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A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Learning and Teaching Styles in Germany and Brazil, and the Influence of Cultural Values

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A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Learning and Teaching Styles in Germany and Brazil, and the Influence of Cultural Values

With the globalization phenomena more present than ever in our societies, teachers and students have the chance to learn and experience different practices in education. It is easier nowadays to find students, and teachers too, from different parts of the world in a classroom. However, even with this more frequent contact, there are some important distinctions on the learning process and teaching styles between individuals from different cultures that would explain how these people act and interact with each other on the educational environment.
The behavior of an individual, student or teacher, in a classroom may have much to do with the cultural background that this particular person comes from. Each society will think about education considering their own needs, and in this way their adopted systems and methods to train their students might differ from each other (Barmeyer, 2004).
On this mindset, the present study will be conducted in comparative terms between a German student, who was interviewed by me, a Brazilian student, highlighting the differences and possible similarities in educational experiences in our home countries. In order to conduct these comparisons, I will use Hofstede’s cultural dimensions of Power Distance – referring to the power distribution in our societies - and Individualism vs. Collectivism – the degree of integration of each country into groups - to explain our behavior patterns and opinions in each subject. In order to do that I divided this work into subgroups to better explain each point examined. The first one will be a comparison between the educational systems highlighting how they work, the second will explore the learning process and interaction between teacher and students in a classroom, following by the contrast between teaching styles adopted in each culture, and closing with our impressions about the New Zealand educational approach.

Methodology For the purpose of this study I conducted a comparative interview with a German student, code named ANNA, about her perceptions of the German educational system and her experience studying abroad. ANNA is a 24 years old student, she completed her high-school education in the United Kingdom (UK) and is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Management, in a German institution. She is in New Zealand as part of her undergraduate course that requires a semester abroad. Her educational experience is based on private institutions on the respective countries mentioned. I, the interviewer am 28 years old from Brazil, completed my high school education in my home country, and already have a Bachelor in Business from a Brazilian institution. I’m currently living in New Zealand and have plans to do my master’s degree in International Business here. My high school and university experiences were first in a public and then in a private institution, the reason will be better explained on later marks. ANNA was chosen to this interview in order to compare the differences between a European educational system (Germany) and a Latin America one (Brazil), find out more about the educational quality of these two countries, investigate possible differences and similarities in teaching and learning styles and to understand the possible influence of culture on learning and teaching process. I’ll use as a reference in this study of cross-cultural comparison the cultural dimensions of Greet Hofstede in order to investigate how the learning and teaching styles of both countries can be influenced by traditions, beliefs and behavioral patterns from a society. The main focus in this comparison will be related to two cultural dimensions studied by Hofstede, Individualism vs. Collectivism and Power Distance due their relevance to the theme studied and the differences between the compared countries, in these two dimensions.

