Thinking Culturally About Critical Thinking In Cambodia

Prof Doc Thesis

Bevan, SR (2017). Thinking Culturally About Critical Thinking In Cambodia. Prof Doc Thesis London South Bank University School of Law and Social Sciences
AuthorsBevan, SR
TypeProf Doc Thesis

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.

PublisherLondon South Bank University
Publication dates
Print01 Apr 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited23 Feb 2018
Publisher's version
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