becoming viable The result is a long period of immunity becoming viable (this is called neotony).  What genetic equipment he has needs opportunities to develop adequately may also need to be considerably supplemented. by acquisition of new equipment through experience.  There is also a second reason based on the principle that prevention is beeter than cure.  By inculcating into the young a sense of belongingness and an approved way of life, society simplifies the job of social regulation of its members.  By catching them young society hopes to make them more tractable later use-(the twin reasons should now serve to make clear why education could be thought of not only as a preparation for life but also as an instrument of power as a device for ensuring law and order or as an opium of the exploited.)


            Education achieves these goals by imparting socially relevant and acceptable facts and insights, attitudes and skills.  The facts support the insights and the insights in turn help make sense of the facts.  The attitudes motivate the acquisition and maintenance of skills and the skills are supportive of the attitudes.  But, fortunately for the spiritual health of mankind,  this very imparting of ‘socially relevant and acceptable’ educational content in the course of education may also act partially as a quietly and constructively subversive force.  (The  founding fathers of modem India saw in education an instrument for the regeneration and transformation of Indian society in the nineteenth century.  Even at a less deliberate level, an apparently innocuous literacy programme could have a subversive effect even in the absence of a Paulo Freire to assist the process).  Conformation and subversion constitute the two faces of education.  But maybe this is too harsh and too dialectical a way of putting the matter.  The Maya people of Central America do so in a much more humane and poetic manner in one of their sayings:


For in an baby lies the future of the world:

Mother must hold the baby close so that the

Baby knows that it is his world; Father

Must take him to the highest hill so that

He can see what his world is like.


            The dialectical opposition is now seen also to be a natural continuity.  What can sustain subversion in a person except the knowledge deep inside that it is his world that needs to be set right?  What is the point of confirmation except as gaining a point of departure for the highest hill that the person is capable of climbing?  Education can both be a mother and a father.


            We have spoken of education as an imparting of content.  But this is gross simplification.  This imparting is really an inducing and a controlling of the learning process.  The educator induces and then controls in the learner modification in the available behaviour patterns through a manipulation of the patterns of available experience.  He may also inhibit or encourage this or that incipient or established behaviour pattern (this is the preventive and remedial phase of education).  The changes in the behaviour patterns, namely the facts and insights, attitudes and skills so acquired experience constitutes the medium of education.  The medium is typically but not exclusively discourse an widely used medium of education.  The father wishing to keep his son away from smoking is blandly says, “Do as I say to you, don’t do as I do”.  Desdemona listened to the story of Othello’s life from year to year and gave a world of sights.  “This only is the witch-craft I have us’d”—so runs Othello’s self-defence (Shakespeare, Othello, act 1, scene 3).  If the experience available through discourse can be so powerful in changing a person, how much more powerful can be experience available through less indirect and consciously modulated media of education?  Let us make an inventory of educational media ranging from the more indirect to the more direct.  Mathematics of course is even more indirect, more abstract than language.


            The language of mathematics

            Language as writing-reading, correspondence

            Language as speech

                        Limited to listening

                        Supplemented by dialogue

            Language as song

            Audiovisual aids

                        Pictures and models both still and moving

                        Three dimensional pictures and models both still and moving

                        Photographs and cinephotography

                        Phonography cum phonography and cinephotography

            Games ad sports: viewing, participating

            Staging: viewing, participating

            Travel and field observation

            Work experience in the laboratory and the field

            Project work and workshop


            The media vary not only in the directness of their impact but also in the opportunities they offer for the active involvement on the part of the educand and the careful monitoring on the part of the educator.  The media also invite their use in combination.  Thus a book may incorporate dialogues and illustrations. Didn’t Alice think.  “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 1).  Pictures may incorporate speech and thought balloons and be supplemented by titles legends.  The language of mathematics and drawn visuals combine in maps, ad graphs of various sorts.  A sound film combines moving pictures, sound effects on screen, music on and off screen, speech on screen, and  monologue off screen.  Of course the mixing has to be done skilfully so that the media do not get in one another’s way.


            The media are also combinable with different vehicles of dissemination and transmission.  The printing and publication of books, periodicals, wall displays, sound-recorded discs or tapes, pictures and photographs, videotapes and filmtrips and films and the broadcasting through radio or television enable the media to overcome the limitations of space and time.  In older societies one had to depend solely on sermons and other forms of religions and secular gatherings, debate, picture galleries and museums as modes of dissemination.


