Thứ Năm, 21 tháng 5, 2009

There is a different world

Lời dẫn: Đây có lẽ là bài viết kéo dài nhất của tôi cho đến thời điểm này. Từ khi có ý tưởng đến khi bắt tay vào viết, vì việc này việc khác, đã mất khoảng hai tháng. Sau khi viết xong, gửi cho Sue thì Sue lại đi nghỉ một tháng rưỡi nên không thể đọc và sửa/góp ý được. Như vậy, tính sơ sơ cũng mất gần bốn tháng để có được bài viết này. Nay đăng lên đây để chia sẻ với bè bạn. Hy vọng sẽ là chút gì đó hữu ích.

There is a different world

Duong Giap & Sue Purnell

A different way of thinking and learning will make a different you. A different you will make a different world. This need to be discussed, realised and practised.

In 2001 I realised that there must be another world of education, and I wanted to see it. So, I decided to go to South Korea to pursue my MSc although I had almost finished it in Vietnam. A new and strange world opened to me where people work and think in a totally different way. Nine years later, here at the University of Liverpool, in England, Sue Purnell and I started to talk about the differences between Higher Education (HE) in Asia and Europe, especially for the case of Vietnam and UK, and we again agreed that there’s a different world in HE. We were interested to realise that things could be so different and we both want to explore the differences, so that we can understand them better. We think that it would be good to discuss the issue publicly to improve our mutual understanding, and to some extent, to introduce some concepts that may benefit our students in Vietnam.

Recalling the memory of my student time, the clearest thing I remember is day after day going to the lecture theatre, and listening and writing notes without asking any questions. There was almost no discussion or group work. As students we believed that what were taught is the truth, and is the best information. We were required to believe and to remember, not to improve or to challenge. We tried to “know that”, not “know know”.

In South Korea, things were better. There we were able to work closely with other students and professors. Many discussions and group work took place. The only thing I was unhappy with there was the distant and dominant attitude of professors who were treated like a small King by the group, in a way that was rooted perhaps in the Confucian culture. Although I did not like it, I know the South Korean system worked as they were able to raise the achievements of their country fantastically but in Vietnam our system did not work as effectively, and we were not able to raise our country’s profile significantly.

Things changed for me a great deal when I went to Austria to pursue my PhD and then to Liverpool to work as where people in HE performed again in a different way from the Korean one. There, post graduate students and professors are almost equal. We discussed and enjoyed the work sometimes like friends. In this European system people rely on individuals, but learning and working is conducted through discussions, plans, schedule and improvement. In the class, we can ask question and discuss whenever we want. We know this system works pretty well also, which is manifested by the outcomes it produces. So a natural question is what can we learn from these two systems? What can we share with our students? Here we would like to suggest some changes that could be considered:

More independence as learners

This is the most important ingredient. Without independent thinking, a student will be dependent on their teachers forever. A child becomes an adult when they can live independently. A young person becomes a real student, then an intellectual, when they can think and learn independently and in a self directed way.

In Vietnam, students rely on the lecturers to find and process knowledge into a form that is able to be understood, and to provide them with all the information they need. They only read one text book for the course, and do not look for other material. Little effort was made to develop independent or critical thinking. Students are reluctant to talk about their opinions, or to ask questions, but are ready only to listen and obey. Day after day, this way of learning forms a habit of dependence, and belief, and students even worship what is taught. This way of learning passes from generation to generation and causes a dependant pupil-like behaviour, even when they have qualified or become university professors. The opportunity to develop new knowledge, or more diverse ways of thinking is lost.

More flexibility

Things are changing. The world is changing, and the rate of change is speeding up all the time. We are training for some jobs which do not even exist yet. So how can we cope with it? The only way is to be flexible and to start thinking for ourselves, to develop the habit of enquiry. To do this, students should not stick to a specific knowledge/information, but should learn ways of collecting, analysing critiquing and using new and different material. Things you learn in the university often become out of date before you graduate. So what is the point of learning all this information? What we need to learn, is how to learn, how to search for information using electronic library sources and the internet, and to ask the right questions. Then we need to know how to bring a number of different ideas together, to create new and interesting ideas.

More critical

In Higher Education, to be critical is not to criticise the knowledge of the teacher. It is to question, discuss, look for other points of view, different ways of thinking about an idea or concept. In Vietnamese culture, students grow up learning not to ask questions, or to challenge the ideas in their text books. As we have mentioned already, developing critical thinking is one of the first steps to improving education standards, and we need to talk to each other as students and fellow learners, and look for new and different ideas.

More creativity

In the knowledge economy, capital is not the most important factor, but new ideas, innovation and creativity. New ideas inspire new technologies, new ways of organizing and doing things. Alongside critical and independent thinking, creativity must be highlighted as one of the ultimate of aims of Higher Education. If not, graduates from our HE systems will not be ready to fight poverty and improve living standards, or contribute making this a stronger country.

More teamwork

There is very little these days that can be done by one person alone. Teamwork is almost the only way to achieve something really significant, and in nearly all employment we have to work as part of a much larger team. Teamwork brings together all the other ingredients that we have discussed, and we have to work to help each other to succeed. If we are not successful, it is often not because we do not have good people, but because the good people do not have the skills work together efficiently. However, teamwork can only be successful when people are open to the ideas of others, and to different ways of thinking.

More communication

Communication is one of the most important things in the knowledge-driven society. Effective communication allows new ideas, knowledge and solution to flow and new values to be created. Communication also is essential to ensure that the team performs effectively. In our experience, many of challenges are rooted not in the lack of knowledge or capital but in poor communication.

Be professional

Habits rooted from agricultural society prevent our people work and cooperate effectively, manifested by an amateurish way of thinking and working such as no clear schedule, learning/working and playing at the same time, etc. This is opposite to being professional, the only way to successfully compete with global competitors and to produce high quality products and services through which we can advance society and improve the country’s profile. However, being professional is not a gift, but a continuous training process that requires students’ awareness and practice in every activity in learning and working. It is not easy, especially for those from agricultural country. But it is possible, and is the only way to make all the plans and actions succeed.

That is what we can share with you. We are happy if you had it already. If not, just take it (free of charge) and think about it. It might make you a different person, and bring you a different world.


Duong & Sue is at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.