For as long as man has been in existence, virtually everything about him has in more ways than one, been related to his culture. In fact, the aspect of civilization, which has since seen man advance in both language and art, has also been shaped by his culture. Consequently, institutions such as schools which are regarded as the results of advancement in civilisation have also been moulded by the same culture. Research can now confirm that the cultural environment that revolves around a learner will greatly impact on their performances. Furthermore, cognitive skills that influence our intuition, perception, performance and the ability to memorise things are dependent on our cultural background (McLaughlin, 1999).
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Culture, a term borrowed from the Latin word cultura- means to cultivate- is used in reference to humans’ pattern of activities, and the significance and importance tied to these symbolic structures. Indeed as the definition is rightly put, practicing our culture is akin to cultivating our lives, with the help of tools and symbols that the society has bestowed on us. Thus, culture can be viewed at as ‘systems of symbols and meanings that even the creators contest and which while lacking fixed boundaries, are constantly in flux.’ These systems are in constant interactions and competition with one another (Crystal, 1997).
From this perspective, culture can be viewed at as the ways of life of a people, including their beliefs, institutions and arts, which have been passed down to them by previous generations. According to Crystal (2001), ‘culture is the way of life of an entire society’. As such, it will embrace such aspects as their mode of dressing, language spoken, religious rituals and code of manners. Behavioural norms like morality and low, and belief systems and art will also be addressed (Crystal, 2001).
Since culture has previously been defined as the way of life of a society, it is thus an inherent part of the human life. To this end, such aspects of the human life as language and education are also affected. Thus, culture and language are not just interwoven; they are inseparable (Afifi & Bergman, 2002). No wonder then, one of the primary functions of education, is the production of culture on which it is based.
Influence of culture on education
As a social practice, education will thus be affected and moulded by economic, Political and social influences. If learners are not then part of these forces that shapes the education system, they are not only disadvantage, but are also losing touch with the very things that connects them with preceding generations. Globally, Afifi & Bergman (2002), stated that culture and technology use interact and can result in harmony or tension. Discord arises when the underlying values of one culture are disagreeable or not appropriate for another culture. These values must be identified, and then addressed by any instructional design project that is targeted for a global audience. It can thus be seen that the education system will greatly be affected by culture.
At the same time, learners from different cultures display a variety of approach to education, and communication behaviour. In turn, the portrayed learning behaviors will influence a learner’s choice of the education system. This is a clear demonstration of the effect of culture on how and what one learns. As cited in Selinger (2004), NICHD has suggested that an individual perception of learning and the basis under which one is able to interact is a function of one’s cultural values and beliefs. NICHD (2004) opines that various cultures will attach varying meanings to learning, with some scholars viewing learning as being narrow.
Others are of the opinion that education is broad and open to interpretation. The conclusion provided then, is that modifications towards learning approaches are necessary, in order to accommodate learners from diverse cultural settings.
Values, beliefs and practices as influence of cross-cultural perspective
According to Stables (2003), a student’s learning perception will be affected by their culture, values and beliefs. Education is thus laden with values, which will determine their attitude towards learning. In the same breath, one individual’s view of an object may differ from that of another, based on their cultural background that has shaped and dominated their thinking
Unto each one of us, a multifaceted set of intelligence that we have nurtured throughout our formative years is granted. Progressively, this sea of knowledge matures as the years progress, and we in turn reinforce the same to our children (Gardner, 1985).
Through the same trend, knowledge and skills have been passed down to us by our ancestors. The knowledge gained along the way is what has leads us to form and retain a rich and diverse culture that impacts greatly on our lives, and the environment in which we live. The same is true even in academic performances. According to available information, environmental influences are highly linked to academic performance. These includes the quality of parenting, which sees to it that a child learns at the best possible environment, with appropriate controls such as the necessary discipline to reinforce learning. This will also include the nurture and care that a child receives, as well as the initial encouragement and literacy instructions that a child receives at first-grade (NICHD, 2004).
Available evidence has it that a child can be positively influenced academically, socially, and culturally, when culturally based education programs have been implemented (Demmert & Towner, 2003). A combination of cultural environment, genetics and practical experiences will all collectively impact on the early childhood development. In turn, this will influence how a child performs physically, psychologically and cognitive wise.
For this reason, generational transfer of knowledge ought to consider the cultural setting of a people, with a view to encouraging young people to pursue local as well as new knowledge (Afifi & Bergman, 2002). A combination of one’s language, traditions, prior knowledge and its application in overcoming new problems is what builds up their intellectual and cognitive capacity (Gardener, 1985).
