A report recently published by Stellenbosch University researchers concluded that coloured South African women “have an increased risk for low cognitive functioning,”
As reported by EWN, the study, titled Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women, assessed a group of 60 multiracial women from different educational backgrounds.
Study on coloured South African women: Methodology and findings
The subjects were aged between 18 and 64 years and the purpose was to assess their cognitive function, in association with age and education.
Researchers, Sharne Nieuwoudt, Kasha Dickie, Caria Coetsee and Louise Engelbrecht, separated the subjects into four age groups.
Using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), a widely used screening assessment for detecting cognitive impairment, as well as a computerized neurocognitive test, they were able to conclude that “low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours” were a contributing factor to their low cognitive functioning.
“Education and age were significantly correlated with all measured cognitive domains (p < 0.05). An age-related decline was observed for all domains, with low scores observed for processing speed already in young adulthood.
“The high education group scored significantly better in all cognitive domains (p < 0.05),” the researchers stated in the report.
The backlash: Petition launched to have report shelved
These findings did not sit well with many scholars, including University of Cape Town’s Professor Barbara Boswell, who is part of a group that has launched a petition to have the report shelved.
“I was shocked to see this kind of tone, the language and the idea of coloured as a homogenous group. With every sentence as I started reading from the title to the abstract, my jaw dropped further and further to the ground,” Professor Boswell said.
However, Professor Elmarie Terblanche from Stellenbosch Univesity revealed that the study was approved by the institution’s ethics committee.
“It is very unfortunate that that is the view because it was absolutely not the idea to highlight what is going on in a specific population. Rather, this is a group that is not often studied while there are similar studies on other population groups,” Terblanche explained.
The professor further explained that the study did not question the intelligence of coloured South African women, but rather sought to observe their cognitive functioning in relation to access to education and lifestyle choices.
“Because of the unique characteristics of each community, we have to understand what is going on amongst those individuals before we can devise interventions or health programmes,” she added.
Professor Boswell refuted this notion, accusing the researchers of using colonial and apartheid science.
“I find it really difficult and I know we’re in different disciplines in the academy, but that some people could construct this using colonial and apartheid science,” she exclaimed.
“We are opposed to racism” – Stellenbosch University
In response to the backlash, Stellenbosch University revealed that it was concerned about the pain and anger the study has evoked.
“As an institution, we are opposed to racism, including intellectual racism or attributing cognitive capacities such as intelligence in terms of race,” the university noted in a statement.
For Terblanche, however, the study was a way to show how the apartheid legacy “had a profound impact on the development of black people in South Africa – and lack of access to proper education was a key factor.”