Cultural Traditions as a Component of Teacher Education

22. November, 2001


Irēna Žogla

Ziņojums konferencē Veidojot pilsonisko kultūru Centrālās un Austrumeiropas valstīs,2001. gada 19. - 21. novembrī

Teacher education under the impact of global cooperation undergoes two strong influences: one is brought to the country by issues in the dominating foreign languages, that represent philosophical, theoretical and methodological ideas; the other one is deeply rooted in national traditions, value system, and meets the need for national identity. The object of this research is interaction of the two tendencies in teacher education.

The goal of the research: to identify the relationship between the approaches and educational models that come to the country on the background of global cooperation on the one hand, and national educational traditions within the pedagogical reality – on the other.

This article (actually it should be treated as a draft of several ideas to be approbated for possible future investigation) is based on some touches to the problems and comprises several ideas, that appeared on the background of the theoretical analysis, facts from the archive documents, observation done by the eye of a professional and verification of these ideas during discussions with teachers.

The sample consists of 423 teachers studying toward the master’s degree in education, and teacher’s higher professional education leading to the diploma of pre-school and primary school teacher. Quantitative and qualitative analysis was done on the background of the findings got by questionnaires, observation, case studies, activity and attitude reports of both teachers and teacher educators. These tools were used to characterize teachers’ knowledge and attitude towards national context both in teacher education and school curriculum, influence of the global and European processes, implementation of the both contexts in teaching-studying-learning.

Introduction. The history of Latvia is a vivid witness of constant vast changes within the ethnic groups, which inhabit the territory as well as the culture of the nation nowadays. Our ancestors experienced constant invasion to different parts of our territory during the last millennium. The main reason was our geographic position. Some of the invaders used to stay there for several centuries: German (all sort of interests – merchants, priests, crusaders, fascists, and highly cultured people), Russian (several times with the main aim to open the window to Europe, to escape from pursuit for religious orientation, then to build socialism, simply vagabonds and highly educated people especially qualified in technique), Swedish (with their interests to spread their influence over the territories, the Swedish priests are the first invaders who are known as educators of the peasants in the far remote areas of the occupied territory), Polish (strengthened catholicism) etc. Latvians are scattered over the world due to many decisive curves of the history.

We are lucky to state that our ethnic culture has survived till nowadays in spite of the complicated history of this territory and people. Our ethnic groups since their early days have developed and preserved a unique phenomenon of both our national culture and contribution to that of the world – dainas, Latvian folk songs, very short ones (usually quatrains) which reach many thousands in number. It is said that they are a way how our people during the long-lasting occupation expressed their sense of freedom, moral values, preserved and developed traditions, shared their protest to oppression etc. One of the main values of this heritage is the ideas of education – actually a full set of national pedagogical traditions, a complete well structured folks pedagogy.

The essence of pedagogical culture. The notion comprises historically developed and concrete context of shared among professionals knowledge on education, views and beliefs of good up-bringing and personal development facilitated by organized teaching-learning, views both of a productive pedagogical process and its results, that create a certain quality of the pedagogical reality (Kolesnikova I.). Pedagogical culture is a component of the national culture and together with the latter it interrelates with the pedagogical culture both in Europe and the world. It develops under the influence of and in the context with the wider social processes, first of all political and economical – it depends on them and contributes to their development.

Pedagogical culture as a process in its development is open to the processes in the world together with the activities of the government and also independently. Even during the period of a closed society the scientists of our country, pedagogues included, used to keep in touch (though often in a limited way) with the colleagues abroad. It allowed us to share the ideas, enrich our pedagogical views alongside with the development of our national pedagogical traditions.

The last decade, the period of independence, is a specific one in the history of our pedagogy: a large number of literature on and in education is brought to the country, often without introductory comments, belonging to different educational theories and quite different traditions and social context. First of all two large actual pedagogical cultures meet here – Anglo-American and European, mainly German. Besides our pedagogy used to develop under a strong influence of the Russian approach and traditions for many decades of the last century. Table 1 is an attempt to illustrate it (it should be treated as an approximate reflection of the tendencies).

