Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I have been reading

a thesis proposal. This one was given to me by the student. She is a lovely girl from an Asian country and, for her, failure is not an option. Her government expects her not merely to pass, but pass well.
She came to me last week and said that, having written more than half of the thesis, one of her supervisors was raising questions about the proposals and "giving (her) a hard time". Could I please, please, please look at the proposal?
Her English is fair but it is very difficult to read. In writing she uses words she has obviously been taught are "acceptable" rather than appropriate. Like all students from her language group prepositions are a problem for her.
Those things though are not the problem. The proposal is. I wish I had seen it earlier. I am not sure how she was allowed to proceed so far without someone raising questions.
I can see what the problem is and it is a cultural one. She is being obedient. Although she is asking questions they are questions for which there are already answers. She is not adding to the knowledge in the area. In her own country this may well be sufficient. It will not be sufficient here. She needs to pose a question which has not been asked before and then use the material she has gathered to answer it. 
Her field is education. Her proposal looks only at the Australian education system. If she could relate it to the situation in her own country - and it is not politically sensitive so she might - then it would be of far greater value.  It is such an obvious solution that I wonder why she has not thought of it herself or why it has not been suggested to her - or do I?
It may be that, in her case, it is due to obedience. It would be rare for students, especially female students, to question teachers in her home country. Her supervisors here however should be aware of that and they should be encouraging her to question. They need to actually say, "Argue with us. Tell us what you think, not what we think."
And perhaps it has not been suggested to her because her supervisors have never been to her country - few people from here have been there. They do not know the language. In all likelihood they would not even recognise the script it is written in. What they know about the culture may be limited to what she has told them. They would almost certainly know nothing of the education system there. They may feel that supervising from that aspect is beyond them.
So I have corrected some English errors and scattered the pages with things like "ref?", "how?" and "why?" and "evidence?" Will it help? I do not know. I want to suggest a major change to the structure of her thesis but she has just five months of her visa left and I am not sure it will be extended. Would she cope with working on it alone in her home country? Will they see that as a failure?
I hope not.


Jan said...

From my own experience I'd say that you may not help. This attitude is so ingrained, along with respect for elders and the idea that a teacher must be right and can't be questioned, causes a lot of problems in tertiary institutions here.

Such students and Australian lecturers and teachers have very different opinions on essays, theses, etc. We look for research, ideas, questioning, arguing a point and so on. Very often they are happy to reproduce pages of a quote from a respected author. When called on this as plagiarism, as they are called, they genuinely cannot see what the problem is.

When this is done in hard to read English as you have found, it makes it even harder to deal with.

I did see one lecturer get some results by consistently refusing to mark an essay once he found evidence of this. It would be handed back to be redone. After time, there was occasionally some progress.

I think it's not helped because often large groups of at least one nationality I could name share accommodation. Their cultural attitudes are reinforced by this. The principal of one college refused to allow such students to live like this and boarded them out individually in Australian homes. That helped, but again, only slightly.

It's not the intelligence of the student but the cultural attitude which causes the problem. Add in the well known requirement to do very well to bring honour to their elders and it's a nasty situation.

catdownunder said...

No, probably nothing I can do Jan - really just wanted to vent my frustration as I agree with what you say!