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A contradiction of the rise and set of the sun-based Eastern and Western Education experience

By Sibusiso R Bakana

On Tuesday 11th of June 2019, around lunch time in China, we realised that the breakfast news in South Africa was about the amaBhungane writing about a Malawian experience in a Chinese university as an ordeal.

This came to attention and the article went viral as several WeChat messages were popping as an exchange of opinions amongst South African students, some questioning the authenticity of the articles, others in defence of the Chinese educational system. While others are agreeing with the Malawian experience as a similar case. Amidst all the different opinions and while I was following the comments, I opted for writing this short experience that can be an addition to the current discussion between the eastern and western power struggle.

After the almost two years of studying in China, it was going to be better if I could have expressed this writing in Chinese, but unfortunately my strong educational background is still westernised and I can articulate better in English than mandarin, as I grow in it.
There is a huge difference between this educational system as can be observed during graduation ceremonies. Those who have a westernised background will continue to wear extravagant attire during their graduation and as for the Chinese it is different as they attend their graduation wearing shorts and sandals. This should be a lesson and a half already.

Africa’s background of colonisation marks a huge symbol at this level as most of its native’s upbringing, particularly in education, is influenced by the western culture (from former principals). During our first grade in primary school, we learned the English language but were never taught jargon of a specific domain, while when such jargon is explained, we could easily understand it, and that’s a principle I guess which applies to all languages.

Firstly, in language schools, we have to learn the basics of the language so we can easily comprehend other advancing terms associated with such language and that is not easy. In Malawi, I guess, they too are not immune from these principles; taking for instance the biological science term “photosynthesis” was never learned in an English class but as jargon for biological science as a domain, while it was understood after a process of understanding the English language. Likewise in Chinese language, jargon used in Chemical engineering will not be the same as that taught in basic Chinese, but basic Chinese will be laying a foundation in understating jargon to be used in different domains. In attempts to adjust to the Eastern way of life, foreign students should minimize complaints about not being taught such jargon in basic Chinese classes.

In Beijing from Monday to Monday in a famous Sanlutin area where most of the high class night clubs are situated, you will see foreigners either being customers or working in those clubs as promoters. This for obvious reasons, to make quick cash and as customers because entertainment is cheap (alcohol and entertainment is cheaper for foreigners in Beijing). The majority of these clubs patrons’ is constituted by foreign students, while their Chinese counterparts are in laboratories and lecture rooms figuring out how to better themselves.

There are foreign students, particularly from Africa, who speak Chinese fluently and still pass well as their majors are in Chinese. Possibly we need to understand how they do it. Chinese language is like any other language, if not given attention it won’t be known and one will always blame the system.

A Brazilian philosopher Paulo defines education as an exchange of narration from the teacher and the student, where both learn from each other and there is no one with higher wisdom of knowing but both learn as is a process and disregard the certificated educational system. I think the Chinese are leaning towards Paulo, while there is still that authoritarian as from their culture, where a teacher is respected and should be obeyed, but the processes of each one teaches one is observed.

Due to our upbringing and the norms of western culture and etiquette we should not confuse that with the Chinese etiquette; because that is like disputing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We could however follow the famous saying that “when in Rome, you have to do what Romans do, “ like in China, we have to do what Chinese do, learn hard and smart. Chinese pride themselves in their language because that’s where their culture evolves.

Sibusiso R Bakana is a PhD candidate at Beihang University, China and South African Diplomatic Society Representative in China. He writes in his personal capacity



October/November 2019











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