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Title: Thinking culturally about critical thinking in Cambodia
Author: Bevan, Susan R.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6497 3506
Awarding Body: London South Bank University
Current Institution: London South Bank University
Date of Award: 2017
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There is concern in Western, English-speaking universities about the ability of students from some Asian countries to think critically. This concern is often related to students’ lack of participation in class discussion. The association of questioning, discussion and debate in Western approaches to critical thinking adds to this perception, and lends itself to the stereotype of the ‘passive Asian student.’ Research suggests however that there are more diverse factors than a lack of ability to show critical thinking during classroom discussion. Student second language acquisition and confidence in speaking are important, as well as the language used by lecturers and the speed at which it is spoken. Cultural context also plays a part, and students studying in another country may struggle to understand unfamiliar discussion topics or examples. Different cultural understandings of the role of the lecturer, authority and appropriate classroom behaviour are also factors which may lead to international student’s reluctance to speak in class. My research took place in a Cambodian university, with Cambodian students and a teacher from the UK. It began with a question – How do Cambodian students experience courses aimed at developing Western style critical thinking skills? I then focused on three themes: the relationship between cultural context and critical thinking; the relationship between classroom participation and critical thinking; and the improvement of teaching and learning critical thinking through better understanding of those relationships. I created a ‘community of critical thinkers’ in the classroom. This involved asking ‘thought-encouraging’ questions in class and techniques such as small group discussion where students were allowed to code-switch between languages in a controlled fashion. Students were encouraged to apply critical thinking to their own culture and society and share examples which could be used for teaching later classes. We also compared Western approaches to critical thinking with a Buddhist approach. The research focused on the experiences of teaching and learning critical thinking for both teacher and students. A methodology based on ethnology and grounded theory was utilised to collect and analyse data. My results show that given a familiar cultural context, in classes tailored to their level of English language acquisition, students participated in classroom discussion in similar, but not identical ways to their English- speaking, Western counterparts. Likewise a lack of participation did not necessarily lead to lower marks; a propensity for speaking in class was not always related to receiving a higher mark. I recommend further exploration of different cultural approaches to critical thinking in the classroom, and a re-examination of attitudes towards participation. Not speaking in class can be the result of a range of complex factors and does not mean that students are not engaged in the process of learning. I further suggest the inclusion of different cultural applications of critical thinking when teaching can be beneficial for teachers and both international and national students.
Supervisor: Winbourne, Peter C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Prof.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available