Culturally-Sensitive Factors in Teacher Trainees' Learning Environments

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<ul><li><p>HARKIRAT S. DHINDSA AND BARRY J. FRASER</p><p>CULTURALLY-SENSITIVE FACTORS IN TEACHER TRAINEESLEARNING ENVIRONMENTS</p><p>Received 20 August 2003; accepted (in revised form) 11 December 2003</p><p>ABSTRACT. The aims of this research were to cross-validate the Cultural Learning Envi-ronment Questionnaire (CLEQ) in the local context of Brunei and to evaluate culturally-sensitive factors (gender equity, collaboration, deference, competition, teacher authority,modelling and congruence) in teacher trainees learning environments. Data were collectedfrom 475 teacher trainees enrolled at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam by administering aslightly modified version of the CLEQ (Fisher &amp; Waldrip, 1997). Factor and reliability anal-yses supported the instruments suitability to evaluate six of the seven culturally-sensitivefactors (excluding teacher authority) associated with the cultural learning environment ofBruneian teacher trainees. The students generally believed that both genders are treatedequally and that they are independent learners, although, to some extent, they were reluc-tant to give their independent views in their classes. Further research is recommended forinvestigating the factors that contribute to the unusual finding that the students were equallycooperative and competitive. The data revealed no gender differences in trainee teachersperceptions.</p><p>KEY WORDS: Asian studies, cultural factors, gender differences, learning environment,teacher education</p><p>1. INTRODUCTION</p><p>Each culture has its own historical development and interacts with the phys-ical world differently. During periods of its development, each culture hasformed its own worldview that stems from its roots in such crucial factors asreligion, traditional beliefs, philosophy and conventional beliefs (Haidar,1997). Many researchers have studied the effects of culture on educationsystems, teaching and learning (Fisher &amp; Waldrip, 1997, 1999; Harris,1989; Hodson, 1992; Jegede &amp; Okebukola, 1990; Santagata &amp; Stigler,2000). Harris (1989) investigated the effects that teachers from one cul-ture have when teaching students from another culture. Fisher and Waldrip(1997, 1999) researched students cultural learning environment in schoolsettings, whereas Santagata and Stigler (2000) and Jegede (1999) arguedthat classroom teaching is essentially a cultural activity that influences theteaching-learning process at large.</p><p>The cultural background of a learner could have a greater effect on educa-tion than does the subject content, especially in relation to students makingobservations in science classes (Jegede &amp; Okebukola, 1990; Okebukola,1986). Hodson (1992) believes that the task of teaching is to help all children</p><p>Learning Environments Research 7: 165181, 2004.C 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.</p></li><li><p>166 HARKIRAT S. DHINDSA AND BARRY J. FRASER</p><p>to acquire knowledge, interests, skills, attitudes and ways of thinking with-out doing violence to their particular beliefs and experiences. However,teachers tend to teach in the ways that they do as a result of subtle implicitand informal influences of which they are not aware (Santagata &amp; Stigler,2000). The managerial strategies developed by lower secondary whiteAmerican teachers did not meet the needs of children from other cultures(Grossman, 1995). According to Delpit (1988), teachers used indirect state-ments or veiled commands instead of direct commands when speaking toblack children. There are studies that show that practising teachers fromdifferent cultures hold both scientific and traditional thoughts about scien-tific concepts and that many of them are not aware that they are defininga concept using a traditional approach (Lawrenz &amp; Gray, 1995; Ogawa,1995; Ogunniyi, Jegede, Ogawa, Yandila &amp; Oladele, 1995).</p><p>Traditional thoughts, therefore, can influence teachers teaching prac-tices. Students learning at a school, therefore, is not only affected by theircultural backgrounds, but also by the cultural backgrounds of their teach-ers. Thus, it is important for teachers to know the cultural diversity intheir classes and to be equipped with methods to cope with students fromdifferent cultures in order to optimise learning.</p><p>According to Thomas (2000), the case for culture-sensitive teacher ed-ucation is not only viable and clear, but it is also long overdue. The devel-opment of culture-sensitive teacher education and training programmes, inthe long run, is likely to provide a teaching force which would be betterprepared for meeting the challenges of cultural diversity in multiculturalclassrooms. However, training teachers to meet the needs of cultural di-versity has not been high on the agenda of most countries, even wherethere are substantial ethnic minorities (Thomas, 1994). Attempts havebeen made by some industrialised countries like the USA, UK, France,Australia and Germany to meet the educational and cultural needs of eth-nic and other minorities, but Tabachnik and Zeichner (1993) reported theexistence of cultural dominance by majority groups that even extends toteacher education in these countries. There is a need, therefore, to modifythe curriculum at teacher training institutions to train culturally sensitiveteachers.