Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cultural dimensions of effective learning

How many times have we heard the importance of knowing your own self? ‘To know others is to know one self first’, or something along that line. Indeed, the subject that I am teaching at uni brings to light the importance of knowing yourself first before knowing your students. This notion of self-concept is much discussed in the arena of identity and it is not hard to see why.

Personally, I feel that a concept of self helps to define a person. Many of us go through life without realizing that we carry with us various identities while maintaining one main identity. Does that make sense? We will always have an inner self, this core identity, which will mould our thoughts in life. However, at the same time, we juggle many other minor identities, which we switch on and off according to situation and need. As my housemate put it over dinner earlier, we are like rubber bands, which I think she meant malleable.

Knowing the identity or identities you carry determines or at least, influences the way you decide your life. Without this knowledge of self, I find that it is that slightly harder to define who you want to be as a teacher. This would in effect make your teaching less ‘you’. But in our day and age, how hard or how easy is it to maintain this uniqueness?

I would say, it is extremely hard but it is up to us to make it easy. Take us Malaysians, for example. I feel that there is a certain degree of ‘Asian’ in our thoughts despite being trained in a fairly ‘Western’ environment. Our schooling system is British, our mass media is mainly from America, Britain or Australia and most favoured education philosophies are from Europe. I mean, every teacher (from preschool up to high school teachers) would have been drilled with the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Montessori and Bronfenbrenner to name a few. Tell me which one of those names sound Asian to you.

Whilst I agree that the knowledge of the theories by these famous Western people come in handy, I feel that we as the users of such powerful information need to know how to apply them in real life. Do we follow word for word? For example, we know that the Reggio Emilia approach is fantastic but do we merely transport all that they do to a kindergarten somewhere in Kuala Lumpur and expect to see the same things happen to our children? Have we thought of how meaningful it would be to our kids? It may mean naught, for all we know. Would our society be able to understand and accept the concept behind the Reggio approach? We need to look at the people we are serving – every society has their own needs and a unique future that they are working towards.

I do, however, acknowledge the superiority of the Western style of education, especially as an immigrant in Australia where learning is more active and more intrinsically driven. But I find that teachers in the West are less ‘holistic’ – they tend not to know the ‘outside of the classroom’ child. It could be due to several reasons, one being respecting the privacy of the families. Another could be due to maintaining a professional relationship. Back home, we know the whole of their families and it is more personal.

I am not saying that learning back home is not active and is externally driven but comparatively, there is a difference. However, there are schools and kindergartens back home that run their programs in a less teacher-directed manner and I salute them for stepping out of the box. In addition to meeting the academic expectations of families, they also provide other experiences that are enjoyable, stimulating and relevant to the children’s learning.

But being an Asian studying (and now teaching) in a foreign country, I feel that few locals appreciate us immigrants. No, they are not racist but perhaps there is that underlying notion of us not being able to contribute due to maybe a communication handicap. But, education is not just about academic skills and information. It is about life chances.

Think: why do multilingual people like us work better in groups? I feel that it is because of our ability to be rubber bands, as I mentioned above. As we are able to talk in many languages, we are able to think in many languages, which varies the way we view things. We are more able to have multiple perspectives and are more adaptive to changing situations. I sound like I am praising myself, gosh. Please feel free to correct me if you do not agree to my thoughts…

Research also points out how Asian students in a Western environment have been found to have low self-esteem. Recent studies, or a handful of studies, have shown that this is not the actual case, as self-esteem is assigned different meanings by different cultures. To us Asians, especially the Chinese, we term it humility, or qian xu. From young, we are taught to have respect for others and always maintain humble. We, or at least I was constantly reminded not to flaunt my good grades or a new dress. Some of you might feel that this is in disregard for my right to freedom of speech or freedom of self-expression but I feel that this is good discipline. To put it simply, nobody likes a show-off.

So really, it is up for interpretation – the way we define the world around us and the way we make the world work for us and vice versa. Education, and especially early childhood education is serious business. It is plenty of work and it sometimes requires you to redefine yourself before you could even start your journey. What have you packed to bring on this journey? Have you decided where to go?

Are you ready to embark on this adventure as a person who could be the most influential to another young soul out there?


Christine said...

Hey there! Interesting post, which at least tells me a bit about the reason you're in Australia besides enjoying all the yummy food ;-)

I have always had a bit of difficulty understanding my Chinese-speaking students' reluctance to speak up in a class / group situation so your post about "humility" and "show-offs" has shed some light.

I've always been an outspoken person and many of my classmates/friends are too - does this mean that the Chinese-speaking folk think that we are all a bunch of show-offs??? Oops...

Chrys said...

Hey Christine!

Haha, nah, I don't think your Chinese-speaking friends think that you are bunch of show-offs because they understand the reason behind the English usage and like I mentioned, different cultural meanings assigned.

But yes, I don't only eat in Australia, ok?? I do serious stuff, too! :P

CheaYee said...

Hei, are you teaching in a school now? I'm three year trained, so i couldnt go up to 6 years class (or kindergarten, whatever they call it in these parts).

I work in a school where at least one third to one fourth is chinese. (out of which 1/3 of the chinese is mandarin speaking, 1/3 is cantonese from HK, and 1/3 from Indonesian). I consider the indonesian as chinese as when i ask them about their ethnicity, they will say they are chinese.

as for speaking up in class, i think its two factors. One, we're not used to that practice in our schools,where we debate and ask teachers questions. so that is a cultural practice.

secondly, it could be a personality thing. I know a nmber of Malaysian friends at uni who told me they speak up at uni. But these are the ones who tend to be outgoing.

So it's both nurture and nature.

CheaYee said...

anyways, as i was saying... although the mandarin/cantonese speaking parents dont say it, they do appreciate having a staff onboard who speaks their language.

I have really horrible mandarin skills, but i still understand what they want, so its still okay in that sense.

so before I leave, i am going to give my supervisor "reminders" that she should try to find someone who is able to speak mandarin/cantonese or either one many of the parents do have difficulty communicating, especially those from China. Whether she will heed my advice is one thing though, though she sees that there is a need.

its normally the relatives, or grandparents that aren't able to speak english.