Luckily I had the chance to go to England to participate in the Professional Development Program for Senior Teachers from the end of November 2009 to early December, which was organized by Jining Education Bureau. York, the center of Yorkshire, a famous historic city of England, is our destination. During our stay in York, we studied in the International Center of York St.John University，where many good teachers gave us excellent lessons on Language, Study skills and Methodology. Also I got another good chance to visit York High school, guided by David Ellis, the headmaster. Thus all these did truly offer me the opportunities to experience the new ideas, new methods in language teaching and learning in English-speaking countries and to communicate both with the native speakers and some Chinese students. Home stay accommodation arrangement also made me deep intuitively know about British culture and the local conditions and customs; landlord hospitality and chatting with an air Colonel from Kazakhstan in the host family, talking with overseas students from various countries in the rest room in the University helped me make a lot of foreign friends, improving my oral English and promoting our mutual friendship. Our learning in UK is short ,but it made me think a lot. In contact with the British colleagues and local inhabitants, I realized that Culture Shock is far greater than the difficulties caused by the language, the most intuitive embodied in the Sino-British differences in aspects of education and culture. The following four aspects resulted from my observation and feeling.
First, teachers and teaching materials
“Respect teachers and attach importance to education”、 "day as a teacher, a lifetime father"、“there is anything in the book, including the beauty and property.” The sacred status unshakable for teachers and books in Chinese education is clearly reflected in these idioms. In China, as for the relationship between teachers and students in academic or in daily communication, the students are always in a subordinate position.
For students, the absolute obedience to teachers is a manifestation of respect. "Respect for teachers, such as respect for the father."
Chinese students can not tolerate the way western students talk with their teachers, not to mention their being late in class, chewing gum, putting their feet on the desks, and even publicly questioning the views of teachers. However, the western teachers who consider themselves with students in equal status think all these are understandable and permissible. The different opinions of western teachers from those of the majority of Chinese teachers are that students’critical comments towards teachers( or even books) just symbolize their original view and academic autonomy.
Traditionally in China, the books have a vast reservoir of knowledge, wisdom and truth. The knowledge is there for students to excavate and try to store in their mind. As long as it is written in the book, it should be right, for its accuracy and correctness is undoubted. Since ancient times, doubting and opposing the views ranging in books will be regarded as "showing off", " chutzpa " and even "betrayal of their ancestors.”
However, Western teachers hold different views on this issue, and they think what exists in books is the fact, attitude and opinions. People are free to interpret these facts, to discuss these ideas and refute these attitudes. The book is just a tool for people to learn with, not learning objectives, and thus there is nothing to be sacred and to be undoubted at all.
Second, the classroom centre
In China, the implementation of classroom teaching is teacher-centered before Quality Education and the New Curriculum Reform. Among the lecture-style and discussion-style class, Chinese students tend to choose the former. Students would prefer teachers to bring them all the knowledge about a subject, rather than ask them too many questions. In the traditional Chinese classroom, the teacher will be always holding forth about the textbook, rarely asking students questions, with very little
communication between them. Therefore, British teachers often think that Chinese students are very passive, even weak in oral communication. In their eyes, Chinese students prefer to engage in the class of collective activities or personal activities while reluctant to participate in group activities. However, the Chinese students may consider themselves very hard-working, and very good at communication, because they can learn from each other, help each other, and be very active in class, keeping synchronization with teachers. The only shortcoming of the Chinese students might be their not adapting to group discussion and interaction activities.
That another should be mentioned is the effect on Chinese students brought by the Chinese traditional concepts "silence is golden", "still waters run deep". Contrary to the outgoing westerners, many Chinese students do not tend to flaunt and some even with poker faces, which is the reason why foreigners think Chinese people are "elusive". "We're in the classroom to listen to the teacher who are imparting knowledge to students, rather than listening to other students disorderly speak!", which is the idea shared by many Chinese students. However, group discussion provides an excellent opportunity for western students who like to “show off" in the classroom. Over time, Chinese students are getting sick of such kind of class activities , regarding them as “meaningless, no gain" and even considering these to be“a waste of time.”
Different from the teacher-centered teaching mode, classroom teaching in UK is student-centered. Teaching and learning largely depends on the students. Class is like a discussion, the teacher works in class for macro control ,activities organization and coordination. They advocate to leave the time to students. They try to guide students themselves to discover problems instead of making great efforts to explain them clearly. In this kind of class, students must be actively involved in thinking, so warm and lively discussion will naturally be carried out from time to time.
