A global citizen actively seeks a personal understanding of how life in different countries varies relative to the interaction between power/privilege and economics, ethics, politics, religion, and/or the environment.
In 11th grade, I had the opportunity to visit Cambodia and spend a few days exploring a school in the province of Pursat – this was one of the very first experiences in my life that truly affected the way that I perceive my own education in comparison to the educational systems prevalent in less affluent societies.
Education in Japan vs. Cambodia
As I reflect on my stay in Cambodia, I realise that there is a huge bias in schools with how students are taught according to their position in society. For example, well-known, professional schools in affluent societies have a lot of freedom of activity and creativity when learning, while in working and middle class schools, there is much control and less space to support the potential and creativity of students. As I observed the way that teachers and students interacted in the classroom, I spotted a few things that separated the educational system that I experience at YIS and that of local schools in Cambodia.
From my experience in an international school, I understand that we rely on using a progressive method of teaching which emphasises learning through experiencing and students having role in what they learn and come across every day. We as students play an important role in the learning process as we take part in solving problems, leading discussions and we are always encouraged to actively participate in constructing ideas for the classroom.
On the other hand, the school I visited in Cambodia based their teaching approach on traditional methods, which requires a teacher-based method where the teacher lectures and explains all the time. They relied on teachers as connectors between the information in the textbook and the student which was of course very different from the educational system that I experience that promotes the idea that students should be leading their learning.
For an individualistic culture where I believe I belong in, education for me improves self respect. In a school like ours, it’s not enough to just earn a diploma: what we do with it is also very important. In other words, we need to have done something with our knowledge in order to achieve status and self-respect.
However, in a collectivist and group-oriented culture like Cambodia, the role of education seemed to be associated a lot with social acceptance. A diploma is not only a great achievement for the student but also, and probably more importantly, for his/her group. Such proof of education provides entry to higher status groups, however, what confers status is the fact that one has achieved education, and less about how well they did in school, or what they did with their knowledge. The social acceptance that comes with receiving education seemed to be much more important than the individual self-respect, as I listened to kids talk about their education in Cambodia.
How the state of the economy affects quality of education
The state of economy in a country seems to be another deciding factor of the quality of education that students receive, not just simply the number of children who are able to attend school. A good economy allows for a better allocation of resources to support schools and teachers. What this then allows is for teachers to implement more diverse activities other than simply reading off a textbook and solving problems on a chalkboard.
The school I visited in Pursat had very minimal resources in the classroom – this included a few textbooks, maps, a few pencils and crayons, and just the right amount of desks and chairs for the children attending the school. To me, it was no wonder that so much of their time in the classroom was spent reciting their textbooks.
As a student privileged to experience the luxury of a gym, library, playground, cafeteria, etc. at school, I realise that there is very little that students can do in a small classroom with limited resources.
This is not to say that the traditional methods of reciting textbooks and solving problems on the chalkboard isn’t a valuable method for learning especially given that receiving an education is already on its own a huge privilege. However, I do see benefits in encouraging students to be more active in their learning process like leading discussions or engaging in student-led activities and this was something that the children in Pursat (and I’m sure in many other underdeveloped countries) were/are missing out on.
In summary, these are some of the differences between the educational system in Pursat and at YIS that I was able to observe:
|Values traditional methods of teaching||Embraces whatever is “new” – right now these are things like “collaborative learning”.|
|Students learn how to do||Students learn how to learn|
|Students only speak up in class if they are called upon personally by a teacher||Individual students are willing to offer ideas at any given time.|
|Education is a way of gaining status in one’s social environment||Education is a way of improving one’s economic worth and self-respect based on ability and competence.|