            Education  certainly can harness the new media as well as the new vehicles.


Verbal and Nonverbal Media Compared on Operation.


            The foregoing excursus into educational theory should have made it clear that education is no less a social and cultural fact than it is a psychic fact and so amenable to sociological and ethnological analysis no less than psychological analysis.  The question of the media and vehicles is a question of communication and communicative signals and symbols and as such also amenable to semiotic analysis.


            The inventory of the media of education just presented will have served to bring out a rough three-way grouping based on the way in which the experience of the educand is induced and controlled.

abstract, indirect access to reality

                        reality passive reception

                                    Reception and reproduction in language

                        relatively active involvement

                                    Production in language

            concrete, direct access in reality

                                    Relatively passive reception

                        relatively active involvement

                                    activity and practice


            Obviously this grouping is only a rough and ready one-there are degrees of indirectness and degrees of passivity and there is fair amount of boundrycrossing and media-mixing.  For our present purposes we restrict our consideration to communication  for educational purposes with the use of media dependent on audial/or visual perception.


            We said earlier that language is versatile in that it makes experience accessible to the learner across separation in space and time and at the same time helps the learner to make sense of this experience so as render it intelligible.  On the one hand, language brings the world to one’s door as it were-let us call it the reach of the medium.  On the other hand language helps us to understand this world by letting us find the figure I the carpet as it were-let us call it the discursivity of the medium.  What we are trying here to find out is to what extent the audiovisual media can match or exceed the reach of language can describe or narrate, explain or argue, persuade or coerce, could any of the audiovisual media describe, narrate, and so on?).


            The visual media can present pictures or (with abstraction) models.  The pictures or models may be still over time or moving over time.  They may be flat, two-dimensional or rounded, three-dimensional.  They may be man-made or machine-recorded (photographic).  The audial media can present sound pictures of sound patterns or speech.  These may be monophonic or stereophonic (three-dimensionāl).  They ay be natural or man-made or machine-recorded (phonographic).  The audio-visual media can present pictures (son et lumiére shows)or (with abstraction) models or on-going situations.  They may be staged or machine-recorded from actuality.  The reach of these media will vary.  To the extent that our sense-perceptual knowledge of the world is mainly visual and only marginally auditory with the other senses making even more limited contributions, the visual medium will make for a greater reach than the auditory and the linguistic.  A picture is worth more than a thousand words, runs a Chinese proverb.  What we need here is of course more than proverbial wisdom, we need careful further study yielding hard experimental data on the comparative impact of different media and the contribution of specific features like still/moving, flat/ rounded, diffuse/sharp recording, and so on towards the overall impression created by a particular medium.  We also need to assess how the specific target audience is going to respond to them.  One thinks here of the anecdote about a village audience puzzling over the giant metre-high mosquitoes of a typical screen image of a 16mm film, and (Indeed, ‘literacy’ in non-verbal media is also important as verbal literacy is.)


            What about the discursivity of the audiovisual media?  How do they compare with each other and with language in conveying facts and insights and attitudes and skills?  Each of these media operates at the level of sensuous impact and at the level of symbolic content. The sensuous impact is open to patterning on terms of figure and ground of steady states and transitions, or landscape in space and scenarios in time.  In some cases the sensuous impact may dominate symbolic content as in instrumental music or abstract dance or decorative design or concrete poetry (whether spoken or written).  In some cases the symbolic content may dominate the sensuous impact and symbolic content are in balance there may be greater play of non-discursive, tacit symbolism.  Again, there is scope for further study. 


            Students of folklore offer a certain classification of folk narratives.  I submit that this classification can be extended not only to non-folk and non-linguistic narratives but to linguistic depictions as well.  The classification is based on two criteria:


--Semantically speaking, does the narrative or make a claim depiction on the recipient’s belief?  Is it factive or simply ficitive?


---Semantically speaking, does the narrative or make a claim depiction on  verisimilitude? Is it realis or irrealis?


            The first criterion looks for deixis and authenticity, the second for mimesis and stimulation.  Putting the two criteria together we obtain the following cross-classification.



                        Realis: History, Geography, Travelogue, etc.