When confronted with problems very difficult to understand, students will go to the teacher for help. The teacher will guide the students' thinking once more, until the solution to the problem is found. This continuous
communication between teachers and students will not only have great benefit to students but also largely develop the students ability to think independently.
Third, teaching mode and teaching methods
In English teaching, for example, British teachers to teach languages were astonished with the fact that Chinese students had solid and comprehensive knowledge of grammar and excellent reciting ability, meanwhile they were deeply depressed for Chinese students’ poor oral expression and critical faculties. Maybe this is related with our English teaching methods. As mentioned above, the traditional Chinese teaching is basically test-orientated. English teaching is also no exception, based on word for word interpretation of the text about the so-called “language points ” and patterns. Our teachers will spend a lot of time practicing together with students for skills in the college and high school entrance exams, by engaging in "test-sea tactics" to help students.
Our biggest difference from British schools lies in the teaching methods: in UK schools, they adopt a small class-based teaching and individual counseling style. In this way, teachers can fully take account of each and every student. They respect the students and hold the idea that each student is important. Even those who have physical or intellectual disabilities can accept the same education with other children in ordinary schools. The British government will spend huge sums of money for each class to be equipped with specialized secondary teachers, these teachers can provide guidance to students in need of special care after school. In terms of individual student psychological health, personal tutoring benefits a lot.
In teaching, their habit of using a teaching method is the team work or group assignments which reflect team spirit, that is, team members each are a part of the work ,respectively to complete a project co-operation. Such doing can adequately give full play to each team member’s knowledge or skill and mobilize their strength and advantage, thus strengthening the overall responsibility for the team. Also in the process, it can cultivate the cooperation consciousness of every team member and provide a good opportunity for each member to display his talent and experience the joy of success.
A typical team consists of four individuals, with re-combination from time to time. Normally it is in the form of small groups to complete the discussion of topics, and then the well-prepared groups can send representatives to go to presentation, other groups supplementing. This method can not only make every student in class boldly, heartily exchange opinions, but also cultivate their initiative to obtain knowledge, improving his/her self-learning, analysis , judgment, reasoning and other thinking abilities. The teacher is just one organizer and provides the necessary guidance and help for students in the course of these activities.
In contrast, the Western education system can be described as the quality education style. The goal is to improve the quality of learners and to develop their analytical, problem-solving ability. Evaluation of a student's capacity is not by her / his successes in all kinds of tests(in fact, in the United Kingdom, various examination papers are based in fundamentals, it is relatively easy to pass them) while the evaluation lies in whether he/she has judgment, the ability to solve practical problems, thus making themselves adapt to the diverse and changing society. As a teacher, the primary task is to arouse the students' interest and curiosity, in order to enable students to think independently as far as possible and to maximize their creativity.
Four, students and language learning
In China, due to the influence of the college entrance exam and high school entrance exam , English language teaching both in senior and junior schools is focused on the possibility for the applicants to get good grades in entrance exams. Whether the English proficiency of students is improved nor not goes secondary. Therefore, it exists commonly for all students to learn the same English language textbooks, to work at the same examination papers. As for the English subject, we comparatively emphasize the repeated training of basic knowledge and basic vocabulary, as well as the skilled application of grammar rules and common sentence patterns. Consequently, students become containers for receiving knowledge; English become as a subject mechanically-drilled, with examination techniques to follow, rather than the communicative tool to enlighten thinking.
In the UK, each student is defined as one that has different ways of thinking and the ability of individual differences. Language learning(such as French, German, Spanish ,optional to students) is not necessarily mechanically drilled, nor should every student be obliged to
master a foreign language. So language classrooms have become the places for students' thinking activities, not places for students' just lying on the desk listening, with mechanical memory and drills. But for Chinese teachers, Britain's classes can be summarized as "poor logic, not rigorous, and lacking in conclusion”; for Chinese students, British students are "too lax, too casual".
Anyhow, with the growing exchanges between Chinese and Western cultures,
the distance between peoples and countries seems to become smaller, but we must recognize the cultural differences between East and West will continue to exist and will always exist. The above-mentioned several aspects can not cover all the Sino-British educational and cultural differences. "Stones from other hills may serve to polish jade," and there are many worthy of our learning, reference in education ideas, concepts and practices from the British educational field and colleagues.How to make good psychological preparations to face the impact caused by different educations and cultures, enhancing cultural exchanges between East and West; How to combine with the Chinese situation ,learn from other's strong points to offset our own weakness and make foreign things serve China; How to promote the deepening reform and development of
our Basic Quality Education according to its actual and local conditions; All these should be what each one of our educators engaged in foundational education take into serious consideration.