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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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 was gui
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, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
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
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.