The purpose of this essay is to throw some light on the classroom culture between India and the United Kingdom. This paper looks at comparison of two different cultures that manifests certain uniqueness in a classroom setting of the countries mentioned above .Dr.Geert Hofstede s cultural dimension would be used to make the comparison more clear, the dimensions highlighted here would be Power distance Index and Uncertainty Avoidance and Individualism and Collectivism.
Key words: Culture, respect, pedagogy, faculty-student relation, student behaviour, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, invidualism, collectivism.
"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Culture differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster" (Dr.Geert Hofstede). It is necessary to understand such differences of different nations and respect their cultural traditions and understand their cultures and national spirit (Mr.Zixin Hou, Mr. Qinghua Liu,Nankai University China) Culture difference is one thing that would have been witnessed by each one of us at some point in life. Class room culture is often the unspoken and unconscious factors about how the people involved in a class behave during lessons, their mannerisms such as behaviour towards the teacher, the method teaching, when and what type of behaviours are tolerated or frowned upon in a class (ETL notebook).Class room behaviour of learners and teachers might be influenced by national values and organisational practices to a certain extent(Judith Kennedy & Chris Kennedy) As I have lived 22 years of my life in India and been through the education there and now being a part of a University in United Kingdom I am able to make out certain glaring differences in classroom culture of these two countries. This is why I would like to draw out this comparison of my country India, and United Kingdom. However this comparison is carried out using Hofstede s dimensions of culture which mainly enumerates the Power Distance Index, Uncertainty Avoidance Index and Individualism and Collectivism.
One of the basic issues which are dealt by different societies differently is human inequality. Power distance comes into picture here. Power distance is the "extent to which the less powerful members of the institution and organisations within a country expect and accept the power is distributed unequally" (Dr. Geert Hofstede). There are countries which have high Power distance or low Power distance. Considering the two countries in this essay, namely India and United Kingdom has high power distance and low power distance respectively.
In ancient times in India, teacher student relation was considered to be very sacred and holy. It is said 'acharya devo bhava' which means treat the Guru or teacher equal to god. The 'Guru' (means teacher or remover of darkness in Sanskrit) was considered to be a godly figure. To trace back to history the school or the place where the students taught was called 'Gurukula' where the teacher and his family lived. In the Gurukula system, the teacher ensured that the students learnt everything by heart and no scope of leniency was given to them until they mastered in all the subjects. Moreover, the so called classroom during those time where in the forests under trees and it was away from towns and cities. The teacher and the student shared a mental connection with each other. Students were subject to meticulous discipline (education &Hinduism, Jayaram, V). So that was the classroom setting in the ancient India.
In the present scenario we can see a very different picture but still a glimpse of the tradition can be traced in the present day classrooms as well. Thus India being a country with high power distance, the education and the class room setting is different from the one in UK. Here teachers are treated with full respect and students usually stand up when the teacher enters the class (In Indian culture it is a sign of respect to stand up when an elder enters the room). The educational process or pedagogy is that it is teacher-centric and he/she is the one initiates all communication. During this process the students are not allowed to interrupt the session and students can speak up only when invited to. Sometimes there is a need for learning everything by heart which can be seen when we trace back to the 'Gurukula system' of education. Moreover, teachers are never criticised or contradicted publicly and once done it is considered as an offence to them. This is one important attribute of a country with high power distance index. The fact of corporal punishments in schools in India is considered to be an acceptable factor. The teachings in a class are more or less lectures and the amount of group works and involvements are minimal. Apart from this, the manner of sitting in a class is more polite and respectful (for example not sitting with legs crossed) in India than in many other Western cultures. Thus from the above facts we can get an idea that India is a country with high power distance index which has an effect on the classroom behaviour of the same.
Owing to the fact that UK is on the lower power distance index it has a comparatively relaxed classroom setting compared to the phenomena in India. Teachers here are supposed to treat the students as their equal and can expect the same in return. A pattern of social constructivist learning environment, where a teacher acts as a guide and facilitator considering the students as their equals rather than being a guru-like role of absolute authority and knowledge (Durkin 2004, Phuong -Mai,Terlouw and Pilot 2005). The educational process is student-centred where they try to find their own intellectual path (Hofstede, Cultures & consequences). Students are allowed to interrupt the class and ask questions to the teachers. As the teacher considers them as their equals, the students argue with teachers, express disagreements and criticisms in front of them. This kind of behaviour is not considered as an offence by the faculty but rather a kind of good communication with the teacher. Views and opinions of others students as well as lecturers are open to criticisms (Kathy Durkin, Intercultural education). Students do not show any particular respect to the teachers outside the school. Talking about the punishments, here corporal punishment is considered as a child abuse. The entire system is based on student's well-developed need for independence and the quality to an extent is determined by the excellence of students (Hofstede, Cultures & Consequences).
From my experience as student who is pursuing her higher studies from a university in UK could figure out such differences mentioned above. The mannerisms shown by the local students are sometimes surprising because the way they sit in the class with legs on chairs, chewing gums etc are some culture shocks that I have seen so far, and this however shows that the setting of the class room is more or less informal. Such class behaviours are absolutely not tolerated in the country that I come from. Moreover students are allowed to walk out of the class in the middle of the lecture. The relationship between a teacher and a student is more like an informal relation than strict one which bolsters the cultural dimension, the power distance index.
From the above mentioned facts and inferences about India and UK tell us how the classroom culture differs in different countries on the basis of Geert Hofstede s Power distance Index.