Jerome Bruner is of the view that our minds are shaped by culture, as it provides as with the much needed construction tools of our world, powers and individual concepts. Bruner further argues that in order for us to fully understand mental activities, we must first take stock of our cultural setting and the available resources. These, he notes, are the bricks and mortar that gives shape and scope to the mind (Bruner, 1966).
A definition of academic performance is one riddled with problematic and complex concepts (Myburgh, Grobler, & Niehaus, 1999). Demmert and Towner (2003) are of the idea that in defining academic performance, it is important to take into account the context into which the definition is taken, as well as aim and perspective of the researcher. Nevertheless, Barton and Hamilton (1998) were able to define academic performance as the ability to master academic information of a given standard, by virtue of cognitive capability that allows a student’s promotion a higher class.
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Clearly, this definition fails to identify what academic performance involves. However, the author has instead chosen to focus on the required abilities to achieve this performance. Since academic performance is mainly a function of the context under occurs, the required abilities may also vary with the context. It is thus prudent to deduce that the level of academic success varies with the prevailing context.
Even among scholars, Bruner (1966) discovered that the same issue is also dogged with uncertainty, especially with regard to what constitutes academic success. On their part, learners term academic success as the ability not only to think maturely and independently, but also being able to view issue from a wider perspective. It is still the view of yet another crop of scholars, that to succeed academically is being able to invest the acquired knowledge into the community or plainly put, ‘working hard to attain specific goals’.
Previously in this essay, it has been demonstrated that one’s culture impacts greatly on their education through the learning process, language and how knowledge has been passed down in generations. In this regard, there are several cultural factors that will influence the extent to which an individual values education. To start with cognitive factors which involves perception, retention and the ability to reason and memorise things, is important in influencing academic performance (Volder,1982). Indeed, aptitude and intelligence are very much a premise of cognitive factors (Myburg et al, 1999).
According to Volder (1982), intelligence is crucial in academic performance, as it is an index of the individual’s level of performance. Normally, aptitude and intelligence have been singled out as the two most important determinants of academic performance. It should however be noted that the two aspects do not operate in isolation, but are augmented by other factors that warrants consideration (Myburg et al, 1999).
Gardener (1985) found that personal factors associated with a learner’s functionality as an individual, will directly or indirectly influence their academic performance. To this end, factors such as self concept, emotional intelligence and perspective of time framework comes to mind. Myburg et al, (1999), are of the view that self-concept involves an individual’s evaluation of self, and this will include their emotional and cognitive elements.
On the other hand, self-esteem revolves around evaluating one’s self concept, thus leading to an individual approval or acceptance of themselves. However, Naude, Du Preez, and Pretorius (2003) discovered that a low self-esteem is not always accompanied by poor academic performance, but could as well be as a result of setting unattainable academic goals. To succeed academically, it is then important that one’s expectations are realistic.
According to De Volder and Lens (1982), the academic performance of a learner will also be affected by a learner’s perspective on time. Time thus plays an important role in the academic performance of an individual. It can thus be viewed at as a motivator cognitively, towards improving in performance academically. The environment will also impact greatly on the academic performance of an individual. Gardener (1985) has demonstrated that such environmental factors could either be psychosocial, or physical. Among the notable social environmental factors, is that of the home atmosphere.
In this regard, the care and involvement of the parents, as well as their level of education and occupation, will greatly determine how their children perform at school (Myburg et al, 1999). In addition, the ability of the home environment to either support, or repress the education performance of a child, will be determined by educational values and aspirations that the parents cherish. Where parenting was found to be wanting, the academic performance of the children suffered negatively (Demmert & Towner, 2003). Since knowledge and culture are passed from one generation to the next, the level of education attainment by a preceding generation, will also impact on the home learning environment (Gardener, 1985).
Academic performance will also be influenced by psychological stresses. Environments laden with traumatic stresses have thus been found to influence academic performance. Such would include child abuse. This explanation to this could be based on the fact that stress disrupts the organization of the brain’s function, thus activating or suppressing various memory functions (Du Preez & Pretorius, 2003). According to various researches, inadequate resources were found to contribute to poor academic performance. To this end, adequate resources lead one to obtaining the best schools and better study resources (Myburgh et al, 1999).
It is the responsibility of adults to shape children to the desirable cultural behaviour. In turn, these children are also expected to influence the behaviour of adults positively as well (Barton & Hamilton, 1998).
