Chinese Pupils and their Learning Preferences

Professor Derek Woodrow and Sylvia Sham (Yuen Mei)

Manchester Metropolitan University.

This research project explored the responses of Chinese pupils in Greater Manchester Schools to the education that they received in a variety of school settings - Independent, Grant Maintained and Comprehensive. The research was conducted through case studies of five Chinese families, questionnaire responses from 150 Chinese and British-Chinese pupils and 200 British-White pupils and interviews with 65 Chinese and British-Chinese pupils and 35 British-White pupils. A companion enquiry in Hong Kong provided some additional comparative data.

The overwhelming conclusion from this research is the extent to which British-Chinese pupils are conditioned by traditional Chinese behavioural rules. The two fundamental rules of 'respect for superiors' and 'loyalty and filial piety'' provide a framework within which they create expectations and attitudes with regard to their education. The extent and depth of that family enculturation was surprising, with little movement towards assimilation and adaptation into British-White culture. British-Chinese children live in a cocoon within British society under distinctive socialisation practices in terms of language and heritage, cultural values and a set of behaviour rules from their family. As a result, British-Chinese children have distinctive forms of learning styles compared with their British-White counterparts. The questionnaire enquired into the learning preferences of pupils of Chinese origin in schools in Greater Manchester. Their views are compared to those of White pupils in the same schools. The impact of Chinese beliefs was very evident, beliefs in 'filial piety' and 'respect for elders' coupled with a belief in knowledge rather than understanding and the power of memorising. British Chinese pupils much prefer working alone than in groups, and are embarrassed by discussion of social questions such as the issue of drugs, sex, divorce and similar topics. They do not like being asked, or asking, questions and do not value peer discussion. British White pupils prefer problem solving and making up their minds on issues. They enjoy discussion and don't mind asking and being asked questions. British Chinese pupils find their teachers kind, friendly, caring and helpful, whereas White pupils describe the same teachers as moody, easily annoyed, boring, intelligent. These and other significant differences identify distinctive learning preferences and attitudes to learning and schooling. One particular outcome from the comparative study in Hong Kong related to the issue of praising pupils, where the distinct lack of praise in Hong Kong schools had no apparent influence on the enjoyment of schooling.

These distinctive preferences remain suppressed and covert in the English classrooms due to the controlling influence of the imposing principles to present no overt challenges to authority. Surprisingly these many contradictions do not engender conflict in British-Chinese pupils who they accept the separation of distinctive elements in their lives. Because the cultural impositions are so strong they do not have room for much questioning and this breeds comforting satisfaction of a kind often found in strong religious faiths. This leads to little impetus for growth and change.

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