Week #4: Cultural Context

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Genista

Tohm Curtis

Sorry a little long this week, but it’s complicated.

An amusing thing happened in today’s lecture, my lecturer apologised. Not to me, but to the student that emailed him in the previous week asking ‘How many decimal places do we need to calculate to?’

By the lecturer’s account he responded ‘We don’t really care, the important thing is that you demonstrate your workings and thinking and understand WHAT to do, not how many decimal places.’ Apparently this wasn’t a sufficient answer, which resulted into a prolonged exchange of heated emails insisting on the number of decimal places vs. the understanding what the subject is about.

Eventually (again according to the lecturer’s narrative) he relented and told the student to ‘place it to 10 decimal places.’ Which apparently made the student very happy and he went away.

I told you that so I could talk about this: Economics and Finance student population is dominated by High Context Cultures.

High Context Cultures emphasise the Group over the Individual. Being right or wrong thus fades in comparison to being with the majority. High context cultures are generally patriarchal, vertical in organisation and emphasise filial piety, precedent and compliance.

Hence the student thinking the number of decimal places was somehow important.

Its pure speculation on my part (the sheer number of students from High Context Cultures make it probable) but I suspect they stressed over the fact because at some point in their student career they were penalised for using 2 decimal places instead of 4. And probably not for any good reason, but simply because that’s the way the teacher told them (or didn’t, just expected) it to be done.

I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure, is that the lack of scepticism from the high context culture students (learning is all in the context of passing assessment, not necessarily rendering any useful service to a client one day) can lead to them dogmatically replicating errors that were taught to them via Neoclassical Economics. Just think that they may well be running the Central Banks of our major trading partners one day.

On balance though, at least High Context Cultures are getting their Education from Lecturers from Low Context Cultures. This can at least promote an alternate approach to learning for them.

Alas I had a different lecturer make a rudimentary error converting a fraction to a decimal. (They changed ½ to 0.2 between lines) I didn’t honestly believe she was that stupid, and thus a relatively harmless mistake, but at each elbow of me was a student dogmatically taking the notes like dictation. It could cause a speedhump to revising before their exams when they try to mechanically reproduce it.

I have some mathematical ‘sticklers’ I inherited from my high school teachers, like 1/3 is an actual value, where 0.33 is not 1/3 so I prefer to leave my numbers expressed as fractions, and ‘pi’ as ‘pi’ and so fourth. A lot of simple but stupid errors occur when switching between fractions and decimals. So I asked my teacher if we could leave our answers expressed as fractions, ‘e’, ‘pi’ etc. and still get full marks. The answer from this lecturer ‘No you have to put it into fractions to get full marks’ when I asked ‘Why?’ the answer was ‘that’s just how we do it.’

Can you guess which lecturer takes Economics and which lecturer takes Finance?

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