Uncertainty Avoidance is the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations (Hofstede). With regard to the two countries mentioned in essay, India and United Kingdom are relatively low on the uncertainty avoidance index, though India ranks a little higher than UK. Now certain comparisons on the above countries can be enumerated on the basis of this Index.
From my experience as a student who had been through the Indian education system for 22 years of my life can make out certain differences in the behaviour and the system of classroom education. India has a relatively low uncertainty avoidance index, but it is evident from the present scenario that it is quite high. Talking about the teaching process, both students and teachers prefer a structured learning system with strict timetables. This is one of the attributes of a country having high UAI (Geert Hofstede, cultures and consequences). Accuracy is one factor that plays a vital role in such a system and students expect to be rewarded for the same. Sometimes it happens that students expect their teachers to be experts and answer their queries without fail. Any disagreements with the faculty are considered to be disloyalty shown to them. In some worst students are stressed out because of the work load they are given without any consideration. For example, in top institutions of India like Indian institute of management (IIM) and Indian Institute of technology (IIT) students are excessively put to pressure that some of them end up in bad actions such as drugs, unhealthy behaviours and even to the extent of committing suicides. Moreover, sometimes it is evident from certain classroom setting in India that a bright student will be encouraged and bolstered throughout their schooling whereas the ranker will always be neglected. If a student does not have aptitude for a certain subject he or she will be neglected and treated as a weak student. It is very unlikely to see the teacher take extra effort to find out that child's aptitude and nurture it. Thus from the above facts we can infer that India has comparatively high UAI than UK which can be seen later in this essay.
UK has a lower rank on the Uncertainty avoidance Index. When UAI is weaker both students and teacher does not favour a structured method of learning. Here, the classes are conducted which are mainly student-centred. Team work and collaborative learning is embedded within the curriculum in departments and can be an effective mode for inclusive learning. Theory learnt in class is put to practice which gives a student more knowledge and improve his experience on the subject (Jude Carrol & Janette Ryan). Autonomous learning is highly preferred in such classroom setting. Students here prefer open ended learning structure with vague objectives, broad objectives and with no structured time tables and students from a low uncertainty avoidance usually accepts a teacher who says 'I don't know' for what he is actually not sure of, they respect a teacher who uses simple language and books that explain difficult issues in ordinary terms (Hofstede, Cultures and consequences). Students under such phenomena would like to be rewarded for their originality.
Individualism pertains to the society where the ties between individuals are not coupled with one another and everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. On the other hand Collectivism pertains to a society where people from birth onwards are integrated into strong groups throughout their lifetime and continue to protect them for their unquestioning Loyalty ( Hofstede ). Considering the two countries in the essay, India is highly collectivist country and UK on the other hand is individualist country. Further comparisons can be seen in the paragraphs below.
India being a collectivist country gives a lot of importance to group. It is visible in a classroom in India that students belonging to different ethnic groups or certain clans tend form their own sub groups in the class. Biasness is lot more seen in such a setting, students from same ethnic group or clan same as the teacher or are some way related to the officials then they are given more preference than any others in the class. This kind of behaviour may not be liked by many others from different culture. In a collectivist country like India it is immoral not to treat ones in-group members better than others ( Hofstede, Culture and consequence). The element of confrontation and conflicts are quite negligible to be noticed in a class room in India because of the fear that this might hurt someone's feeling. Here they teach the students to adapt to the groups in various points in their life which in particular teaches them to learn how to do things in order to participate in a group. For example it is quite evident in India, that the students who own family business are pretty much dragged into it even if they are not interested. Moreover they would be aiming to get a higher degree for the purpose of gaining some higher social status; this I feel is an attribute of a collectivist culture.
This country ranks third in individualism index among fifty countries. Having such high scores it shows that people in this country are highly independent than people in many other countries. In an individualist society like this, the assignment of group task leads more easily to formation new groups than in a collectivist society (Hofstede, Culture and Consequences). Here the treatment of one's own group member better than other is considered as an immoral activity. Each student in the class has his own identity and is not attached to any group. Whatever a person does, it is his sole responsibility to take care of the consequences whether good or bad. As you know that here students are more confident and speak up in the class when asked questions and they do not hesitate to ask queries in the middle of the lecture. Teachers who may be sent from an individualist setting to a collectivist setting would feel the difference such that they might wonder why students do not speak up in class even when a question put to the class. Here obtaining a degree is considered to be an individual self esteem rather than a social status. Thus UK being an individualist country has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Understanding these cultural differences between the two countries one can only agree when Hofstede states that culture differences are a disaster and often a source of conflict (this would be more relevant when a class has students from various culture backgrounds). Class room culture as we have seen that is interplay of factors relating to the teacher as well as the student with the culture of nation as its base. From the above essay we come to know the differences in cultures of a classroom setting as well as it throws some light on education system of India and United Kingdom. India compared to UK, has high power distance and accordingly its effects in the behaviour of the people in a class room (both teacher and student) and UK with it slow power distance has an impact on the classroom setting over there. However it is from the base that we form our culture and that would be from the primary class. Moving on to the next dimension which is uncertainty avoidance both countries more or less are near to each other, India being ranked a little higher than UK. Regarding individualism and collectivism UK is collectivist and India an individualist country having its merits and demerits. Different culture makes the world rich and colourful, one cannot judge one's culture over the other, rather it is fair to try and understand why such a culture exists in classrooms based on cultural background of the respective countries.
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