</p><p>One of the principal tasks facing teacher education and its relationshipwith culture and multiculturism is how and to what extent the teachertraining curriculum can be modified (Bajunid, 1996). The rich culturalbackgrounds of teachers and their students have been used to develop newculture-sensitive pedagogies. A number of methods and approaches avail-able to cross-cultural training for improving intercultural interactions havebeen discussed at length in the literature (Brislin &amp; Yoshida, 1994; Thomas,2000; Triandis, Kurowaski &amp; Gelfand, 1994; Westwood &amp; Barker, 1990).These methods and approaches can only be used as guides for modifying</p></li><li><p>CULTURAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT OF TEACHER TRAINEES 167</p><p>the existing curriculum in a country since their direct translation to adifferent social structure and composition might not be suitable. Thus, thereis a need to (a) know the make-up of the community, (b) select the importantdimensions of culture that need to be addressed in a given curriculum and(c) know the existing influence of these dimensions on the training so thatcertain behaviours that can lead to successful training programmes can betargeted for modification (Bajunid, 1996; Brislin &amp; Yoshida, 1994).</p><p>Brunei, though small in size, is rich in cultural diversity. The majorsources of this cultural diversity are the cultural variations in Bruneianpopulation as well as in the temporary migrant population. In 1999, therewere about 53,270 temporary workers from 29 countries working in Brunei(about 17% of the total population). A major proportion of the temporaryworkforce in Brunei comes from Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan,South-East Asian countries (SEA countries) and the UK. A considerablefraction of these migrant workers is involved in teaching in primary, sec-ondary and tertiary institutions. Also children of the migrant workers attendprimary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions.</p><p>Brunei is divided into four districts: Brunei-Muara, Tutong, Kuala Belaitand Temburong. Tutong and Kuala Belait districts are named after the eth-nic communities that are concentrated in these regions. The Bruneian lo-cal population consists of mainly Brunei Malay, Kedayan, Tutong, Belait,Bisaya, Dusan, Murut, Iban, Penan and Chinese communities. These eth-nic groups have different languages (dialects), cultures, and eating habits.Moreoever, they are concentrated in specific districts of Brunei Darus-salam. For example, most Malays, Bisaya and Kedayan are found in theBrunei-Muara district, whereas Murut and Ibans are found in Temburongdistrict. Belait and Penan ethnic groups are concentrated in Kuala Belaitdistrict of Brunei and the Chinese are found in all the districts of Brunei.Other ethnic groups are mainly found in Tutong district. According to theBorneo Bulletin (1999) Brunei Yearbook, the population of 314,400 es-timated for Brunei Darussalam in 1997 consisted of 53% male and 47%female.</p><p>The literacy rates (ability to write their names in Malay) of males andfemales are 93.7% and 84.7%, respectively. Moreover, about 1% of the to-tal student population is studying in university. About 85% of the studentsenrolled at the university are teacher trainees. These data show cultural di-versity in Brunei Darussalam. There are also subcultures co-existing withina culture, such as rural, urban, water-village cultures, etc. One can imaginethe cultural diversity that Bruneian students from various subcultures bringto the educational systems that further influences the teaching-learning pro-cess in schools as well as at the university.</p><p>An analysis of research into cultural dimensions that could be im-portant in influencing teacher training programs revealed that the work</p></li><li><p>168 HARKIRAT S. DHINDSA AND BARRY J. FRASER</p><p>of Moos (1979) and Hofstede (1984) are worth considering. Hofstede(1984) identified masculinity/femininity, individualism/collectivism, un-certainty/avoidance, and power/distance, whereas Moos (1979) identifiedrelationship, personal development, and system maintenance as the mostimportant dimensions of culture. Schwartz (1992, 1994) reported that indi-vidualism and collectivism could furnish valid explanations about culturaldifferences in values in a society. According to Fisher and Waldrip (1997),gender equity, collaboration, competition, deference, congruence, mod-elling, communication and teacher authority are the culturally-sensitivefactors that cover the dimensions proposed by Moos (1979) and Hofst-ede (1984). Moreover, some useful information about these factors in aclassroom setting can be obtained and easily analysed to evaluate the ex-tent to which these factors are present in the community. Furthermore, thisinformation is important when making appropriate adjustments to the ex-isting cultural sensitivity in a teacher training programme to optimise itsfunctioning to the expected level.