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Effective pedagogy in cultural context

Mon, April 15, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hyatt Regency, Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront D

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Effective pedagogy in cultural context

Theories of child development emphasize the importance of cultural context in understanding behaviour (Goodnow, 1988; Harkness & Super, 1992). Children’s behavior is shaped directly by their learning environment and by cultural values (Greenfield, 2009; 2016; Keller et al., 2006), both of which are influenced by the socio-demographics of society. Notwithstanding considerable diversity in culture and context around the world, the contrast between subsistence agricultural societies and educated, industrialised societies (Henrich et al., 2010) is useful for identifying differences and similarities in the factors shaping children’s development (Greenfield, 2009; 2016; Lancy, 2014). Greenfield (2016) reviews the aspects of agricultural societies that are most important for shaping children’s development. Agricultural societies have a collectivist (rather than individualist) culture; families have many children with several generations living together; they have age-graded authority and contextualised (rather than abstract) thinking; they provide more social guidance and more criticism (rather than praise and support) to children; and family obligations are key. The consequences are that children in agricultural communities have more respect, obedience, shyness, empathy, a desire to fit in, cooperation, and ascribed gender roles than those in educated and industrialised societies. A substantial body of research points to the value placed on social responsibility (Serpell, 2011) by communities in Africa (Bissiliat, Laya, Pierre, & Pidoux, 1967; Dasen et al., 1985; Fortes, 1938; Grigorenko et al., 2001; Jukes et al., 2018; Serpell, 1993; Super, 1983). Self-control is a social and emotional competency that may differ across cultures. In educated and industrialized societies, control in young children predicts a range of long term outcomes (Moffitt et al., 2011). Young children in Cameroon performed better at a delayed gratification task (Lamm et al, 2018) than their German peers.

Social and Emotional Competencies at School
If children in subsistence-agricultural societies develop different competencies from those in industrialized-educated societies, there may be implications for a child’s transition to school because the social and emotional competencies encouraged at school may be at odds with those developed at home. For example, schooling may promote behaviors, such as questioning adults, that could undermine values of respect and obedience (Greenfield, Quiroz, & Raeff, 2000; Jukes, Zuilkowski, Okello, & Harris, 2013). One study in the Gambia (Jukes, Zuilkowski, & Grigorenko, 2018) found that children who started – but did not complete – primary school were seen as less respectful and obedient that those who do not enroll in school at all. Similarly, in Mexico, (Chavajay & Rogoff, (Chavajay & Rogoff, 2002) mothers who had been to school were less likely to engage in cooperative problem solving with children as compared with mothers who had not been to school. Lancy (2014) notes several aspects of childhood in subsistence-agricultural communities that may contrast with the culture of schools: persistent direct questioning is rare and questions are used only to find out information you do not know, rather than to assess someone’s knowledge; learning is often from siblings rather than adults, by observation rather than instruction, and involves little verbalization and few why questions; averting one’s eyes is respectful but may be interpreted by teachers as a lack of attention.
East Asian children have an attentional style which incorporates context and background more than that of North American children who tend to focus on a focal object or person (Senzaki, Masuda, Takada, & Okada, 2016). Relatedly, some have argued (Moschovaki & Meadows, 2005) that paying attention to context is particularly important when conversations are mainly focused on practical issues – as they do in traditional farming communities (Lancy, 2014) – and verbal exchanges will be informed by observation of people, actions and objects in the immediate environment. However, a different kind of cognitive engagement may be required in the classroom.

The cultural nature of children’s behaviour – the way they learn, interact with adults and each other – has implications for effective pedagogy and for the success of pedagogical reform. For example Schweisfurth (2015) discusses how the interaction of divergent cultures in the introduction of Learner Centered Education has implications for its effectiveness. In this panel we examine the ways in which pedagogy and culture intersect. We ask how considerations of the cultural nature of behaviour in the classroom influence pedagogy – to what extent is pedagogy adapted to culture and how could its design be improved with further adaptation. The panel examines this issue through a review of the literature on comparative pedagogy and through studies of pedagogical reform efforts in Tanzanian primary schools and Ghanaian preschools. We discuss the role of four groups of actors in this dynamic: teachers, students, parents and policy-makers/international development practitioners. Research in Tanzanian primary schools examines commonalities and differences in the expectations of parents and teachers for children’s behaviour in class. This analysis is used to frame further study of how children’s social and emotional competencies in class can support or frustrate teachers’ attempts to implement a range of key activities. Research in Ghana considers the effects of introducing a new pedagogical approach in class that is at odds with expectations of parents. A final paper assesses the forces that shape teachers’ pedagogical approach in the context of teacher professional development in Tanzania. The paper examines how knowledge for teachers is produced, who produces it and how it is disseminated. The authors critically examine their own role in a complicit promotion of a ‘universal’ pedagogical approach.

Together the papers provide a critical reflection on the intersection of culture and pedagogy and suggests ways in which the effectiveness of pedagogy can be improved through consideration of the cultural nature of human behaviour.

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