Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

From Laoshi to Partners in Learning: Pedagogic Conversations across Cultures in an International Classroom

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

From Laoshi to Partners in Learning: Pedagogic Conversations across Cultures in an International Classroom

Article excerpt


Under the impact of accelerating globalization in the education sector, classrooms in Canadian higher education are becoming more and more internationalized with respect to the diversity of students, curriculum, educational philosophies, and pedagogical relationships. In 2010, about 90,000 full-time and 13,000 part-time international students were enrolled in Canadian institutions of higher education. This represents about 8% of full-time undergraduate students in Canada and close to 20% of full-time graduate students (AUCC, 2012). This internationalization of Canadian higher education has resulted in a salient feature of the globalized Canadian post-secondary classrooms where students have diverse ethnic, cultural, and educational backgrounds.

In the past decade, China has become the top source country of international students on Canadian campuses (Canadian Immigration and Citizenship, 2012). Like other ethnic groups of international students, Chinese international students enrich the learning environment and perspectives within Canadian higher education and communities they are located while also bringing economic benefits to them (Davidson, 2011). Meanwhile, their unique educational background and cultural identity raises philosophical and pedagogic challenges and opportunities with respect to curricular issues and teaching practices. This paper reports a study examining the infusion of criticality in an international graduate program where a significant number of students are Chinese and the highly contested issues emerged in teaching practices. Findings of this study suggest that in a globalized learning environment heavily affected by Chinese educational traditions and cultures, the Western notion of criticality and the Eastern notion of harmony engage complicated cross-cultural conversations about the fundamental educational philosophies and values between the West and the East. Teaching and learning in such environment can serve as a meeting ground that was simultaneously critical and yet respectful of the cultural roots of our students.

Criticality: Infusion of Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy

In this paper, criticality is employed as a generic term referring to a range of critical pedagogical practices, including the infusion of deep critical thinking into a program of study. Despite the fact that developing students' criticality has become a core educational value in Canada and the other Western countries, few pause to examine the assumptions and concepts that are held about this value, nor do we properly consider certain essential distinctions. There is an important but not sufficiently appreciated difference between critical thinking and critical pedagogy (Burbules & Berk, 1999; Freire, 1989; Kincheloe, 2007; O'Sullivan, 2008). Critical thinking aims to develop the individual's skills to decipher and evaluate communication--be it written or oral, art or text, television, radio, movies, or speeches--but critical pedagogy, in contrast, is highly social and political. It seeks to alert students to the social, economic, and political conditions that give rise to the phenomenon that is under study and to look at power relations and the impact of these power relations in a given society including global society (Burbales & Burk, 1999). Both critical thinking and critical pedagogy constitute important intellectual tools that prepare students to cope with communications and messages with which we are constantly bombarded in an increasingly interconnected world and to make informed judgements with respect to who benefits from the social, political, economic, and cultural institutions and arrangements locally and globally.

Criticality, valued as a fundamental concept in Western academic tradition and culture, is absent in Chinese educational philosophies and traditions (O'Sullivan & Guo, 2010). It has not emerged as an important value and discourse in Chinese education until the beginning of 21st century, during which time China is undertaking massive educational changes at both secondary and post-secondary levels. …

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