Indeed the development potential of children is dependent on the care and attention that they get from their peers, parents, and teachers. The perception held by children regarding their academic potential is an important factor, as it affects their behavior towards life. For example, it might be a determinant to the persistence with which they are able to carry out tasks, as well as the ability to make achievements in their academic work.
The persistence with which learners are able to approach their academic work is thus an attribute of the cultural values and beliefs that they have acquired through out their lives. Indeed, these are normally internalized following a cultural socialization process. Consequently, this leads to the interaction with other community members. Unlike fashion, cultural values, owing to the sentimental attachment by the community, takes a long time to change. On the other hand, it is estimable that values should endure for a longer time. This is because it is them that give life intensity, direction, stability and generally, predictability (Smith, 2000).
Besides being seen as an attribute an individual, values are also a pointer to the moral choices of the larger society. By adopting the dictates of a culture, beliefs have helped guide in the socialization process of individuals. Still, there are cases of individuals who are not able to achieve much under their own culture, but have the capability to achieve better under a different cultural environment. Based on this fact, it can then be hypothesized that cultural values and beliefs would probably have a major impact towards the academic success of an individual. If this is true, how then, are values and beliefs related to the academic performance of a learner, from a cross-cultural perspective?
Max Weber (1930) decided to tackle this issue from a sociological point of view. His scholarly work, “The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism”, helped shed light on the relationship between culture and the motivation to make an achievement.
According to this work, Weber has suggested that the lack of parity in economic productivity between the Roman Catholics and Protestants was not so much as a result of a lack of ability and resources, but was mainly due to the held ideologies, beliefs, values and the developed motivation and attitudes. Weber’s idea was later reinforced by McClead and Winter (1969), who opined that in order for one to realize a significant achievement, the family behavioural pattern of norms and child rearing practices comes into play.
Indeed, good child-rearing practices cements positive learning experiences of the child, early in life. The explanation to this could be based on the fact that culture is very much a composition of habits that we all acquire upon birth and in our lifetime experiences (McClelland & Winter, 1969). When such experiences are learnt right from birth, individual personality patterns are thus moulded, and these are able to endure to well over our adult years. Consequently, this helps in determining an individual’s motivation to perform better. According to McClead and Winter (1969), the trait to achieve in a competitive society, though different from person to person, is nevertheless acquired right from childhood. According to Maehr (1974), the concept of ethnicity and achievement is tied to the roles and status of an individual.
This has hence prompted cross-cultural psychologists to consider the role of culture in influencing the academic performance of a student. The main focus in this case, has been on the motivation to achieve. What has emerged then is that academic performance will be influenced by the socialization process that a student underwent at home, as well as the home environment and practices, thus showing a strong relationship between academic performance and cultural background (Maehr, 1974).
Factors influencing ethnic differences between the academic performances
To better understand how ethnic differences affect academic performances, two explanations have been fronted towards this end; a cultural perspective and a structural explanation. From a cultural perspective, values, norms and beliefs as cultural tools helps explain ethnic differences in terms of academic performance. Consequently, educational achievements are often seen are essentially a product of the cultural values and beliefs held by a member of a certain ethnic group. In light of this, cultural values and beliefs of a given ethic community have been used by its members to motivate their children to achieve academic success. Owing to differences in ethnic group settings, different cultural values will offer different motivation to the children of such a community (Barton & Hamilton, 1998).
All the same, a lack of certain values in a given ethnic community compared to another does not mean that its children are not capable of achieving similar academic performance. From a structural perspective, the issue of social class comes to mind. Consequently, parental characteristics such as occupation, level of income and education achievement will in turn determine the level of academic success that the children can attain.
The assumption has always been that those parents with superior parental characteristics have a higher chance of ensuring that their children achieve academic success (Demmert & Towner, 2003). Still, there are exceptions to this rule. The world is full of success stories of children who beat all odds to achieve both academic and economic success, even after having to battle with poverty.
In summation, it has been shown that the academic performance of any learner is repeatedly influenced by one’s culture. The experiences that we all undergo through right from childhood to our adult lives, coupled with the instilled cultural values and beliefs, all plays a contributing role in motivating us to do well academically. Since culture is a way of life of any society, we have come to acquire knowledge and intelligence through the preceding generations. Just like language, the acquiring of knowledge is a process that attempts to preserve our cultural heritage. Indeed, culture provides the very tools that we need in order to get motivation to excel academically.
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