Cultural differences in teaching

Although my experience in teaching is limited, there are some very distinct differences I’ve picked up on whilst teaching in Hong Kong compared to my work experience at a school in England.

One of the most striking differences is how politically correct schools in the UK are compared to schools in Hong Kong. During a lesson on disibility in Hong Kong, for example, teachers referred to mentally disabled people as ‘mentally handicapt’; a term which would never, ever, be used by teachers in a British school for fear of being un-PC.

In another example, a class of mine were learning about bullying. The local teacher posed the question “are there any bullies in your class?” before leading a forum asking children to name and shame the bullies in their class. This friendly discussion quickly turned into a bitter trail as almost every child nominated the same boy. The boy under fire sat alone looking rather distressed as alligations were voiced left, right and centre. Rather then stopping the discussion and moving on, the teacher asked more probing questions and was clearly on the side of the other students. The local teachers then scolded the boy, who wasn’t allowed to make a case from himself.  I found the situation very uncomfortable as the boy looked rather upset and bewildered by it all. The fact is, the boy’s bad behavior is a result of isolation; where as all the students are from Hong Kong and are excellent at languages, the ‘bully’ in question is originally from mainland China and struggles with English and Cantonese. He’s a classic case; he is picked on for his low ability and as a result, he uses his somewhat larger frame to fight and bully other students*. His bad behavior is a direct reaction to the cruel taunts he faces from his classmates for being an underachiever.

Whilst I understand that bullying needs to be addressed, I feel the way in which the local teacher conducted it was very inappropriate; if anything, the bully in question is likely to feel alienated and embarrassed and thus will act more aggressively towards his classmates. In England the bully would have been asked to explain his behavior and give reasons. Perhaps then he may have had the chance to justify his actions. Earlier at work today, the local teacher told the troubled child “if you were my son I’d beat you hard!”. I laughed out loud in disbelief when she said this. You’d get fired in England for saying that, or worse. I then began to feel very sad for the ‘bully’. It seems as long as he struggles with English and Mandarin, he’ll be the butt of the other students jokes and will feel the need to retaliate. I only hope I can help him gain some confidence with his language skills (he actually knows most of the basics, he just lacks confidence in himself) and help him integrate with his classmates.

*his bullying is limited to occasionally pushing other students and making fun of their names. I’ve never seen, nor heard of him punching or fighting as such. Whilst I’m not condoning his behavior, is it really any worse then the cruel teacher-endorsed taunting he has received?


About David

Originally born in England, I moved to Hong Kong in August 2010 to teach English to primary school students.
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