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Title: The Analects of Confucius and the development of middle childhood in Taiwanese schools
Author: Chen, Peng-Fei
Awarding Body: Institute of Education, University of London
Current Institution: UCL Institute of Education (IOE)
Date of Award: 2012
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In earlier days, the main guiding principle in Taiwanese education was Confucian ethics, which arguably also provides a strong and culturally resonant context for stimulating thought about the nuances of moral issues. However, as Taiwanese society has changed, Confucianism has largely disappeared from children's education, and many educational experts (though not all) think Confucian education is old-fashioned and unhelpful for enhancing children's thinking. Globalisation and modernisation has meant that the curriculum has instead been substantially influenced by Western concepts, which seem more up to date, but which lack the same degree of implicit cultural resonance. Reflecting this shift, the Ministry of Education has provided Multi-edition Teaching Materials to help develop children's thinking, but these are based on Western methods, including the use of contemporary moral dilemmas to stimulate debate (cf. Fisher 1998, 2005a,b; Lipman 1977, 2003; Trickey and Topping 2004). Materials of this kind are likely to be largely unfamiliar to most children, potentially undermining their ability to engage in productive discussion. The objectives of this research were therefore to a) investigate the comparative benefits of using the Analects of Confucius and contemporary moral dilemmas as the focus of dialogic teaching aimed at developing children's critical thinking; b) examine the growth of children's discursive skills over time and across the primary school age range, via extended application of materials of both types; c) consider the impact of teacher behaviour within dialogic lessons on this development; and d) examine in more detail the constraints on the use of dialogic teaching in Taiwanese schools, and how its introduction might be better assisted. The main study employed an extended comparative intervention across six classes of Taiwanese children, involving two types of experimental group, Two classes of each of different age groups (7 to 8, 9 to 10, and 11 to 12 year olds) were engaged in dialogic teaching over a 12 week period, but using different materials, either the Analects or moral dilemma stories. Three further classes served as control groups, one at each age level, who followed the regular curriculum without dialogic teaching intervention. Pre-tests of students' language achievement scores in Chinese were used to establish equivalence between conditions. A post-test, which involved children writing an essay on either an Analect or a moral dilemma, was used to examine the intervention outcomes. A survey of participants' parents was employed to gain information on how far ethical and philosophical issues are discussed at home, in what context, and whether or not moral dilemmas and Confucian ideas ever form part of that discussion. The objective was to establish whether the supposed difference between the two in cultural resonance is actually borne out in parental conversations with children. Interviews were used to evaluate teachers' viewpoints on whether dialogic teaching could be modified in Taiwanese primary schools to employ either the traditional Analects of Confucius or Western philosophical moral dilemma children stories to effectively cultivate Taiwanese children's ability to think critically. Detailed content analysis of both in-class discussions over the 12-week period of the intervention and the subsequent post-test essays found that the dialogic intervention improved children's articulation and explanation of moral issues relative to the control group, with all the age groups showing increasingly differentiated dialogue despite the reduction, or even the removal, of teacher support during the discussions. Disagreements, agreements, elaborations and questions all increased in frequency. In terms of differences between the impact of the Analects and the moral dilemma interventions, use of disagreements, agreements, and explanations progressed more consistently during the course of the Analects lesson, whilst there was greater fluctuation in the frequency of these in the moral dilemma lessons. The youngest age group showed less sign of gain in use of questions in the Analects lessons, and produced fewer agreements and explanations during the course of those lessons. The two interventions were much more comparable in these respects among the older two age groups. In general, the dialogue data indicated that children in the youngest age group gained more from the moral dilemma lessons, whilst the two older age groups gained more from the Analects lessons. This corresponds with the parents' usage: the survey results showed that parents talked about the issues relevant to moral dilemmas more often than discussing Chinese proverbs with their children, but that the latter was more likely to occur where parents were better educated, and in families with older children. Taken together, this suggests that the Analects may be a better resource for promoting critical thinking once children have attained a certain level of understanding. The interview responses revealed that teachers agreed with the benefit of developing children's thinking by means of dialogic teaching. However, most of them merely used it as part of whole class discussions and individual talks about deviant behaviour with specific pupils because of a tight and stressful curriculum and large class sizes. The key to progress may be finding better ways to provide teachers with direct experience of how to use group discussions in class, perhaps with the more responsive older students and more culturally resonant materials.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available