Why Don’t Asian Students Ask Questions in Class?

Why Don’t Asian Students Ask Questions in Class?

When I was about to start my first teaching assignment in Asia, a colleague with a lot of teaching experience abroad told me that I should take a lot of teaching materials with me. When I asked why, he said, “Because Asian students don’t ask questions.” In Canada, USA or other western countries it is normal to have a question and answer period at the end of a lesson. In Asia, forget it! Unless you have a class of students who studied abroad, you will probably enjoy the sound of silence.

Why don’t they ask questions? Let me answer that from my experience as a teacher in Thailand. It applies throughout Asia and may vary by degree. A young child in Thailand is taught that ‘Father knows best’. There is no need to think. Father will tell you what to do. In school, the teacher knows best. Write what the teacher writes on the board. That will be in the exam. The learning transfer is low. Change the wording of the exam and most students will probably not be able to answer the question.

Later, in business, you don’t have to think, your boss tells you what to do. Granted, this may be an oversimplified view, but essentially that’s what’s happening.

Now add in the concept of “face,” which is prevalent throughout Asia despite being virtually unknown in North America and other western countries. When a student asks a question in class, they leave out two possible “loss of face” scenarios. By asking a question it is implied that a) either the teacher didn’t explain the topic well enough for the student to understand – thus opening up a loss of face situation for the teacher in front of the class, or b) the students were stupid too, having understood what the teacher said, and so the student loses face among his classmates. While this may seem ridiculous to some and a little strange to others, believe me, it’s a fact of life in Asia – at least in the oriental countries.

Since both situations are not good to initiate, it is better to avoid the problem by not asking the question – at least not in class. The student can choose to speak to the teacher outside of the classroom after class or later when no one else is around. Loss of face is a serious, potentially fatal problem in Asia. This is no joke. Teachers in Western countries who have newly arrived Asian students should at least be aware of the “face”. However, these students are quickly becoming “Westernized”.

I think the situation is changing as more and more students are exposed to Western thinking, teaching and culture, but within Asia, traditions are dying hard.

The face theme goes hand in hand with a concept I mentioned “The Cyborg Effect”. If you remember the cyborgs from Star Trek in their gigantic metal cube, these creatures functioned as separate bodies but as one connected mind. In Thailand, students generally sit in pairs. Ask a student a question and you usually won’t get an immediate answer. The student turns to his partner for advice. You will then receive a collective reply. In a way, that’s good. However, this makes it difficult to assess individual student knowledge.

Thanks to Dr. Robert W. F. Taylor | #Dont #Asian #Students #Questions #Class


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