Assignment: Indigenous and cultural analysis

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Assignment: Indigenous and cultural analysis

Assignment: Indigenous and cultural analysis


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The phenomenal economic growth in East Asia has been spurred by educational transformations (Kim & Park, 2005). In Korea, for example, high-school enrollment is at 99%, and more than 80% of students enroll in a college or university (Park & Kim, 2004). The economic miracle of East Asia is closely tied to the educational aspirations and investment made by adolescents and their parents.

In international comparisons of academic achievement of middle-school students (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2000; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2003), East Asian students are the top achievers in mathematics, science, and reading literacy. Students from Singapore are the top performers in mathematics, followed by those from Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan (NCES, 2000). In the sciences, Taiwanese students are the top performers, followed by students from Singapore, Hungary, Korea, and Japan. According to the OECD (2003), Japanese students are at the top in mathematics, Korean students are at the top in sciences, and both are near the top in reading literacy (Korea is ranked 6th and Japan 8th). U.S. students are ranked 19th in mathematics and 18th in sciences (NCES, 2000). According to the OECD (2003) survey, they are ranked 15th in reading literacy, 19th in mathematical literacy, and 14th in scientific literacy.

In Western countries, there are significant variations. In Europe, Finnish students do as well as East-Asian students and German students perform as poorly as American students. In North America, Canadian students perform much better than American students. Follow-up studies conducted in 2003 indicate a similar pattern of results (NCES, 2004; OECD, 2004). These findings baffle many psychologists since they are inconsistent with existing psychological theories. Traditional psychological and educational theories that emphasize biology (e.g., innate ability and IQ), individualistic values (e.g., intrinsic motivation, ability attribution, and self-esteem), and structural features (e.g., high educational spending, small class size, and individualized instruction) cannot explain the relatively poor performance of American students and high performance of East-Asian students.

First, although the U.S. government spends more money per student than its East-Asian counterparts, and although Americans schools have smaller classes, American students perform far below their East Asian counterparts. Second, although students in the United States perform poorly in mathematics and science, they have high self-esteem for these subjects. They are ranked first in self-esteem for science and fourth for mathematics (NCES, 2000). By contrast, East-Asian students have relatively low self-esteem: Korean students are ranked 32nd in self-esteem for mathematics and 21st for self-esteem in science, Japanese students are ranked 34th and 16th, respectively, and Taiwanese students 30th and 18th. A similar pattern of results has been found in follow-up studies (NCES, 2004; OCED, 2004), forcing researchers to question current conceptions of self-esteem and the validity of self-esteem measurements.

Third, as to the motivation for studying math, 41% of U.S. students strongly agreed with the statement that it is “to get the desired job.” However, only 10% of Korean students and 12% of Japanese students strongly agreed with this motivation (NCES, 2000). For Korean students, 85% agreed that it is to “enter a desired university” (social motivation) and 62% agreed that it is “to please their parents” (relational motivation). For Korean students, relational and social motivations outweighed personal motivation.

Fourth, in developmental psychology, Freudian, Piagetian, behavioral, and humanistic theories do not adequately examine the role played by parents. Attachment theory does examine the role of parents, with separation and individuation seen as necessary for the emergence of secure attachment (Rothbaum et al., 2000). In East Asia, parents play a central role in child development by defining the goals of socialization, teaching children the necessary cognitive, linguistic, relational, and social skills, and providing them with a supportive family environment. Parents play an important role throughout a child’s life, and maintenance of strong familial relationships is the key to education, economic success, and quality of life.

Fifth, concepts such as guilt have quite a different connotation and use in East Asia (Azuma, 1986; Park & Kim, 2004). In many, but not all Western psychological theories, guilt is presumed to reflect irrational beliefs, neurotic fears, or forbidden wishes. The extensive experience of guilt is believed to cause developmental problems in adolescence. In East Asia, it is considered appropriate for children to feel guilty or indebted to their parents for all of the devotion, indulgence, sacrifice, and love that they have received (Azuma, 1986; Ho, 1986; Park & Kim, 2004). Children feel indebted to their parents because they cannot repay their parents for what their parents have bestowed upon them. Guilt in East Asia is viewed as an important interpersonal emotion that promotes filial piety, achievement motivation, and relational closeness.

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