INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ CRITICAL LITERACY: IS CULTURE A BARRIER TO LEARNING?

A. Hassan, J. Chuah

Universiti Sains Malaysia (MALAYSIA)
Critical literacy refers to language use that examines the ongoing development of the self. Many of us grow up in local cultures set in global context. The traditional East Asian (Confucian philosophies) cultures encourage a reserved attitude to knowledge that is based on a thorough understanding of the work of an expert as opposed to the Western traditions (Socratic) that favour an enquiring mind, critical thinking and questioning. A current Western misunderstanding among university staff and students stem from the belief that East Asian students mainly practice rote-learning methods. The Western perception however, prefer to regard rote-learning as plagiarism and likened it to surface learning, which was deemed as a less effective form of learning. Therefore, this study sought to investigate whether the influence of cultural factors posed a barrier to EFL learning among international students. This study also examined the presence of Critical Literacy in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) performances of East Asian students in Universiti Sains Malaysia. The methodology comprised a demographic questionnaire which was used to gather data on the international students’ cultural and personal backgrounds; an analysis of the students’ critical literacy in their final EFL assessments and focus group interviews with the teachers and students in an intensive EFL programme. Focus group interviews with the students consist of three main sections: general views of learning; expectations regarding types of assessment formats and understanding of plagiarism. Subjects of the study were international students registered in the fourth level of an intensive English programme. The study suggests that culture has a significant influence on EFL learning and to enhance critical literacy amongst international students, institutions of higher learning should intensify their efforts in gearing them towards independent learning.