Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Education: East vs West, and Cultural Neoscience

Educación: Oriente vs Occidente y Neo-ciencia Cultural

Education, or most properly, the methodology used to transfer knowledge from educators to educates in East Asian countries seems to differ from Western education. I am sure that I am not the only one who has noticed this, nevertheless, it was quite interesting to see it at first hand during my stay at Tohoku.

When I compare the structure of the material provided in postgraduate lectures in Japan to the material available online from lectures in, e.g., USA, Australia, and some European countries, there are some differences. Japanese lecturers in the largest universities (e.g., The Imperial Universities: The U. of Tokyo, Osaka U., Kyoto U., Tohoku U., Nagoya U., Kyushu U., Hokkaido, U.) devote most of their time to develop their own research, for instance most of them see themselves more as researchers than as lecturers. As a result, the contents of most lectures put strong emphasis on providing details on particular research topics where the lecturer is currently working on. On the other hand, Western education (as strongly referenced by my Asian friends) seems to put more emphasis on providing a wider view of the topics, methods and techniques referred to the topics where a given lecture is aimed to. As a result, the orientation of graduates differ: Research based in Japan (and perhaps also in Korea and China), and practice based principally in regions where education is based in Western system (e.g., Central and South America).

Motivation is the key to success

The differences between both educational styles was brought to me back in 2009 by a kind Japanese Professor during the IAHR-APD meeting in Auckland (unfortunatelly I can not remember his name at this moment). One of the differences the mentioned Professor brought to me was that an important difference between postgraduate Australian students (as the comparisson point) and Japanese students was their motivation.

The value of the effort.

Japanese education puts alot of pressure on the students, and gives high value on the effort that students put on their work. The results from this depends on the mind strenght and the particular characteristic of each student:

- Some individuals do take advantage of this kind of educational system, and build a career with a passion that it is unbelievable, devoting long hours on highly productive research. The notorious and quick economic growth of Japan is actually built based on the work of such individuals.

- On the other hand are the individuals for which this pressure is overwhelming. The individuals on this category understand the value of effort. They work long hours to please their employeers, but their productivity is smaller. As you may realize, also a large amount of individuals in the West fall inside this category.

The mentioned Professor´s opinion seemed particularly surprised by the relaxed attitude of most postgraduate Australian students. He seemed amazed because Australians used to be as productive as their Japanese counterparts, despite spending less time in the labs and much time in the beaches. Then, he stopped giving me more clues, but implicitly made me understand that Japan has some things to learn from the West in order to take the high productivity that characterized this nation for the past decades.

Differences between Western and Eastern brains

After few weeks I had the short talk with the Japanese Professor in Auckland, my interest in understanding the differences between Eastern vs Western education woke up again when I read an article in Newsweek, where scientists pointed out some differences in brain shapping resulting from the differences in cultures.

The article gives some insights on the perspective of different cultures on aspects such as work and family, which may explain why individuals from different cultures may be more skilled than others when performing certain activities.

This field of study is known as Cultural Neoscience (not to be confussed with Neoscience). As you may observe, if you follow the latter provided link it will take you to the definition written in the Wikipedia, which commonly is not trustworthy source; however, at this time, there you may find interesting links to serious sources of information.

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