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Western and Eastern philosophy in teaching

Jan 28. 2013
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By Yupin Patarapongsant

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As a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a couple of years ago, I was clueless about a career in higher education. PhD education in the West often focuses more on the research side, while teaching experience can only be earn


It has been such an honour to have a career as a higher education professor. It grants opportunities to make merit with our heart, teaching younger minds to become masters of structured knowledge in their business practices. Our MBA/EMBA/PhD students make teaching a worthwhile career. I gain great satisfaction from seeing them develop and succeed in their business careers.  
In Western-style business administration training at the higher educational level (MBA/EMBA), the programme is normally structured around a variety of teaching styles and techniques. The majority of the teaching is in the form of structured lectures, facilitated by a faculty member and driven by class discussions and case study analysis (for example, we use a lot of Harvard Business School cases.) With the diverse learning abilities of students, planned in-class activities via group break-outs, individual and team assignments, a semester group/individual project, computer simulation games and traditional exams are also tools used in business teaching at the higher level.  
Comparing Western and Eastern philosophy, in cross-cultural psychology literature, Western philosophy is based on rational thought, and hence the emphasis on logic, cause and effect. Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, is mainly derived from the religious teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. There is more of a one-way transmission of knowledge, and this is more authoritative in Eastern thinking. So, apart from the deliverable skills we must have in the Western style of teaching, professors in the Eastern culture are expected to be the storehouse of knowledge. Students are reluctant to challenge the authority of the teacher. But we must encourage them to challenge us and the ideology we train them in through class discussions.
There are three major differences between Eastern and Western philosophies: Western individualism and Eastern collectivism; Western analytical thinking and Eastern holistic thinking; and the Western ideal of dealing with conflict, and the Eastern ideal of being in harmony. These were quiet challenges at the beginning of my teaching career back in Thailand. 
First, it is expected of us that we understand our students’ collectivism. Their learning behaviour works better in the group. However, it is important to persuade our students to develop their individuality though class discussions and assignments. Individual projects are encouraged. 
Second, holistic thinking style is an Asian strength. However, analytical ability is crucial, especially in an era of intense global competition. It is our job to teach both sets of thinking styles. 
Last, although conflict avoidance is a common trait for Asians, being assertive and having the ability to face up to conflicts is an important skill. These are elements that we as career teachers can create value in, for our Asian audience. Thailand is not an exception.    
Teaching has a reciprocal effect: students learn from me and I learn a great deal from them. The point is to enjoy the wholesomeness in teaching.  
Dr Yupin Patarapongsant is a faculty member at Chulalongkul University’s SASIN Graduate Institute of Business Administration. Her interest is in marketing management and social marketing. She was a visiting assistant professor of marketing at Rutgers University and the State University of New Jersey, and an instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where she received her doctorate degree.  

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