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Supportive Culture of Learning May Fail Academically: Example from Middle East

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Metaphor of the woven blanket, that keeps everybody together-- Marie Theres LeRoux on teacher expectations & student achievement in Oman graduate schools

 by Kevin Stoda

Below is a selection from "Stories About Teaching Overseas:  Educators Talk About Adjustment to Oman"(2011) by JonLee Joseph and published in Salalah College of Technology English Language Centre Journal (1:1) 73-86.

The article focuses on how foreign teaching staff adapt to life and work in Oman, a new society for them.  This particularly part of an interview is with Marie Theres LeRoux from South African.  While in Oman Marie attended a graduate program with a British university.  In her oral interview with JonLee Joseph, Marie shares the following insight on teacher expectations and student achievement.

"The Leeds University presents a[n] M.A. program for Omani students at Majan University in Muscat.  The group of students that I'm with are mostly Omanis, actually maybe fifteen Omanis, and four from other countries.  Being a student in this group--at first I came into the group, and I found it was completely unlike any academic setting I have ever seen.  The amount of support between the students was tremendous!  It's like you're part of this woven blanket, that keeps everybody together.   You miss a class--somebody's got the handouts for you. 

"We had an on-line network where we were communicating with each other as well, because people don't see each other for six months.  People were really making an effort to take care of each other, especially from a social and emotional kind of side.  Academically, there was very little of substance going on.  I found this a little bit disconcerting and disappointing.  We could be exchanging a great amount of information that could help us with class studies, but I didn't see very much of that.  What I did see was plenty of, 'Well how's the new baby?'  And all of this, which really built this structure of caring between the people, but not much exploitation of the academic side.

"So, the episode that I would think of that was really interesting--we had differenet tutors coming in one by one, and the students would talk about, 'Well, how was the tutor?'  And 'How do you find the work?'  And for most of the students there, it's still their second language, they're really struggling with the materials, but they need a lot of meditation to actually come to grips with the materials.

"How their tutor would present their material was a very big factor for them.  And then there were workshops and there were group assignments.  And then there were long boring lectures;  I just lap it up. And everybody else complained.

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"The third (tutor) was luminary, and he told us that he'd been to Oman to teach twenty-five times.  And, I could really see, that he was presenting material in a way that would be digestible to the students here.  He knew that when students come to class, they will not have done the readings.  So, he didn't assume that (they would).  Every other tutor until that point had assumed--wrongly--that the students would come to class prepared.  Then students wouldn't do the reading and everything would collapse."




In one part of her interview with JonLee, Marie shares an insight into how Omani students expect a good community of students to function: For each person involved in the group or class, "[i]t's like you're part of this woven blanket, that keeps everybody together."

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The first thing I think of when I hear the phrase "woven blanket, that keeps everybody together" is that this is a lot like "culture" in its purest sense. One definition of culture is "a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture."  From a developmental point of view, we can perceive how a culture made up of Omani students behave at this time in history by looking at Marie's narration. 

Another definition of culture is "the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture." In reference to this second definition, we observe that "the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group" in Marie's narration of her graduate school experience in Oman include:

(1)     One does not read the material before the lecture.

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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