Educational System Comparison During my research on how culture impacts education to this assignment and my current experience as a Brazilian citizen studying in New Zealand, I found out that most countries have significant differences on their educational systems structure, as well as how a high school and university experiences of their students vary according to them. In order to analyze these possible differences between our countries’ educational systems I asked ANNA during our interview if there was any reasonable difference – in terms of quality of education – between a private school and a public one in her home country, she said;
“I think that the difference is low. We don’t have many private high schools in Germany. The ones that we have are very expensive and mostly frequented by foreign students that want to learn German and have a good quality education. We do have more private universities, though. The system to get into a university is by marks, 1 to 10. The higher the marks you get during your high school the better are your chances to get into a good university, no matter which high school you attended”. With her explanation I could understand better why Germany has a low score on Hofstede’s cultural dimension of Power Distance, which means that they are not a very hierarchical country, they do have a more decentralized power distribution. For being a low power distance culture, Germany is between countries that give more autonomy over their educational system to schools and universities to decide on which is the best method to be applied, just like the UK, in comparative terms . It means that Germans value the quality of education offered to their students independently if it is a public or a private institution. According to Wursten & Jacobs (2013) on their research “The impact of culture on education”, countries with a higher score in Power Distance tends to interfere more often on the educational system reflecting, most of the times, on the quality of education provided. In Brazil, that has a high score in Power distance, the education provided in public and private institutions are not the same. Private high schools in Brazil commonly offer better educational quality than public schools, and the contrary may occur on the university level. The purpose of this question was also to verify Tayeb’s (2003) position on education in his work “Cultural differences across the world”, in which he argues that some countries do have more control over their educational systems, regardless if this school or university is a private or public institution, just like occurs in Brazil.
Tayeb (2003) highlights the fact that countries who hold the control and autonomy over their education system tend to create people that are more encouraged to rely on their superiors in order to make decisions, they tend to respect more their traditional ways and this behavior pattern could result in individuals with low self-esteem issues. While countries that give more autonomy to their schools and universities to decide the best methods, like Germany, tend to prepare more their people to face challenges and to take more risks if necessary. On this same line, I decided to ask ANNA about how was the structure of her course in high school and university, in order to know if she were able to choose the subjects she would like to do during her course or if this structure was fixed by the government, she said;
“In Germany I had to do some mandatory subjects, like Math and German, but I could choose the rest. In England, I had to do some society related subjects and some scientific ones, but the rest was also free”. Her answer contrasted with my experience in Brazil due to the fact that I never had the chance to choose which subject I would like to take. Either in high school or university, the class program of a Brazilian student would be pre-determined by the Ministry of Education, regardless if the institution were public or private. The Brazilian government argues that this control helps to maintain a high level of education, which can, in my opinion, be a false statement due the possibility that some countries value education as a way to develop ‘critical minds’, and the fact that it would not be much appreciated in a high power distance society, like Brazil.

Learning Process and Interaction In order to understand and be able to compare ANNA’s learning experience and interactions in high school and university in Germany with mine in Brazil, I asked ANNA if she was often encouraged to express her opinions and to participate more during a class in her home country, and also if she disagreed with what her teachers were saying it would be considered disrespectful in any form, she answered;
“In my experiences in Germany and UK, I was often encouraged to participate. In Germany, it was expected to and you would lose marks if you didn’t participate. In the United Kingdom, the class had a smaller number of students and you could participate or not, you wouldn’t lose marks for it. I believe that in both countries if you disagree with a teacher they wouldn’t consider disrespectful, but would consider that you were more involved with the subject in a positive way”. I formulated this question in order to compare her experience with what Hofstede says about small power distance societies. In Hofstede’s research, he stressed that countries that had a low score on the Power Distance cultural dimension students would be expected to initiate communication, to participate and express their own opinion more often . According to ANNA’s educational experience, it is possible to establish a correlation between his theory and her practical experience. Comparing her answer with my own educational experience in Brazil I can see the reason why Brazil is between large power distance societies. During high school and university years, I was rarely asked to express my position on any subject lectured by my teachers, which I will explain with more details when comparing the differences in teaching styles. In Brazil, there is a high respect from students regarding their teachers and it is very uncommon to see a disagreement between them, although it can happen. As Hofstede says on his research , students in high power distance cultures tend to expect the teacher to outline the path that they should follow, they are more dependable and they speak when asked to do so. I can confirm this point of view by saying that participation was not mandatory nor expected in my high school and university, our final grades would say more about our performance as a student than our participation. But even though the participation and debate were not encouraged in my school years by my professors during our classes, one particular thing was: the group work. I always viewed group work as a positive experience: you would be able to know people, establish relationships by making new friends, and learn how to work and learn together, so reading Hofstede studies (2011) in cultural dimensions I could see why the Brazilian society is more collectivist according to his comparisons between Individualistic and Collectivistic societies. He argues that collectivistic societies, such as the Brazilian, tend to value more group work than the Individualistic ones . By having this in mind and the fact that Germany is one of the European countries with a high score of Individualism, I decided to ask ANNA how were her experience during her high school years and university regarding group work. I asked her if she was encouraged by her teachers and school to work in group, she answered;
“I think I was more encouraged into group works when I was younger but not in high school. In England sometimes. I think that the teachers were trying to teach us to be competitive and more individualistic”. The curious factor on her remarks is the fact that she confirmed Hofstede’s research about Germany being an individualistic society. Hofstede’s cultural dimension of Individualism vs. Collectivism tries to measure how much a society is integrated into groups and points out some characteristic of each culture, which can be confirmed by ANNA’s experiences in Germany and mine in Brazil. As Hofstede (2011) stresses, collectivistic societies tend to value relationship over task into a group work, like I was saying as a positive experience in my school years in Brazil and individualistic societies tends to do the contrary, value task over the relationship, which would be more characteristic ANNA’s experience in Germany.

