November 30, 2007

Differences in education across cultures

In his book Cultures and Organizations, Geert Hofstede writes, for example, about differences in education across cultures. In this regard, the part focusing on the dimension “power distance” is, not least, interesting. I reflected further upon what Mr. Hofstede wrote – including thinking about the experiences I have had throughout my own life – and came to think of some more aspects.

I would like to ask you which type of education you think is the most efficient, i.e. in which education situation (1 or 2) you think people will learn the most? And why?

Situation # 1: The small-power-distance situation

In the small-power-distance situation, teachers expect initiatives from students – during seminars in physical locations as well as on the Internet. In other words, students are seen as participants that get actively involved in their education – for example by trying out new knowledge at work, and by bringing their personal working experiences into the education situation. There is focus on demand / on individual needs. The teacher develops into also being, for example, a process facilitator/mediator/coach. During a semester/year, education participants are expected to be proactive learners from the very start, and continue like that throughout the semester/year. Why? Because like in sports, it’s regular training that keeps you fit. In other words, students are expected to continuously participate and tell people, including the trainer, what they need to learn more, what they have talents for, are interested in / passionate about. In the small-power-distance situation, there is also focus on 2-way communication / dialogue – not least using the Internet. Testing can, for example, be done by letting students continuously give constructive feedback including ideas for further development to each other.

Situation # 2: The large-power-distance situation
In the large-power-distance situation, teachers are expected to take all initiative. Students, who are looked upon as one group, expect to be filled up with information – more or less like cars are filled up with gasoline. There is strong focus on the supply of information/knowledge, i.e. curriculum – and on 1-way communication. The teacher stands in the front of the room – often behind a big desk – and informs/instructs/presents answers to students, who sit down and (passively) listen. Also, in the large-power-distance situation, students are often tested/controlled in exams at the end of the year/semester. As evaluation methods strongly influence the behaviour of students, many students work much harder at the end of the semester/year as in the beginning and the middle of the semester/year. Unfortunately, the result of this behaviour is that students memorize much information, reproduce it at the exam, and forget much of it shortly after the exam.
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