Unequal Learning: Social Transformations and Shifting Paradigms of Learning in China
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CitationXiang, Xin. 2020. Unequal Learning: Social Transformations and Shifting Paradigms of Learning in China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHow do children learn? How do massive social transformations – such as urbanization, marketization and industrialization – shape how learning is organized and what is considered worthy of learning? This dissertation explores these questions through a systematic examination of the changing paradigms of learning in contemporary China. Building on the work of Barbara Rogoff (2014), I construct “paradigm of learning” frameworks to characterize different ways of organizing learning that arise out of particular sets of social, economic and political conditions and have direct implications for the goals and means of learning, the dynamics of interaction, the mode of communication as well as forms of assessment.
Based on ethnographic research in four middle schools serving communities across China’s socioeconomic spectrum, I analyze the rise, fall and evolution of four distinct paradigms of learning: Learning in Family and Communal Endeavors, Learning through Formal Instructions, Learning in Organized Activities, and Learning in Child-Initiated Games. I argue that rapid industrialization and marketization in the past four decades has undermined the foundations of Learning in Family and Communal Endeavors and led to the dominance of exam-oriented Learning through Formal Instructions in modern schools, while commercialization has reshaped the dynamics of Learning in Child-Initiated Games. The emergence of constructivist formal instructions and the rise of Learning in Organized Activities reflects the increasingly global ambitions of the metropolitan middle-class and upper-middle-class and contributes to the production of China’s cosmopolitan elites.
This dissertation broadens the narrow conceptions of learning as the acquisition of cognitive skills prevalent in educational research literature. It demonstrates the need to expand our analysis of educational inequality beyond the dominant metaphors of achievement and attainment gaps to examine different modes of learning and interrogate why certain forms of learning are considered more valuable and legitimate than others. Moreover, this dissertation deepens our understanding of the culture of learning and education beyond oversimplified dichotomies of Eastern-versus-Western, traditional-versus-modern, rural-versus-urban.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365780
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