What makes a good student? I found myself asking this question as I pored over the different philosophies. I think it’s a valid question. I mean I think I’ve laid out my own educational philosophy over the years so I think I have an idea of what is expected of me as a trainer. But the flip side is begging to ask ther question “What do I expect of my learners?” In the week, I try to grope around the edges of the question as if trying to get a toe-hold on a cloud.
What is a good student? How do you become one? Is it one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of things?
Define a good student. By whose definition? One may as well dissect a soap bubble. Is it someone who respects and obeys hs teacher? Is it the Idealistic pupil who strives for perfection and is ambitious? Is it the pasty-faced student at the corner desk of the library? Do I expect blind obedience or informed compliance or considered discretion?
On the surface, Confucianism seemed like a pretty solid and laudable philosophy. It is complex system of social and political ethics based on filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness. It looked promising. Confucian proverbs have always made sense to me. But a closer look on Confucianism allowed me to see to the pitfalls of ardent observance of Confucian guidelines.
A look into the Western philosophies and Confucianism has made me wonder about the divergent path that Western and East Asian education have taken. While the Western world is slowly embracing the uniqueness of each individual and educating the whole person, not just the mind, since feeling is not divorced from reason in decision-making, the Far East is bent on producing blind compliance among its students. The teachers also expect unquestioning obedience from their students. Within the classroom, the teacher takes on the role of the parent in a two-layer hierarchy, and the students are effectively in the role of children. Pupils are expected to show gratitude to their teachers. Independent discussion and thought around the topic are discouraged, with almost all lessons being conducted by rote learning. This is a distinct contrast to the Western approach, and also further amplifies the effects of a Confucian hierarchy within the classroom, whereby the students do only as instructed, viewing the teacher as an infallible figure. This blind devotion and the sense of collectivism produces learners filled with repressed anger that is masked by a façade of social harmony.
Another difference between East Asian and Western education is that in East Asia, being a university graduate is considered a requisite for a successful life, whereas a more western view would be that anyone can achieve success, despite not attaining at the highest level in all areas – such as standard education. I noticed that there is a prevailing respect and profound desire for education in East Asian countries, yet it’s no longer for education’s sake, but rather for material gain.
For better or worse, knowledge matters. How much it matters can test our values. With luck, the more we live and embrace the wide sweep of the world, the more generous our definition becomes.
As one looks at the East Asian educational system, one cannot help but be amazed at the results and conclude that this philosophy must be the most sound and most effective. So I ask myself yet again, “What is a good student?” What do I expect of my students? Do I want a student who excels academically to validate my worth as a teacher? Do I expect creativity? Do I expect them to have individuality? Or am I looking for a robot? What role do I want them to play in their educational process? Do I want them to be mere recipients in the teaching-learning equation? Or do I want them to be contributors in their own educational experience? If one looks at international test results, one might easily be tempted to agree that the attitudes and beliefs of East Asian culture yields better results. Naturally, it follows that it might do one good to study the educational system of our East Asian counterparts and emulate their achievement. Yet we only see the high passing rate, but we don’t see how much these students have given up to go to university. We scratch the surface, but we don’t see how much scolding and physical punishment there is from teachers or how many students commit suicide under pressure.
The question may not be so easy to answer after all? One thing is clear though. I would NOT want to be a student in East Asia.
Daily chart: Diligent Asia, indolent West | The Economist. (2013, December 3).
High performance, high pressure in South Korea’s education system – ICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment. (2014, January 23).
Stergios, J. (2013, March 2). Suicide and the stress from school – Rock The Schoolhouse’s blog – Boston.com.
Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/community/blogs/rock_the_schoolhouse
Wong, A. (n.d.). The Asian Suicide Phenomenon: « hardboiled.
Retrieved from http://hardboiled.berkeley.edu/archived-issues/2008-2009/issue- 12-6/