</p><p>The study reported here was concerned with culturally-sensitive fac-tors in the learning environments of teacher trainees enrolled at SultanHassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, Universiti Brunei Darussalam,Brunei. An implication of this research is that, if we can identifythe culturally-sensitive factors of the learning environments of multi-cultural classes, then we have an opportunity to optimise the teacher-training curriculum to train culturally-sensitive teachers. Specifically, ourresearch sought to assess teacher trainees culturally-sensitive learningenvironments.</p><p>2. CHOICE OF INSTRUMENT</p><p>An instrument developed by Fisher and Waldrip (1997) was adopted forthis study. A brief description of the instruments development is describedhere. Fisher and Waldrip (1997) agreed with Kluckhohn (1951, p. 86) onthe definition of culture as the distinctive way of life of a group of people,their complete design for living when developing a new instrument toassess culturally-sensitive factors of the students learning environment.The development of scales included in this instrument, called the CulturalLearning Environment Questionnaire (CLEQ), not only was guided by theanthropology, sociology and management theory and research (Bochner &amp;Hesketh, 1994; Stull &amp; Von Till, 1994), but also by research on learningenvironments and culture factors, especially contributions made by Moos(1979) and Hofstede (1984).</p><p>Moos (1974, 1979) analysed a variety of human environments, includinghospital wards, school classrooms, prisons, military companies, universityresidences and work milieus, to conclude that salient aspects of human</p></li><li><p>CULTURAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT OF TEACHER TRAINEES 169</p><p>learning environments can be classified into three different dimensions.These dimensions are: relationship dimensions which identify the natureand intensity of personal relationships within the environment and assessthe extent to which people are involved in the environment and support andhelp each other; personal development dimensions which assess personalgrowth and self-enhancement; and system maintenance and system changedimensions which involve the extent to which the environment is orderly,clear in expectations, maintains control, and is responsive to change. Hof-stede (1984) used data from a detailed questionnaire administered to thou-sands of individuals working in multi-national corporations operating in 40countries to identify four dimensions of culture, namely, Power Distance,Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism, and Masculinity/Femininity. How-ever, Hofstedes research on dimensions of culture in educational settingsplayed a significant role because the CLEQ contains scales whose con-struction was influenced by these dimensions. Fisher and Waldrip (1997)also reported that the development of the original CLEQ was guided by thefollowing criteria:</p><p>1. Consistency with previous learning environments research. All rel-evant scales contained in relevant existing instruments designed forassessing the learning environment were examined for guidance inidentifying suitable scales.</p><p>2. Consistency with the literature of social psychology, organisationalsociology and anthropology.</p><p>3. Consistency with important cultural dimensions in the unique envi-ronment of multicultural organisations identified by Hofstede (1984).</p><p>4. Coverage of Moos general dimensions, with at least one CLEQ scaleassessing each of Moos three dimensions.</p><p>5. Salience to teachers and students. By interviewing teachers and stu-dents, an attempt was made to ensure that the CLEQs scales andindividual items were considered salient by teachers and students.</p><p>6. Economy. The CLEQ was designed to have a relatively small numberof reliable scales, each containing a small number of items.</p><p>The original questionnaire contained the eight scales of Gender Equity,Collaboration, Risk Involvement, Competition, Teacher Authority, Mod-elling, Congruence, and Communication. Fisher and Waldrip (1999) usedseven out of eight scales of the instrument to study cultural factors in thescience classroom learning environment, teacher-student interactions andstudent outcomes for Australian secondary science students. The reasonfor excluding the communication scale in their study was the existence ofinconsistencies between the student data collected using interviews andquestionnaires.</p></li><li><p>170 HARKIRAT S. DHINDSA AND BARRY J. FRASER</p><p>3. AIMS</p><p>The aims of the research reported here were (a) to determine the reliabilityand validity of the CLEQ when used with trainee teachers in the localcontext of Brunei and (b) to evaluate culturally-sensitive factors in Bruneianteacher trainees learning environments.</p><p>4. RESEARCH METHODS</p><p>The study involved a survey of 475 teacher trainees enrolled in the SultanHassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education at the Universiti Brunei Darus-salam, Brunei. The version of the CLEQ used in this study contained 35items and wa...</p></li></ul>