Mittwoch, 26. Juli 2006

The teacher's role in Japan

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In Japan, a teacher (sensei) is conscious of the expectations of his work that are predominant in the public. He is not only expected to assure the children’s right to receive education, but also to have to fulfil a huge scope of duties holding a wider role and responsibility than in the West.

Japanese teachers work very hard and often feel overworked because of an enormous number of lessons a week and the additional tasks inside and outside school. Some even fear “karoshi”, meaning death from overwork. In 1993, the time of classroom teaching was 16.8 hours for high-school teachers, 19.7 hours for middle-school teachers and 26.5 hours a week for primary-school teachers. This is in fact not too much but Japanese teachers also have a lot of supplementary tasks. For example, high- and middle-school teachers are often required to give additional lessons in which students are prepared for the 'examination hell' (the flood of entrance examinations to higher-level schools or universities) or to supervise students’ club-activities which take place in the afternoon (cf. OKANO/TSUCHIYA 1999, p.151-152). Another difference, compared to Western countries, is the excessive number of students per class. Teachers often face more than 35 in primary and middle school and they have to teach very heterogeneous classes (according to the students’ abilities) because of the missing separation at Japanese schools.

Probably the strangest tasks (in the eyes of Western teachers) are things like guarding the campus and ordering the fuel oil. They are also partly responsible for their students outside school. Japanese students have to follow several rules in their leisure time: they are not allowed to smoke and to drink alcohol, to go to discos or to have a job by the side. In case of disregarding these rules, the teacher is obliged to inform the parents or even to make home visits (cf. SCHÜMER 1999, p. 34). As one can see from all this, the tasks of a Japanese teacher go far beyond giving lessons. It should be stressed that the situation for female teachers is even more strenuous because they are also responsible for housework and bringing up the children at home (as this has consequently remained the task of women in the Japanese society).

As already mentioned, Japanese students are not rated according to their abilities. They remain together with all the other children of their age and are moved up jointly, independ-ent of their achievement levels. This system, that is fairly unknown in Western societies, stops abruptly when compulsory education ends at the age of 15. From this point onwards, the students must face masses of tests and entrance examinations to pass all barriers on the way to a reputable high school. The better the reputation of the attended high school, the bigger the chances to attend a reputable university afterwards (cf. SCHUBERT 1997, p. 400). Therefore the parents enable their children to receive additional lessons where they repeat and consolidate their subjects. Normal school only prepares the students up to a certain point, so that they need these additional lessons, if they want to have any chance to pass the difficult entrance examinations. The focus of these additional schools (after-school schools, “juku”) is on repeating and practising the subjects on the one hand and rote learn-ing on the other. Other schools focus on exam preparation. The students display persever-ance and intensity to a high degree which could hardly be imagined by Western students. This additional school system is unique and typical of the Japanese education where it plays an important role. It is designated as “shadow” school systems whereas the official school system comprises public and private schools (cf. LEESTMA/WALBERG 1992, p. 239). To guarantee the best possible education, parents and children muster up great strain equally. In former times the slogan “kyoiku no kanetsu” (overheating of education) was used in this context and the term of “examination hell” was created (cf. WITTIG 1972, p.161).

Nevertheless teacher’s life in Japan can be pleasant compared with Western countries. The classes are usually homogeneous in terms of ethnicity so that no language problems occur. The relationship between teachers and students is characterized by mutual respect and teachers do not have any difficulties with lack of discipline. Although the general situation at Japanese schools is not as unscrupulous as it used to be (concerning violence, harass-ment, disrespectfulness), it can be regarded as insignificant measured with Western condi-tions. The teaching situation is relatively uncomplicated due to the children’s education at home. Japanese children learn to adapt themselves to groups very early so that they are more likely to accept goals, meaning and methods of schooling (cf. SCHÜMER 1999, p. 35). The teacher’s authority is not scrutinized. In class, the students are able to work persever-ingly because of their high sense of performance of one’s duties. They know about the im-portance of exertion which will lead to social appreciation.

Teaching in Japan is seen as a kind of lifestyle guidance for the students. A teacher con-centrates not only on the cognitive development of children, but also on their emotional, social, physical and mental one (cf. OKANO/TSUCHIYA 1999, p. 172). They let the children practise correct behaviour in school life and delegate more and more responsibility in course of time. The children are allocated different tasks: some are responsible for general behaviour towards the teacher in class (greeting, saying goodbye, quiet), some care for the served meals, and others see to a clean blackboard. In general, the authority of children being responsible for a certain task is accepted by all the others – although there are of course children who fulfil their jobs more sufficiently than others.

