Culture, while it is increasingly an issue to be reckoned with in business circles, does not get the same prominence in the discussion about International Education. The reason why business pays heed to culture is perhaps because increasingly the Chinese, Indian and other consumers are 'emerging', and it is no longer the same monolithic world where all purchasing powers were concentrated in the hands of a certain type, Western, consumers. For the same reason, surely, western educators may pay heed to the issue of culture, as the Chinese, Korean and Indian students flock to Western universities.
However, such cultural sensitivities are less likely to take hold in the academia, simply because the demand for an Western education is simply taken as an acceptance of its superiority. Besides, educators usually resist the idea of education being a consumer commodity and see the need to adjust to the needs of different students as a compromise of the standards. And, finally, practically, given that most of these Asian students travel to Western universities to receive their education, it is well neigh impossible to respond to cultural norms beyond a certain perfunctory level, because the same standards must be held for all students, including the Western ones.
Beyond the surface level, however, the culture question presents a deeper challenge for the educator. Indeed, the idea of universal standard itself is a Western one, and the Asian students are usually brought up to consider and allow particular characteristics of the other: They wouldn't complain about a practice even if they find it odd or discomforting, because one of their deep cultural values is to accept different things from different people, rather than seeking an universal standard. Besides, the demand for Western education does not necessarily mean an acceptance of their inherent superiority; many Asian students, indeed most students, employ a pragmatic approach to seek out the education they need for their lives and careers, and reject, in all practicality, lessons that do not suit their scheme of things. Education as an element of soft power often exist in the dreams of the closet colonialist, but the history of people traveling to seek knowledge dates back ancient times and it didn't necessarily imply cultural hegemony.
International educators need to think closely about culture, moreover, because the nature of education is changing. Last decade has seen increasing proliferation of Online models, as well as franchising and other arrangements to deliver education offshore. The talk of 'education export' has intensified, under the same assumption that a superior Western education can be easily exported, if a commercial model could be found, to countries with a lower order education system. In this, the educators often make no pretense that education is not a consumer commodity, and rather adopt quite a mercenary approach which would have put the early pirate-merchants in shadows. The usual method is to lobby the governments of different countries and business groups in setting up 'international campuses' offering a pure 'foreign education' for the local students, without them having to travel (or establish an online variant). In this model, however, the usual culture blindness of the educators make them responsible for even greater harm to the recipient societies, creating a false model which is neither locally relevant nor viable over even medium term.
Why so? Researches in Cognitive Psychology has shown, in experiments conducted many times over many years, that learning behaviours of pupils from different cultures are distinctly different. Richard Nisbett points out that when the American professors express their dismay with the written work of their otherwise diligent Asian students, they are often complaining about the lack of the rhetorical style of writing they are used to, than the lack of research and effort, though they would tend to express their views in those terms. He also talks about an experiment by Steven Hine and his colleagues with Canadian and Japanese school children, which showed that while the Canadians worked longer and more diligently when they were given positive feedback, the Japanese tended to focus more when they were given negative feedback, bringing out the Western need for esteem in contrast to Asian values of self-improvement. These sorts of factors, combined with the deeply Asian culture of living in harmony (which is often mistaken as conformity) rather than sticking out in the classroom, demand a different pedagogical design than the one practiced at home locations of these institutions.
However, this does not happen: The claims of cultural superiority of Western academia, and some deeply flawed and underhand commercial logic, the market is not significant enough to make the changes etc., trump the very practical requirements of designing a different educational experience. This sort of reasoning is indeed self-defeating: The claims of cultural superiority runs counter to the reflexivity and humility that self-professedly accompany the educators' practice; the commercial logic is flawed because it turns the causality on its head and prevents the markets from being significant. Therefore, the field of International Education, with its crown jewel, Branch Campuses, is full of failed experiments, which is more often than not blamed on departed executives rather than triggering soul searching and culture change.
In the context of International Education experiments, which continue to proliferate, therefore, a new design of culturally sensitive classroom is a prerequisite of excellence. In fact, the modern technologies, if suitably designed, should allow such sensitivities to be employed even within the context of traditional classrooms in home institutions, rather than making the whole process of education culture-blind. Various adaptive tools, and adaptive assessments (blasphemy, indeed, but holding consistent standards and employing same assessments are not the same) should become the cornerstone of international education, alongside some timeless good practices of education, such as a responsive and reflective teacher: Education as commerce may be reaching its limits and further international expansion may demand a rethink of the models, just as businesses are doing today.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The Creativity Imperative Businesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously. Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.