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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.
Key words: Culture, respect, pedagogy, faculty-student relation, power distance, Uncertainty avoidance.
"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). 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 (ETL notebook). 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 and Uncertainty Avoidance Index
Power Distance Index
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. 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, 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. 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 actually is not sure of (Hofstede, Cultures and consequences).