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Freitag, 21. Juli 2006

The teacher's role in Thailand

Like in any other Asian society, the Thai teacher who is called “khru” (from the Sanskrit “guru”) is not esteemed on account of his professional abilities but because of his personality (“baramee”, meaning charisma).

Thais like using word-pairs beginning or ending with the term “heart”, called “chai”. These word-pairs only make sense in a specific composition. They very often are applied in situations of teaching and learning and characterize the relationship between teachers and students excellently. For example, a teacher should have a cool heart (chai-yen) that means he should not be impatient (chai-ron).
The relationship between teacher and student is deeply determined by these expectations. Teachers are claimed to be broad-minded (chai-kwang, having an open heart) and to have cultivated manners (chai-soong, high heart). The most important con-cept of behaviour in Thai society is called “kreng-chai”, meaning that the heart is contracting of fear. It is a traditional virtue to be considerate and not to do anything that other people could dislike. If one behaves this way, one shows respect and good manners (cf. LUTHER 1990, p.48-49). For instance, a teacher offers a student to give him a lift to the next bus station, but the student of course refuses. The reason for this is his “kreng-chai”, meaning that he does not want the teacher to be forced to stop the car in the running traffic. But the teacher insists on his offer – and now the student is too “kreng-chai” to decline it although he would prefer to go to the library with his friends. During the ride the student solely talks if he is asked and this reveals the respect towards his teacher.
An educator must not dishearten his students (tor-chai, leaving the heart) if they only prac-tice rote learning (kheun-chai, getting into the heart) without understanding the context sufficiently. The students should concentrate completely on what the teacher announces. This kind of learning is typical of Asian cultures, the Thai one included. The student owes his teacher lifelong gratitude for his trouble and understanding and he pays tribute to him. In this case he is “tid-chai” (pasting heart), praising the teacher with all his heart (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 50).

In recent years there has been an interesting phenomenon in reputable upper schools. Young teachers who have just started their “career” at these schools are sometimes in-spected and scrutinized by the senior classes. The students want to test if the teacher is really an expert and consequently a legitimate authority. For example, they regularly inquire in class which is not customary because the teacher is nearly unimpeachable. If the young teacher stays calm and self-confident and proves that he is the expected expert, the students will respect him as an authority. Incidentally, the students would never dare doing this with senior teachers who are settled higher in the hierarchy than the younger ones.

“Playing the network” is another typical Thai element in the field of schooling. If one plays the network it means building up relations of utmost importance, especially for those who want to be successful in the Thai society. If one sets up relations in Thailand he establishes contact not only with the person concerned but also with the group to which the corre-sponding person belongs. Such cliquism is very common in Thai society among scientists and professors. The principle of seniority and hierarchical order is almost omnipresent (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 74). This represents huge problems for young university-leavers because their development is hampered. Everything depends on a possible personal relationship (called “sen” in Thai) to the dean of the educational institution or somebody else having a high position in this hierarchical system. New colleagues are expected to adjust harmonically to it, therefore adaptability and adequate manners are inalienable. They must neither practice technical criticism of another colleague nor give suggestions for improvement. The colleague would be annoyed and feel insulted because of this lack of respect. The dean has the first and the final say in department meetings and not the colleague being knowledgeable. In Thai society one pays respect to the power-holder and not to the expert like in Western cultures. A person’s status usually bases on rank or ancestry: on how one is sup-posed to be, independent of how one got there (cf. GTZ 1989, p.26). Like in society, everyone knows his position and status and behaves correspondingly.

In earlier times, teachers in Thailand were often monks. The temples were schools where the students were educated. Families used to send their children to these temples. The monks were the crucial authority for moral education and they decided subjectively what should be considered as “good” and “evil”, as merit (bun) and sin (barb).

Today students are usually not educated by monks any more, but they still hold a very high position in Thai society. Although teachers enjoy a good reputation and social status they are not paid very well. Their salary is not sufficient to support the family and therefore they often give classes at several schools to raise their pay. This can be traced back to the old tradition of the “travelling monks” (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 37).

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