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Issues in Educational Research, 15(1), 2005

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Chinese cultural schema of Education:
Implications for communication between
Chinese students and Australian educators
Leng Hui
Edith Cowan University
Education in China, in its various forms and levels, is widely conceptualised as integrating the cultivation of ‘human souls’ with the provision of students with knowledge. The English word ‘education’ is jiao ) in Chinese, which means ‘teaching [and] cultivating’. The analogy yu (

,
- it takes ten years to
shi nian shu mu, bai nian shu ren (
grow trees, but a hundred years to cultivate a person) may illustrate the cultivating responsibilities laid on Chinese schools or other institutions engaged in educating people. A Chinese metaphor equating teachers with - the engineers of ‘human

ren lei ling hun gong cheng shi (
souls’) also reveals the cultural knowledge that teachers play a crucial role in cultivating the soul of Chinese people. The cultural knowledge embodied in the Chinese cultural schema of Education exerts profound influence on teachers, students (regardless of their ages) and their parents. Making use of common idioms, proverbs and popular quotes from Chinese classics on education, this paper provides an introduction to the Chinese - teaching books and

Education schema of jiao shu yu ren (
cultivating people) and explores the influence of the schema on Chinese education in terms of issues such as moral education, teacher roles and status, student beliefs about books and learning and the significance of examinations in Chinese education. Discussion of the influence of the Chinese Education schema on intercultural communication between mainland Chinese students and their Australian educators is also provided. It is concluded that, despite some experience of living in Australia, mainland Chinese students overseas are likely to draw on their embedded cultural schema of Education when studying in the context of Australian education systems. An understanding of the Chinese Education schema may help Australian educators to bridge the educational gaps that many overseas Chinese students encounter, and it may contribute to reducing the chances of intercultural miscommunication between Chinese students and Australian educationists.

“My [Australian] lecturer doesn’t care if I pass or fail,” she said. “I came from China at my own expense because I want to learn. But he treats me as a nuisance when I try to ask questions in class. He avoids me. I try to catch him after the class and he is always in a hurry… and he won’t help me!” [An account by a tearful Chinese student (Malcolm, 1995, ii)]

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Chinese cultural schema of Education

J iao shu yu ren : The Chinese cultural schema of
Education1

In cognitive sciences, a schema theory is basically “a theory about knowledge” (Rumelhart, 1980: 34). Sir Frederick Charles Bartlett (1886 – 1969) was credited as the first psychologist who used the term in its cognitive sense for studying long-term memory in the 1920s (Brewer, 2000). Schema theories study how knowledge is represented and how their representation facilitates the use of knowledge (Rumelhart, 1980: 34). Schemas are viewed by Rumelhart (1980: 33) as building blocks of cognition. Conversely, schemas are abstract cognitive constructs where knowledge is processed, stored and activated. In the discipline of cognitive anthropology, cultural schemas, which are interchangeably called cultural models, are schematic representations of generic concepts distributed among cultural members. Despite the fact that not every cultural member has the same amount of the distributed knowledge or the same degree of schematisation of the distributed knowledge, due to the varied accessibility to and intensity of their exposure to knowledge systems (Sharifian, 2003), cultural schemas are used by cognitive anthropologists to study the foundations upon which people of one culture are able to identify each other as...
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