Influence of Culture on Learning Styles Term Paper

Pages: 16 (5049 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Teaching

¶ … Culture on Learning Styles

Multiculturalism as a backdrop for culturally-based learning styles in Australia

The concept of multiculturalism was imported, according to one opponent of the idea, form Canadian politics "to represent a vague set of ideas which purportedly promotes the cultural and economic interests of certain non-Anglomorph sections of the Australian community" (Cooray 2000). Quite simply, however, it simply describes the fact that immigration has brought various ethnic and linguistic groups to Australia, arguably complicating an already bifurcated educational system -- Anglo and Aboriginal -- with additional sets of expectations to consider in both presenting educational material and in assessing academic achievement. Cooray thinks it is going too far to assert the right of each ethnic community to maintain its language and culture on Australian soil, especially with the help of publicly funded programmes.

Still, in the educational setting, it is necessary to "create a more open-textured and tolerant social environment" (Senator Gareth Evans, quoted by Cooray 2000) in order to be certain members of each ethnic group are able to take advantage of Australia's educational system and even, as Cooray desires, become more "Australian" in the process.

In addition to language differences and a variety of unique customs, the multicultural population will also add varieties of religious experience (with apologies to philosopher William James) that will have influence upon the ways people learn, and in some cases, even on the choices they make on what to learn and where to learn.

Before determining what possible effect the culture of two of Australia's ethnic populations might have on learning styles, it is important to understand how Anglomorphic Australia became multicultural: it is now, in fact, one of the world's "most plural and multicultural societies" (Bouma 1995).

In 1947, most Australians were members of the Church of England, had a British background, ate meat pies and feared the Yellow Peril (Bouma 1995). After World War Ii, large numbers of immigrants -- mainly British, but also a large number of Greeks and Italians -- arrived and were expected "to fit in, to blend into Australian institutions, churches, and organizations, to adopt Australian cuisine, and to play Australian sport" (Bouma 1995). While in the case of Greeks and Italians, the language difference would have had an effect on classroom practice, by and large the European sensibilities were not so exotic that it was even necessary to think about variations in learning styles. Partly, the locus of emigration to Australia was determined by the government's "White Australia" policy that limited access to Europeans. In the 1960s, however, that policy was scrapped, with the result that large numbers of migrants form Middle Eastern and Asian nations arrived (Bouma 1995). With that influx of people with not only different languages (with no commonality, as is arguable when referring to major European languages), but different religious backgrounds and different gender relations, it began to be advisable to wonder whether migrant children, or even those born to migrants after they had arrived in Australia, would require a different approach to education. Indeed, it might be prudent, especially in the case of the Arab immigrants, to wonder if the ethnic identification would be at odds with Australia's educational system over the issue of gender.

While the in-migration might call for educational adjustment in Australian schools, at least, according to Bouma, it has been unlikely to cause strife, for several reasons. These are:

The relatively small size of the minority groups vis-a-vis the dominant but nearly equal Catholics and Anglicans, the lack of overlap between ethnic and religious difference, the lack of ghettoization, the fact that religious difference is not politicized, a long history of sorting out intergroup conflict through legislation and courts, and the existence of effective organizations promoting positive intergroup relations (Bouma 1995).

It is also interesting that this in-migration is likely to have less impact on Australia in the long-term than will relations with the Aboriginal population. The survival of Aboriginal culture and language "depends solely on what happens in Australia" whereas the "centres of Italian, Greek or Chinese culture are elsewhere. Whatever happens in Australia will have no consequence for the survival of these cultures in their respective homelands" (Cooray 2000). However, culture is not static, especially in communities which interact with each other (Cooray 2000). Over time, then, whether or not the unique learning styles of these populations are considered, the interplay between them and the indigenous Anglo-Australian population is likely to cause rapid cultural evolution, although:

When a small community interacts with a large community it is inevitable that the elements of the more prevalent culture will tend to predominate in the evolutionary outcome. Thus when a small group of Greeks or Italians translocate themselves into an Anglomorph environment, it is inevitable that they will become assimilated into the larger community if not in the first generation, in the generations to follow (Cooray 2000).

Again, this would seem to be easier for European cultures, having much in common with the foundation British culture of Australia, than for cultures such as those of the Middle East and Asia. Still, maintaining the cultural differences that result in learning differences over a long period is difficult. Maintaining cultural differences "needs an iron clad system of apartheid or self-imposed inward looking communal traditions" (Cooray 2000). While this is more likely with the Middle Eastern immigrants for a variety of reasons, if the children are in Australian schools, it is likely that assimilation is acceptable to the family, and the teachers then must grapple with the cultural expectations those children bring to the classroom. This may be slightly less prevalent for Asian immigrant children simply because, in the current global climate, they would not suffer from what Australians think they know about the culture as is arguably the case with those from the Arab world.

At this point, Cooray's negative attitude toward government-sponsored multicultural programmes comes into play once again. He notes that "there is a difference between teaching language for its educational value and teaching it in pursuance of the illusory goals of multiculturalism...(and)... It must not be forgotten that the urgent demand of both educationists and ethnic Australians is to increase facilities for teaching English to migrants disadvantaged by language" (Cooray 2000), which will possibly hasten their assimilation and diminish the impact of culturally differentiated learning styles. Cooray (2000) also contends that, despite the cultural differences, the immigrants desire, overwhelmingly, to become culturally Australian. During the interim period, between an immigrant's identification with his or her home country and making the transition to being Australian, the cultural expectations brought from the 'old country' will have an effect on the pace at which the immigrant learns and becomes Australian, and is thus a worthy topic for investigation. Cooray proposes that making too much of multiculturalism, however, is likely to be counterproductive. Cooray (1995) says Australia is fortunate in that it is able to "culturally unify diverse peoples with minimum trauma" (Cooray 1995), unlike Sri Lanka, Cooray's own birth country, which has had unending party strife "Ever since the unifying element of a common language (English) was removed by chauvinistic politicians, (and) the two minor lingual communities have treated one another with mistrust and hostility" (Cooray 1995).

The effects on learning of ethnic communities

Yee (1996) believes the existence of ethnic enclaves serving new arrivals from different cultures has a positive effect on assimilation, at least if they are studied and the lessons applied to instruction. Yee recommends that teachers and students may study the growth and development of the relevant cultural enclaves, "the morphological characteristics of each site, the spatial distribution of the various ethnic groups and the languages or dialects spoken within each enclave, the pattern of economic activities and occupations, the architectural styles of buildings and places of worship, and the traditions and cultural festivities" (Yee 1996). Understanding these factors would conceivably help inform teachers regarding what to expect in student behaviors, learning and social; from that point, the teachers could look for ways to help students around any impediments regarding the major culture's expectations.

While Cooray was almost completely opposed to multiculturalism, Yee finds that it is worthy of studying vis-a-vis the educational experience, as do Nassar-McMillan & Hakim-Larson (2003), who noted that the "relatively new, global focus on diversity has resulted in governmental and corporate ventures, among others, to educate, retrain, or otherwise restructure the thinking of individuals about populations different from their own."

Some researchers classify four paradigms of culture: functionalist, interpretive, critical humanist, and critical structuralism (Martin & Nakayama 1999). Others, including the influential researcher, Geert Hofstede (1998), quantify the components of cultures so that one can discern "the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another," information essential to effective teaching of multicultural groups. Hofstede (1998) notes that "Families, schools, work places, authorities, political parties and religious bodies may mean quite different things in different nations." In fact, the four factors Hofstede studied in the world's major nations… [END OF PREVIEW]

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