Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Liz: Send a Comment on Cultural Differences in Education!

A few weeks ago in Spanish 232 we were talking about the cultural differences between the schools in Latin America and the United States. In class we talked about how geography is often taught differently and the instructors may teach the students that there are five continents because they consider North America and South America to be one big continent. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s simply a cultural difference. It made me think more about my experiences abroad. While I was in Ecuador, I worked with several different age groups and I wanted to talk in more detail about the differences I saw while I was there. Some of them are subtle, but it just might help explain why some students from Latin America are overwhelmed by the United States school system.

First of all, at the daycare center I volunteered at, I noticed that the students were already learning to be bilingual even at such a young age. Many times they would have short stories in Spanish and in English and if the students were asked to draw a picture of something the teacher would write the word underneath in both languages. Here in the states, this practice is not quite as popular. However, in bigger cities and in areas where there are higher populations of immigrants I think that preschools and kindergartens are starting to use bilingual teachings with the kids. This practice is becoming more common in the United States but I do think it is even more popular in other countries.

Another difference I noticed in Ecuador with the grade schools was that all children wore uniforms (you can tell in the picture here). It does not matter if the students go to private or public schools, all of the students have a specific dress code. Also, the students are required to stand up as a sign of respect if another teacher enters the class room. Another example is in the second grade classroom I worked in, the students were learning how to write in cursive. Some days I had to write out words for them to practice for their homework and the teacher would laugh at me because they use a slightly different cursive system. She was convinced I never learned to write in cursive properly and I could see how this could confuse students coming to the US for the first time.

I did not volunteer at a high school, so I never got to see what it was like to actually be in the classroom. But I did have two younger host sisters that were high school age. Many times we would all do our homework together at the kitchen table so I was able to see some differences. First of all, both of them had been learning English since very early on in grade school, so instead of beginning to learn a second language, they were learning French as a third language. I would say that most high school students in the United States can only speak one or two languages, so I was impressed by this. They also knew much more about world history and geography then I ever had to learn about in my high school classes.

Then of course, we have the university level education. Going to a university is considered a huge privilege because so many people do not have the opportunity to receive such a high education. The university students did not have to wear uniforms but most of them wore their nicest clothes, especially on days when they had to give a presentation. On those days, the students would try to look especially nice since they would be standing in front of the professor and a group of their peers. Another difference is that the universities are not nearly as large as they are here, as far as the actual size of the campus and in the number of students attending. Culturally, it is acceptable for children to live at home until they are married, so there are no dorms or apartments on campus because all of the students commute from their homes.

I’m sure many of you have made similar observations in your experiences abroad and I would love to hear about them! Post a reply if you have any interesting stories!

1 comment:

  1. Liz,
    My daughter, Giulia, went to nursery school in Italy for two summers. I noticed that US culture seems to focus on making children independent as soon as possible, whereas Italian culture seems to concentrate first and foremost on keeping children clean! Ha. So long after my daughter had stopped using a bib, she had to use one at the Italian nursery school.

    Before nursery school began, I received a list of all the things that Giulia had to bring with her. I was surprised by things like the bibs, but I gathered everything and sent it all with her. She had a wonderful time at the nursery school, never complaining about anything. Then one day when I picked her up I asked her to show me where they took naps. She led me to a separate room with cots. I asked which cot was hers, and she replied, "That cot over there with no sheets on it." I was mortified! The list didn't say that she needed to bring sheets. I think the must have thought it was so obvious that you would never use sheets that someone else has slept on that it wasn't necessary to spell it out.

    I often wondered what kind of impression they must have now of "le mamme americane" after that incident. Ha.