Teaching Styles To check if there were reasonable differences or similarities in teaching styles between these two countries, Germany and Brazil, I asked ANNA which teaching approach she considered as being more characteristic of her home country, and the UK, regarding her educational experience there. If it were more ‘student-centered’ – when the students are more actively involved in the learning and teaching process – or if it were more ‘teach-centered’ – when the teaching process is a one-way activity and the learning process is more “passive”, she replied; “I believe that in both countries UK and Germany the styles were quite similar, it would be more student-centered. The difference was that in the UK the classes had fewer students, I could absorb more information, and I was not receiving marks on participation while in Germany there were more students in a classroom and the participation was mandatory. The incentives were different but the teaching approach was the same in the end”. According to Hofstede’s (1986) research on cultural differences in teaching and learning, small and large power distance societies tends to show relevant differences regarding teacher-student interactions. He argues that societies with low scores in power distance, like Germany, tend to be more student-centered, like ANNA’s perceptions. German teachers would also expect a two-way communication between them during their classes allowing students to criticize and to be more involved in the learning process, that’s might be the reason why they encouraged participations by giving marks. Comparing her educational experience with mine in Brazil regarding teaching styles I can say that Brazilian teaching approach is more likely to be ‘teach-centered’ and my experience as a student there was more “passive” than “active”. We would not lose or gain any marks on participation, although it was not forbidden. Therefore, is reasonable to say that Germany and Brazil as societies with high differences on the scale of power distance cultural dimension, the teaching approach was supposed to be also different due the distinct values they have on how to educate their citizens. Another curious factor regarding teaching styles is that in countries with high power distance scores, like Brazil, the excellence and efficiency of a class and learning method is a function of the excellence of the teacher . It brings mine attention to another cultural dimension of Hofstede that helps to highlight this issue: The Individualism vs. Collectivism as one of his cultural dimensions. Hofstede argues that collectivistic cultures, such as Brazil, tend to value more diplomas and certificates, and it is often a way of gain prestige. By having these remarks about individualistic and collectivistic societies I decided to ask ANNA if she would consider that her class would be better and she would somehow think that she would learn more from a teacher that had a Ph.D. rather than a professor that had only a Master degree, would that be important in any way, she said;
“No. I wouldn’t expect that. I really feel that it really depends on the person and their teaching style. If this person is good at teaching the subject, it doesn’t matter if they have a Ph.D. or not. It is interesting for reputation to say that you studied with that ‘famous professor’, but it is not the most important thing”. Her position about higher education affecting somehow the teacher ability to be a good professional was expected, as she is part of an individualist society in which according to Hofstede (1986) tends to give less importance to diplomas and certificates, instead valuing more competence. It also highlights another difference between our experiences, because for being part of a collectivistic society, Brazil, I would think differently from ANNA on this matter. In Brazil, diplomas and certificates have a great value and are perceived in our culture as a sign of status and competence. A teacher with a high educational degree has his/her chances of getting a job increased and acquires altogether more respect on their chosen field of expertise. The Brazilian society, as a collectivistic one tends to think that the quality of education that a particular professor will provide will be better or worse according to their qualifications, and by qualifications it means diplomas and certificates.

