Culture is a major topic in education. As people travel worldwide, they encounter people who are similar and different from them. Naturally, the diversity that is found today can e beneficial and a headache, and this applies in the classroom as well when teachers and students come together from all over the globe.
This post will look at Hofstede’s Cultural Framework, which involves five dimensions (power distance, individualism, uncertainty, long-term orientation, indulgence). We will examine these concepts as they apply to the context of teaching and the classroom. Furthermore, rather than discussing these terms at the country level, we will look at the aggregation of the individual level, as most classes are small enough to work at this level.
Power distance measures how accepting a student is of hierarchical authority. Students who have a high power distance that a difference between authority between the student and teacher is acceptable, while students with a low power distance want a more egalitarian relationship with their teachers. Naturally, this also applies to teachers, teachers with a high power distance expect a large degree of authority and deference in the class, while lower power distance, teachers view students more as peers and collaborators.
There is no right or wrong place in terms of power distance. Education has gone toward minimizing power distance, but this is a trend and not a moral argument. What really matters is that a teacher is aware of where they stand in terms of power distance and aware of where their students stand regarding this. Understanding that a student needs a more egalitarian power-sharing teacher can reduce conflict and stress for the teacher. In addition, understanding that a student(s) needs a strong authoritarian teacher is also beneficial in improving classroom management.
Individualism is in contrast to collectivism and is the emphasis placed on the person or the group. Highly individualistic students do what is best for them at the group’s expense. Students who are low in individualism will put the group’s needs ahead of their own. Rewards should be determined by effort rather than based on equality. Lastly, highly individualistic students will put the task ahead of relationships.
For teachers, it is important to know how to manage individualistic and collectivistic students to have success in the classroom. An individualistic student will demand autonomy and space, which entails the teacher may need to back off a little. There is a need for harmony and relationships for a collectivistic student, which may mean the teacher needs to back off on being demanding as this is not valued by the student.
Uncertainty is a measure of people’s comfort with risk and unpredictable situations. Young people tend to act recklessly with their own decision-making but are overwhelming condemning of parents and teachers who are unpredictable and erratic. I have seen almost no exception to this in my personal career. Students generally have low acceptance of uncertainty.
This does not imply students don’t like surprises. The point is that change should be slow and occasional with lots of warning. With many unstable families, students are looking to schools to provide constancy and stability in this day and age. As such, uncertainty is something, many students want to avoid as they desire the role of being unpredictable over the teacher. Therefore, teachers probably want to limit uncertainty through clear management and consistent expectations.
Masculinity measures how desirable traditional masculine traits are to a student. Highly masculine students value work and high grades compared to less masculine students. Masculine students live for work while low masculine students are more focused on friendship and doing less, and “smelling the roses.”
Masculine teachers are usually aggressive and ambitious. Naturally, this could cause conflict with students who are more focused on enjoying their time. This is another example of how teachers need to be aware of their own cultural preferences and their students.
A student’s orientation is determined by whether they focus on the short-term or long-term. Young people tend to focus more on the here and now, while adults often think further into the future. Therefore, like uncertainty avoidance, this may be an example of where there is not as much variance in the position of students.
Generally, students are focused on the moment, but they expect teachers to have a long-term orientation. The reason for this may be the idea of stability. Students want the freedom to be foolish, knowing that they have a support system around them to help them if something goes wrong. IF the supporters cannot plan ahead, it would be difficult for them to help careless students.
Indulgence is the view of the student as to the role of the society or school to fulfill the student’s desires. For example, highly indulgent students think that the school or classroom should be fun and enjoyable. Students who are low in indulgence see school as a place to restrain desire through rules and regulations.
Each student and teacher is going to vary in their orientation of indulgence. The clashes come when teachers and students view this differently. Again, it falls on the teacher to be flexible and reflective to adjust to the students while being aware of their own preferences.
Each person is unique and has their own view of the world and their own preferences. Hofstede’s work was done at the level of countries. However, teachers deal with individuals, not entire nations, which implies that there will be uniqueness among the students in terms of what they value. Therefore, the teacher needs to be aware of what students’ needs and personalities want so that they can help students to be successful