                        Irrealis: Mythical, History, Mythical Geography, Animal Fable, etc.


                        Realis: Novel, Parable, etc.

                        Irrealis: Fantasy, Fairytale, etc.


            Again, a careful further study is needed in respect of the discursive and non-discursive symbolic capacities of the different media.  Thus, it is obvious that the irrelais use of the media with mythic or fantasy content depends more on non-discursive, tacit symbolism.  Communication will be more successful to the extent that the non-discursive, tacit symbolism serves to create a world and induce the recipient to enter it.  Factivity and verisimilitude (with elucidatory or documentary content)  are not as important as someone brought up wholly on the discursive symbolizing of science and technology, of chronicles and gazetters is apt to believe.


            Finally, a word about the mixing of media.  We have already mentioned the need of ensuring that one medium does not tin the way of another.  An obvious example is an amateurish documentary where there is together too much verbal commentary by a voice off screen, which does not trust the sights and sounds to speak for themselves as much as possible.  In the final analysis such a harmony between mixed media is achieved only through the fusion of the media into a single medium-either one of the mixed media is dominant and incorporates the other(s) or a more complex medium like the cinematic medium emerges out of the fusion.  Again, careful further study is needed on these lines.


            Before we take leave of the audiovisual media and their capacities for reach and for discursitvity, a word is necessary about non-discursive, tacit symbolism.  This is a large topic that I have treated at length in semiotic terms elsewhere (“Tacit symbols: Visual and verbal”, presented at the Seminar on Indian Symbology, Industrial Design Center, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, January 1985; see Kelkar 1987.) The concept of tacit symbolization refers to the covertness of the what symbolizes or of what is symbolized or of the symbolic lineduk between the two or of the whole symbolizing even and serves as a link between discursive symbolization of logic, mathematics, natural and human sciences, everyday speech and the non- discursive symbolizations of literature, art, mass media, myth, rite, magic, folkore.  As we develop the concept of tacit symbols and the tacit knowledge we begin to see that tacitness may have different degrees of depth-at one end we have mere implicitness where the symbolic content is wholly recoverable and at the far end we have a level where we have reason to believe that the symbolization brings the symbolic content into existence rather than just uncovering preexisting content.  What educators need to recognize is that educational communication need not say everything-at least, should not say everything directly.  They should count on and develop the learner’s capacity for tacit and/or non- discursive symbolism.  (Normally the tacit component works in conjunction with the implicit or the explioit components in educational communication.)


Who is the boss?  The Educator or the Devices?


            I hope I have succeeded in showing two things.  First, each medium has its characteristics strengths and weakness and we have to have to clear notion of what it can do cannot do; otherwise we may be guilty of unrealistic expectations.  Secondly, in employing the medium we should have a clear notion of what we are seeking to accomplish; otherwise we may simply get carried away by the medium beyond reason.  In short, the educator has to learn to achieve the right marriage between educational means and educational ends.  In this process, out semiotic analysis of the media has to go beyond syntactic and semantics into pragmatics.  Pragmatics is the study of signs in relation to other signs to the things they stand for, and to the life of the users of signs.  Signs of course include signs that call for and submit of elucidation to the recipients of the signs: that is, signs include symbols.


This last section will, therefore, be concerned with the pragmatics of educational communication with special reference to audiovisual media.


            First, one must avoid a confusion between the media of education and the vehicles of transmission and dissemination.  The vehicles have a limited bearing on the educational process to the extent that they permit or inhibit interaction between the educand and the educator.  But more relevant is the part played by the media as such.


            Secondly, one must discriminate between the quality of hardware and the quality of software.  It is not an exaggeration to say that a piece of hardware is only as good as the piece of software that goes with it.  The software is more intimately bound up with educational process.  The quality of the software is more crucial.