Impressions of the New Zealand educational approach To close this matching analyzes between Germany and Brazil educational culture, I decided near the end of my interview with ANNA, to ask her about her experience here in New Zealand and how did she like the New Zealander teaching approach, comparing with her experience back home, she replied;
“It was good. Because I think that the system here is less exhausting. The number of lectures here smaller than in Germany. Back home I would have more lectures on the same subject in a week and here I only one lecture for each course during the week, not counting the tutorials, though. I usually spend more time in classes in Germany than here in New Zealand”. New Zealand and Germany have similar scores in the two cultural dimensions used in this study. Both countries are low in power distance and high in Individualism. So I was not startled when she said that her educational experience did not face any difficulty here and in fact it was more relaxed. When I first initiated the courses at the university here I realized that I would have to adapt to a very different approach than what I was used to in Brazil. In New Zealand, I would have to choose which course I would take, due the fact that there was not a fixed program, which is a big difference from Brazil. The format of classes is different too and the assignment system is broader than in my previous experiences back home. To finish our interview, I asked ANNA if she had any preference between the teaching approaches, Germany and New Zealand one, and she said;
“I would choose the German one because I can interact more with the teachers and they do have fewer students in the classroom, which in my opinion helps me more and create a better involvement between us. But I can adapt to the two approaches”. My opinion concerning this matter is that I even though I liked or was more used to the Brazilian educational system, I find the New Zealander one really interesting. I’m more inclined to learn from a different perspective, to gain more experience and understand a new culture, even though is part of my culture to be more attached to traditions.

Conclusion The impacts of culture in education: ‘[…] our cognitive development is determined by the demands of the environment in which we grew up: a person will be good at doing things that are important to him/her and that (s)he has occasion to do often. Cognitive abilities are rooted in the total patterns of a society’. (Hofstede, 1986, p.305, as cited in Barmeyer, 2004). In this context, it is possible to see that culture has a great impact on how a society and its individuals perceive what is normal, expected, and acceptable on their environment. Different cultures will have different behavior patterns and will conduct their educational systems differently in order to fulfill their needs and expectations. The comparison made in this study between Germany and Brazil served to highlight these differences in order to show how cultural values, such as Power Distance and Individualism vs. Collectivism impact on the behavior and way of thinking of their citizens. I could confirm my previous expectations about ANNA’s educational experiences and compare with mine, and see how different our point of views varies according to each subject and how much they were related to the culture that we came from.

Reference list
Barmeyer, C. I. (2004). Learning styles and their impact in Cross-cultural training: An international comparison in France, Germany and Quebec. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Retrieved April 08, 2016, from www.elsevier.com/locate/ijintrel.

Hofstede, G. (1986). Cultural Differences in Teaching and Learning. International Journal of Intercultural Relations.

Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Joy, S., & Kolb, D. A. (2008). Are there cultural differences in learning style? International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Retrieved April 08, 2016, from www.elsevier.com/locate/ijintrel

Tayeb, M. (2003). Cultural Differences across the world. In International management: Theories and practices (pp. 8-27). Essex, UK: Pearson Education.

Wursten, H., & Jacobs, C. (2013). The impact of culture on education. Itim International. Retrieved April 07, 2016, from https://geert-hofstede.com/tl_files/images/site/social/Culture and education.pdf.…...

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...Cross-cultural Influences on Workplace Behavior: A culture is defined as, “A way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next”.  (Sunniva Heggertveit, 2012). Or It is also defined as, “the values, attitudes, and ways of doing things a person learns during the socialization process in the particular place where they were brought up as a child”. (Paul Ecoggins, 2015) So, the culture has great influence on a particular individual or group behavior. In the age of globalization the world is getting smaller, companies have setup their offices around the world and people also have moved abroad as well. As a result of this, workplace is becoming increasingly cross-culturally integrated. So, the understanding and expertise in cross-cultural communication have become more crucial for executives, business leaders, workplace managers, and standard employees. If they don’t have expertise to understand the difference of the cultures then it would become very difficult for the managers to properly manage the employees and get maximum output from their performances, as the level of communication between them would be very poor because of lesser expertise regarding different cultures. After critically the articles related to the topics I think as an HR practitioner, we need to look at the factors that impact......

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