Eastern vs Western education

Can you remember your times tables? Quick! What’s 6 x 8? 7 x 9? 3 x 12? If you didn’t hesitate with the correct answer, chances are high that you are either over 50, naturally gifted at Maths or weren’t educated in the West. If you’re like me you might have come up with an answer… after a second or two, but you wouldn’t be entirely confident to lock it in if I was Eddy McGuire and you were about to win a million dollars.

Is there something wrong with my memory just because I’m a young Aussie? Did I spend too much time playing outdoors as a child and the sun got to my brain? Unlikely, I was a diligent student. My dear husband, on the other hand, spent as much time as he could tearing around on his bike- and can remember all his times tables at the drop of a hat. The difference? He went to a Chinese school, while I was educated in a Western one.

Denis Lane, in is his excellent little book ‘One World, Two Minds’, explains the difference. Teachers, in an Eastern view of the world, are given a very high place of respect. The student does not think of questioning the teacher. What the teacher says, the student accepts. This results in a lot of rote learning and the development of excellent memory capacities, but weakness in independent critical thinking. In Western education, the trend has been for the teacher to become ‘learning facilitator’. The emphasis is on leading the student to make discoveries for himself, and to learn as as he goes about individual projects. The ‘learning facilitator’ is not there to tell the student what he needs to know. This method results in creativity and independent thinking, but poor numeracy and literacy.

So, what do we do with our son? Will we send him to China for primary school, and bring him back home to Australia for high school? I don’t think that’s an option. More likely we will homeschool.

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7 Responses to Eastern vs Western education

  1. Peter Young says:

    Well said. You should send this to my cousin while he is still the Minister.

    • Thanks :) On the coalface, trends are already starting to turn in the other direction (eg., national curriculum, naplan, direct instruction programs) as the shortcomings in numeracy and literacy have become more and more hard to ignore. That said, I think it will take an overhaul of the academia to see lasting improvement. The worship of philosophies rather than evidence has become so ingrained that it will be difficult to change overnight. Certainly not before the 24th of March!

  2. Peter Young says:

    I wouldn’t hold out much hope with the national curriculum. These are the guys who wanted to cut out AD and BC ie whiteout any reference to Christianity and who think the national conscience should be framed by “Aboriginal Perspectives”; “The Environment” and “The Asian Perspective” As Senator Mason said in the Senate on Tuesday..” What about the Judeo Christian Inheritance? What about the Separation of Powers? What about the importance of our endruing and independant judiciary; common law heritage; the English Language etc etc…..”

  3. Nene says:

    I knew those times tables….just saying….

      • Nene says:

        I must confess I disagree with the conclusion that Eastern education is superior. There’s a reason why my hubby was top of his Maths C class despite being one of the only non Asian students….he could solve problems – they couldn’t. I think, overall, the “Western” culture supports the mental health of the child better than the “win at all costs” and “I’m a failure if I don’t get 100%” attitudes that are typical in Asian culture.

        I also think that the benefits of sending kids to a good local public school outweighs the benefits of homeschooling but that’s a whole other debate :).

      • Thanks for the thoughts! Maybe I wasn’t clear- I wasn’t saying that Eastern education is superior to Western in every respect, only when it comes to pure memory work, like times tabes. Eastern education does have serious weaknesses when it comes to independent thinking and creative problem solving, as you have said. These are the strengths of Western education. Yes, and there is the pushy parenting style made famous by ‘Tiger Mom’ who argues that Chinese mothers are superior. I’ll put this in another post. This a separate issue, and not really what I was talking about, but it’s good to clarify. But worth saying that while her pushiness sounds extreme, the opposite extreme in Western parenting to offer children so many choices that they develop no discipline in anything, is also good to avoid. Neither style is perfect, and one would hope to find a healthy balance, somehow. I’ll leave the homeschooling debate for another post! Jen ;)

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