Memorandum on training for visual education

Marie Neurath (1955)

Editorial note (EK). Marie Neurath wrote the 'Memorandum on training for visual education' in mid March 1955 while working in Ibadan, in the Western Region of Nigeria. It outlines the proposed make-up of a local team tasked with designing and producing visual aids for education, and what their particular skills should be. While the Memorandum addresses issues arising out of Isotype's activities in Nigeria, it is of interest, too, for its general description of what is needed to create Isotype work. Also important are MN's thoughts on how the effectiveness of Isotype's Nigerian work might be tested as part of a team's training.

In parallel with the Memorandum, MN assembled a separate and more specific 'Scheme for twelve months' training in Isotype work'. It detailed the resources needed to assemble and train a five-member team, and the costs involved. In line with the Memorandum, a Nigeria-based team would be led by a 'visual teacher' trained by MN, and supported by two artists and two technical assistants trained by an Isotype artist brought in from Isotype's London office.

Over the next two months, up to MN's eventual departure from Ibadan in mid May 1955, efforts were made to secure agreement on the training scheme from the Western Regional Government. Plans were also set in motion to bring Isotype artist John Ellis to Nigeria for a 12-month stay as a trainer. In the event, agreement from the government was not forthcoming, and the scheme and plans to establish a visual aids office in Ibadan were eventually dropped. An alternative plan to train a Nigerian artist in London also proved unsustainable.

(Memorandum typescript: I.C. 3.2/171; 12-month scheme typescript: I.C. 3.2/171, dated 12 March 1955; London training scheme: I.C. 3.2/172. Attributes of the Memorandum typescript have been partly retained, including the underlining of all-uppercase words. Several minor misspellings have been silently corrected.)


The introduction of informative visual aids is based on the work of a team who develop and follow a consistent method which is adapted to the understanding of the general public. Therefore three aspects have to be considered:-
I. The team.
II. Training of the team.
III. Contact with the public.

A minimum team should consist of
(1) a teacher who is also the head of the team.
(2) an artist.
(3) A technical assistant.

(1) THE TEACHER should have a visual leaning and also be able to make research and interpret information correctly in visual terms. He is responsible for the method to be followed, the correctness and clearness of the visual aids.

To find such a teacher is perhaps most difficult. Before I left [Nigeria] in September, 1954, I asked a teacher in a Teachers' Training College (who uses Isotype books and therefore knows what we need) to help me find a suitable person. She has tried, but without success.

Fortunately I can mention another chance: a married woman who has had a teacher's training, will accompany her husband to the United Kingdom in September for a year; she would like to be trained. My acquaintance with her has been short, but the impression has been very good indeed. Before discussing plans with her I should like to have the Government's approval.

(2) THE ARTIST should have a leaning to clearness and simplicity. The British Council Art Exhibition gives a good chance to see whether any of this type can be found. Some of the junior work looks promising. There seems to be a school at Benin (Edo College) with a good art teacher. A boy or girl who comes from that school may perhaps be found suitable.

(3) THE TECHNICAL ASSISTANT should develop a technical skill for the exact repetition of symbols which is needed according to our method. The most developed technique in this country [i.e. Nigeria] is, I think, stencil work which is not exact enough for us. We have to investigate whether wood-cutting can be developed; together with hand printing. Stencils may do for certain exhibition work.

P.S. Besides technical qualifications, personal attitudes should be taken into account: interest in his work, and willingness to co-operate in a team spirit. Moreover, somehow we want to ensure that the persons who receive the training will use it as workers of the team. Before taking on a trainee he should be told what his commitments are, a[nd] what terms under which he will work.

All training will be done by doing some work together and while doing so, explaining why one way is preferred to another. A possible start is that we make new versions of some of the charts in our booklets for some other purpose, perhaps for wall charts, perhaps for filmstrips. The teacher could learn how to think out, design and sketch a sequence of ideas. The artist would develop his skill to reduce shapes to essentials: so will his assistant. The next step would be to tackle new tasks, either put by me for the purpose of training, or preferably given us by some Government Department. This would lead to some finished work which will be used, and thus give more encouragement to the trainees. But, of course, true technical equipment will be needed for this purpose. For the teacher it will not be more than paper and colour pencils: for the artist's drawing instruments, paints, paper of better quality and larger size; for his assistant the equipment will depend on the technique which will be adopted. Tables of good size and chairs are required for each.

Within the short duration of my stay in this country, the training cannot be completed in any of the branches. We can only make a start, and decide on the trainees. In addition, the granting of scholarships for training in London has been suggested. Even one year is short in view of the variety of problems put by visual work. I myself have considered my self as my husband's trainee for at least 10 years. To help in a successful development of such visual services, I should offer consultation for a longer time; this could be given partly by exchange of letters and sketches, perhaps also photographs, after we have established a close contact and understanding through the training period. And I shall certainly be prepared to visit this country again should the need arise.

Our visual material should be understandable to the literate, and easily explained to the illiterate. How far it fulfils these claims has still to be tested. The team should have some arrangement that they can test their products permanently, preferably through exhibitions where they can watch the public. The teacher trainee should be able to get the whole message out of a chart by putting the right questions and thus making people look carefully and SEE the answers from the chart. If people can't see them, the charts are bad and have to be redesigned.

Similar tests can be made either together with the teacher trainee or independent of the training scheme, as soon as more copies of each of our booklets and leaflets have arrived from the United Kingdom. I suggest to do this in the following manner:

(a) We visit schools of various types in villages and towns with say 20 booklets (copies of the same) of which we give one to the teacher, the rest to the children and wait what happens. Or we give the teacher a chance to look at the booklet for himself first and then to lead the question and answer game.

(b) We carry on similar experiments in waiting rooms of hospitals with the help of the assistants. Health booklet and leaflets might be most appropriate in this case.

[(]c) We try to find groups of farmers, in a village, or co-operative, or during a demonstration, for our test.

(d) We try to interest some teacher of adult education classes in the possibility of using our booklets for some lessons at which we could attend.

(e) Etc.

On all these visits a person could accompany me who can give an unbiased report; this may be useful for the announcement of the booklets in the press; it may also provide justification for the training scheme (or against it, as the case may be) if one feels that such justification is needed.

Should we find out, that the booklets and leaflets are understood, but not easily, I should not consider them as a failure. As long as they stimulate people so that they make an effort to understand their main message - as long as the booklets make people think and find out - they are fulfilling their task.

Marie Neurath


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