The Differences Between Eastern and Western Education

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SEATTLE — With the growing influx of Asian students into Western universities, the battle for superiority between Eastern and Western education has resurfaced and intensified over the past few years.

Staunch defenders of Western education maintain that it is because of the West’s exclusive ability to produce successful professionals that many East Asian parents opt to send their children to Western countries. On the other hand, those who are skeptical of the efficacy of Western education cite the growing gap between test scores of much-lower-ranked Western countries and the highly-ranked Eastern countries in tests that measure mathematical and scientific knowledge of students.

There are stark differences between the two educational approaches. Consequently, each of the distinct characteristics of Eastern and Western education are vital in shaping personalities and outlooks of students.
One of the biggest points of contrast between the two approaches is how students see their role in their own learning.

Eastern Students

Eastern students particularly view sheer effort as the primary way to do exceptionally well in school. Eastern schools instill the belief that discipline can outweigh any academic difficulty, discrediting any other factors that may affect student performance. In the East, every student is equal; they are given equal opportunities for learning. Failure in academics then fall mainly on their shoulders, or are credited to their parents.

Western Students

Western schools, on the other hand, focus more on student participation in discussions, fostering innate human curiosity and encouraging students to challenge ideas. Students see their role as contributors, not just recipients of whatever is spewed out by the instructor in the classroom. Effort is emphasized upon, but not too much on standardized testing, as their Eastern counterparts are. In contrast to Eastern schools faulting students and their families for academic failure, disappointing returns from Western students are often made the fault of institutions who have failed to support their learning.

Differences Between the Two 

Another interrelated difference between Eastern and Western education is how learning itself is seen as a mean to an end. Eastern systems often instill moral value in education. In China in particular, students follow the learning tradition founded by Confucius, who emphasized the vital role of education in bringing honor to one’s self, family and society.

As cited by Jin Li, writer of the book, “Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West,” students who operate under this moral code believe that learning is the most important thing in life and that it is life’s purpose. The journey towards knowledge is essential in gaining resolve, diligence and requires steadfastness, concentration and humility. It is in gaining these values that one can bring honor to family and society.

Collective vs. Individual Perspectives

Placing an intrinsic value on education roots back to this concept of honoring entities much bigger than the self, such as one’s family and nation. Students in Eastern countries have a deep sense of the collective, which subsequently drive them to amass knowledge and apply this acquired learnings to improve their societies. They are much more collective-oriented than their independent counterparts in the West.

The Western system focuses on the individual as the sole entity for success. Students from this system then are more often inclined to challenge ideas presented to them in the classroom setting. This may root from the ideals of freedom and democracy that have sprung up and have reigned in Western land for centuries. The forthrightness of Western culture is one that the East is yet to possess, as sometimes with the focus of using education as a means to bring honor, Eastern students are more conservative in expressing and arguing against ideas for fear of getting bad marks.

What Eastern and Western Educational Systems Produce

Eastern and Western education systems produce variant characters. The East produces individuals who immensely value their privilege to educate themselves and thus have a tendency to have a life-long love of learning. Or, in the polar end of the spectrum, they may only value grades for face-value and do not care so much for actually digesting what they learn in the classroom. The West often sees the individual as the sole entity for inquiry, discovery and success.

This also has its downsides, as Western students may feel that just because they cannot succeed in academics, they cannot succeed in any other field of their choice. Both systems produce different kinds of results; both have their strengths and flaws. But rest assured much can be learned from one side to the other — one can never be too determined nor too inquisitive to be primed for success.

Bella Suansing
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Bella Suansing

Bella lives in New York City, NY and Manila, in the Philippines. Her academic interests include economics and politics. Bella was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. She plans to return there to pursue a law degree.

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