Approaches to learning across cultures: The role of assessment

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In the context of a broader research study on the intercultural understanding of teachers in Australia, Japan and Thailand, this paper focuses on approaches to learning and the role of assessment in shaping such approaches. Popular contrasts portray Asian learners as compliant and favouring rote memorisation and Western learners as independent and favouring deep, conceptual learning. Yet Asian students frequently outperform their Western counterparts in competitive tests purported to measure higher cognitive skills. Biggs and his associates have challenged the stereotypical view of Asian students as rote learners as a Western misperception. But data from the present cross-cultural study suggest it is more than a Western misperception, being shared by teachers in Japan and Thailand. With this background, this paper then explores the role of assessment through an analysis of examination papers in the three countries at the high stakes, year 12 level. This analysis of the ways in which knowledge and comprehension are assessed identifies different practices across cultures but not ones corresponding to the rhetoric on contrasting approaches to learning. Rather it concludes that assessment tasks classified superficially as comprehension can be approached through memorisation and conversely, those often classified as memorisation can require careful reading, thought and interpretation, while drawing from an extensive knowledge base. A shared understanding of the nature of assessment tasks in different cultures thus has the potential to dissolve the demarcation of culturally embedded learning styles and to enhance deep learning grounded in specialist knowledge for scholars, be they students or teachers, in all cultures. Copyright © 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-339
JournalAssessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1999


Baumgart, N., & Halse, C. (1999). Approaches to learning across cultures: The role of assessment. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 6(3), 321-339.

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