            Thirdly, the educational material needs to be fine-tuned (or at least rough-tuned) to the reception level of the learner.  This presents an acute problem in developing countries where fine-tuning may be a luxury in relation to scarce physical resources and yet where fine-tuning may be all the more desirable in view of sharp differences of reception levels between the genders, between social classes, between urban and rural milieus, and between subregions.  Thus, in western India one recognizes the following four educational levels: illiterate, semi-literate and literate (one to seven years of schooling), educated (eight to twelve years of schooling), and well-educated.  The threshold between what is considered common knowledge and common wisdom and what is considered to be in need careful explication may differ form one audience to another.  An illiterate in a urban milieu is on a par with the literate in a semi-urban or rural milieu, and so on.  The lower the educational level.  The more important are case of intelligibility, familiarity and typicality of the concrete material, a lower ratio of abstraction to concretization, a lower density of presentation, and the need for authenticity—who says it becomes so much more important (the author has considered these points in greater detail elsewhere: “Lokaikaa ãni amrãhi” Shikhan ãni samãj, April- September 1982, in Marathi). The whole question of fine-tuning educational material to the reception level of the intended learners calls for further study.


            Fourthly, one has to judge to what extent the semi-formal and distanced educational programme in which the audiovisual material is to be employed is intended to be merely complementary to the formal education available to the recipient and to what extent it is intended to be no more than supplementary. There are situations in which even informal education in the family circle or the playgroup or thorough folk literature and folk art has to be complemented or supplemented or even counteracted (a case in point is the drive for family planning or the drive against accepting dowries in India).  The selection and production of educational material has to take the relationship of semi-formal and distanced education with formal and informal and face-to-face education into account.


            Fifthly, the rhetoric of presentation and persuasion has to be fine-tuned to the dominant rhetoric of the recipient population.  The Westner often finds the Oriental very slow in coming to the point and the Oriental finds the Westerner’s briskness all too brash for his taste.  Actually, this may be a difference of rhetoric.  The Westerner is only making his point and then offering his grounds or reasons to drive home the point—often ending in triumphant Q.E.D.  The Oriental is only sketching in the background that will lend credence to the point that he is taking some pains to suggest with becoming politeness.  Of course the choice of the rhetoric needs to harmonize with the educational content.  What applies to linguistic discourse may also to audiovisual discourse.  More detailed work is needed in this area.


            Finally, the rhetoric of communication varies according to the degree of active involvement expected from the recipient.  Applying this criterion to the four kinds of educational content one may arrive at the following scheme.


Facts: One can except the recipient either to get the facts by rote or in quiz-readness so to say or to get them as a tissue of interconnected units.  It’s the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus.


Insights: One can present the insights as inherited wisdom perhaps followed by examples to elucidate them or as the most plausible way of making sense of the examples presented first as problematic in some way.  It’s the difference between I-say-so and isn’t–that-so.


            Attitudes: One can aim at overwhelming the recipient or merely to incline him in the desired direction.  It is the difference between the hard sell and the soft sell.


Skills: One can either spell out the steps carefully offer some general directions expecting the recipient to use his judgement.  It is the difference between offering a recipe and offering tips.


            Communication  is not merely a matter of saying things, it is also a matter of leaving things unsaid.  It is not merely a matter of overt symbols leading the recipient overtly to preexistent overt content, it is quite often a matter of tacitness, indirection, suggestion, and even a matter of the symbol bringing the content into being as it were.  There is no reason to suppose that holding the baby close and taking the child to the highest hill is only something that applies only to the simpler, more direct modes of communication.



            From time to time we have underlined the need for careful further study.  I hope appeals will be needed by researches in communication especially in the content of developing countries since research already available from developed countries may not be wholly usable their context.  Merely keeping up with the Western  Joneses will not help-not only in respect of gadgets and software but also in respect of teaching goals and teaching method.  Finally, INDIA what we have observed in respect of educational communication and adversing, or management common and administration communication.




            This was presented at DIMED 86 Discurso das media e ensino a distância, at Algarve Portugal, March 1986 hosted by instituo Portugies de Ensino a Distância, Lisooa, Portugal and Association international ale Por la Rechreches et la Diffusion des M’ethodes Audio-Visuelles et Structoro-globalse ( AIMAV) and published in Actas do Colgquio comunicaxoes em Frances e Ingêls Lisboa: IPED, 1986, p 219-30.


            The title is new; the original which was appreciated at DIMED 86 is retained as a subtitle. The new title is simply for the convenience of information Retrieval.  The sectional titles are also new.








