My colleague, Dr. Richard Marshall, and I recently returned from a week-long trip to the Philippines. We were invited to serve as keynote speakers at the International Conference on Psychology, Counselling, and Education at New Era University. The conference was amazing, and while this was not a vacation for us, we had a wonderful time building relationships with professionals from across the world.
My keynote address focused on the importance of home-school collaboration and the importance of parents and teachers working together to improve outcomes for students. Marshall’s keynote address focused on educational psychology, particularly applying psychological research to education.
In both of our talks, we mentioned the importance of human development and how we, as parents and educators, must work to ensure our children/students are prepared for adulthood by the time they graduate high school.
Interestingly, while our fellow Westerners (those of us from the U.S. and the U.K.) nodded in agreement, these statements were met with puzzled looks from audience members from the Philippines. We then recalled similarly perplexed looks from the previous day, when some of the presenters (who happened to be from the U.K.) talked about the aging population and challenges associated with growing old.
As we spoke with some of our Filipino colleagues, we quickly learned why the audience responded as they did. While we were aware of the Eastern culture’s respect for the elderly, we learned that in the Filipino culture — as with other Eastern cultures — there is no expectation that children will leave home after completing high school. In fact, most families prefer their children to remain in the family home as long as possible.
Encountering these cultural differences so directly certainly gave us pause. It’s one thing to sit in the U.S. and read about cultural differences. It’s quite another to encounter them in audience participants when you are 10,000 miles from home. It really made us stop and think about the many assumptions we hold about our educational practices.
We generally assume that Eastern students are more motivated or that their teaching must be superior to ours. But when you hear how supportive family members are to children, to teenagers, and to the elderly, you wonder whether their superior test scores might have something to do with how they treat each other as well as how they teach each other.
I don’t pretend to know why students from different countries do better than American students on some tests of educational progress. Certainly there are many factors to consider. For example, unlike the U.S., grade school is not mandatory in the Philippines. In 2015, it was estimated that only about 68 percent of Filipino teens attended high school, and in 2014, only about 35 percent attended college.
Nonetheless, as I returned home from my trip abroad, I was left to contemplate the role that culture and religion play in some of the expectations to which we hold each other. And perhaps there are perspectives from other cultures that we should consider including in our own.
I have to say, though, that the main lesson I learned from my experience in the Philippines is that we have to be careful not to think of our perspectives and beliefs as somehow superior to those of others. Just because a particular value is important to us does not mean that it is superior to someone else’s. Different yes; superior, not so much.
Dr. Berney, a licensed psychologist with Psychological Associates of Central Florida in Lakeland, is a national speaker and the co-author of “Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child.” Listen to Dr. Berney's podcast, “The Mental Breakdown,” on iTunes and YouTube. You can submit questions or topics to Dr. Berney by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.