Issues of Motivation in Asian Education
John N. Hawkins
University of California, Los Angeles
Motivation in individuals, let alone cultures, is a complicated characteristic to measure or account for. Yet, over time, scholars have attempted to make sense of motivation factors among large clusters of people, sometimes nationally, other times ethnically or religiously; sometimes, all of the above. In the case of motivation among Asians the stereotypes are becoming increasingly common. "Asians" (by which is meant, typically, Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, although this leaves out large groups of Indochinese and South Asians -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) work harder, are disciplined, quiet, overachievers, excel in mathematics and science, and so on. Furthermore, much of the data on these groups supports the stereotypical views mentioned before ( Anderson, 1982; Chapey, 1983; Cogan, 1984; Cummings, 1986; Garmon, 1982; Leestma & Walberg, 1992; Lynn, 1988; Shields, 1989; White, 1987). Although it is relatively easy to measure achievement, it is less obvious what accounts for the observed high levels of motivation among students of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean descent.
What follows is a broad-stroked picture of some motivation factors attributed to students from the East Asian "Confucian," based cultures ( Japan, China, and Korea), with a more specific focus on Japan. We adopt a broad definition of motivation, which states basically that motivation is "the most important determinant of the difference between what a person can do and what he or she will do" ( Amabile, 1983, p. 366)
What must first be noted is that there are multiple explanations for the high motivation and, therefore, achievement of East Asians. These explanations have, for example, been characterized as being defined by either a "cultural" approach ( Yao, 1985), or what Sue and Okayaki ( 1990) call "relative functionalism," or