ABSTRACT in Portuguese, French, English


Atencção, nao afogar o bébé na água do banho


            Se admitirmos a necssidade de um tipo de comunição a distãntica fora dos quadros no ensino tradicional  como o praticado nas escolas e universidades (esino semi-formal) para alunos e adultos e se acolhermos favoravlemente as possibilities oferecidas pelos meios audio-visualis e suas combinações (multimédia) a também uso da (lingua como suporte educativo (disso, (1a. parte) o que é realmente o esino (o seu lugar a longo prazo na vida do individuo, os seus fins imediatos, os seus desafios) (2a.  parte) e, como o esino é transmitido discursivamente (o que a linguagem verbal e a não verbal podem ou podem fazer (3a. parte).


            Se perdemos tudo isto de vista, podemos afogar o bébé na água do banho.  Se isso não acontecer, somos senhores da situa ção e utilizamos o audio-visual do acordo com certos prinpios de base (4a. parte).


 Centre Advanced Study in Linguistics-Deccan College (India).



Attention ne pas noyer le bébé dans  I’eau du bain


            Si I’on admet la nécessité  d’un type de communication á distance en dehors de tout cardre d’enseignment traditionnel comme celui partiqu dans des coles ou des universits (enseignement semi-formel) pour les scolaires et les adultes, et si I’on accueille favourblement les possibilitiés offertes par les moyens  audio-visuels et leurs combinaisons (multimédia) ainsi que I’usage du langage comme  support éducatif (discurisvité dans I’ensignement), nous ne devos cependant pas pedre de vue (premiére partie) ce qu’est réellement I’enseigment (sa á place long terme dans la vie d’un individu, ses buts immédiats, ses défis) deuxiéme partie, et comment I’enseignement est trasmis discursivement et non-discursivement (ce que le langage verbal et le non-verbal preuvent ou ne peuvent pas faire) (transoisiéme partie).


            Si nous perdons tout a de vue, il se peut que nous noyions le bébé dans I’eau du bain.  Dans le cas contraire, nous restons matres de la situation et nous utilisons I audiovisuel en accord avec certain principles de base (quatriéme partie).



How not to drown the baby in the bathwater


            In accepting the need for a ‘broadcast’ mode of communication (‘distance’) outside the framework of the conventional  system of schools and universities (‘semi-formal’) for educating the young and old and in welcoming the possibilities opened up by the audio-visual media and their combination with each other (‘multimedia’) and with language as the medium of education (‘discursivity in teaching’), we must not lose sight (section I) of what education is really all about (its long term p.s.2 in human life, its immediate goals and functioning, its challenges) (section II) and how education is mediated discursively and nondiscursively (what language and the nonlinguistic modes can and cannot do) section III).  If we so lose sight there is a real danger of drowning the baby in the bathwater.  If on the other  hand we do not so lose sight, we could be the masters of the situation and employ the audiovisual media in accordance with certain priciples (section IV).


The Correct Handling of Nonverbal Media in Educational  Communication


            Given the modern need for large-scale and optimal-quality education, the new broadcast and other distanced channels of semi-formal education are here to stay, whether their medium is language discourse or nonverbal presentation.


            If one is to preserre both discursivity and reach in the use of nonverbal media, one must not lose sight of what education of the young and the old is all about its long-term place in human life, its immediate goals and functioning, and its challenges and opportunities.


            Again, one must not lose sight of just how education is mediated verbally and non-verbally: the two modes have each their strengths and weakness in respect  of reach and discursitvity in communication.


            Otherwise, there is every danger of drowning the learner in the bathwater of fancy gadgetry and outfits.  If only we keep all these considerations in sight, we could well be the masters of the situation, employing the audiovisual media effectively in accordance with certain operative principles.


            May one hope that the lessons of this inquiry will note be lost up on the media-users in non-educational fields too?  And upon the researchers in the field of media operation?


DISCUSSION in French Synopsis


-Pour qu’une institution soit crédible, on doit dévélopper la notion d’’’ajustement pragmatique’’ ou bien I’ajustement entre le message et les divers éléments d’une situation de communication.  La crédibilité consistute un de ces éléments et liée au fait que le message soit effectivement accepté par le récéptur. De plus, on doit aussi consideré la situation communicative elle-mme et le probléme de I’expressivité, pusiqu’un message essaie de nous dire quelque chose sur I’état de I’émeteur au moment de la communication.


--L’importance de redre le discours didactique adéquat aus divers secteurs du public-cible.