The peculiarity of this period – a vast and very rapid introduction of a large number of approaches, ideas, solutions (usually of a concrete pedagogical culture that has slight or even total discrepancy with the national one). The problem is caused not by the influences themselves, but by the speed they enter our pedagogical reality. We can observe several different outcomes:

  • Rapid and vast scale enrichment of the pedagogical reality in our country, its development in the context of the European and global tendencies. It is reached both by the access to publications and scientists’ and professionals’ activities in different international associations and research projects. Bilateral contacts with the universities are created to develop research, students’ and educators’ exchange etc.
  • Fractioned theories and experiences are brought to the country and introduced into the pedagogical reality of all levels of education. Quite often the consequences are different from the expected ones, naive interpretation and expectations lead to collapsed enthusiasm and lost illusions. Mechanistic introduction without deep analysis lead to a large extent of failures.
  • Vast changes in the social sphere open the curtain to the usually slow and invisible processes, fasten them and make vivid, easy to observe, analyse and evaluate. This observation is the main reason of the investigation and article.

Decisive social changes, crises and caused by them lost illusions and expectations urge people to look for a solution – in their religious activities, by tracing ones ethnic roots and thus better understanding of self-, by returning to cultural traditions and national values to update them in the educational programmes etc. These are some of the processes our country experiences while being in transition to a democratic society.

In this context the idea of reconsideration and updated evaluation of the periods in the development of pedagogical culture is actualized.

The history of ideas and education comprises different and entirely opposite views on the matter, especially on the development of a person: tabula rasa (from Aristoteles to J.Lock) and decisive teachers’ activity to fill in the blanks, free development and free education (from absolutization till scientifically based facilitation of ones free development), the way of searching the truth and overcoming errors (M.Haideger), the ideas of repeated stages of the mankind development in a man’s individual development that initiate the educators to follow these stages in the curriculum etc.

The school works for the future of its pupils, which is hardly to be defined in precise knowledge and skills or other personal qualities. Thus the problem of the updated background knowledge and skills as well as developed abilities for life-long self-education is one of the most actual pedagogical problems. It belongs to the qualities of the actual pedagogical culture and is clear in general, though it is difficult to define its solution in a concrete pedagogical reality. Features of the society of information and knowledge is not defined in pedagogical terms yet. There are some hints about the models of teaching-learning as research based education, discovery learning, activity based models etc., though they do not cover the large variety of the real pedagogical reality that have to address a certain quality of the educational goals. The approaching pedagogical culture has common background for many actual cultures on the world, and its essence might appear as a cross-cultural phenomenon.

What is man and mankind, how human beings develop, what is the essence of this development, who has created a man? Is the creator God or the Nature is the divine creator? Who is a man then – a living being on the highest stage of the development or it is only a self-definition?

Decisive situations in the history of the mankind prompt, that people use to look for the divine starting point to coat our being into something that is beyond the human comprehension and thus stands higher than a man is able to interfere with or predict. The holy secret stands beyond the man and thus regulates his life and predicts moral values, initiates reflection and on the background of this function facilitates his self-development.

Might be the man himself has created the idea about the holy Creator to keep the criteria outside the control of his mind – in the sphere of belief. The answers to these questions are the subject of another sciences, though education cannot develop its theoretical systems and practical solutions without answers to these questions.

There is a non-stop process of choice between the pragmatic approach to education and education as value exchange, Geisteswissenschaftlichen Erziehung in German.

Pedagogical culture and pedagogical reality of a society in transition have a common peculiar feature – exaggeration of interpretations and found solutions. Quite often it appears in educational policy, both in strategic planning and everyday choice. We used to live in a society with only one ruling ideology, and it was easy to create a pedagogical system within this framework. Democracy is diverse, that is why education in our situation makes its democratic way so difficult. It is not difficult to admit and accept new ideas, the most complicated is just refusal from the old and habitual float of things, even professional beliefs. There is a difference in understanding of the necessity of democratic changes, and even the essence of them on the one hand, and recognition and choice of the right steps in our concrete pedagogical reality towards democracy. In other words – the pedagogical reality changes slower than other social processes do: teachers have to comprehend, recognize, analyse their own activities according to new criteria and reflect and evaluate the outcomes. Quite often it means to refuse from ones self in the past or addressing the past to define the essence of education and pedagogical culture nowadays.

This was the reason of this reflection on the former stages of the development of pedagogical culture, which exists in different dimensions – millennium and century, ethnic group and nation, global and local, institutional and individual etc.

Historical development of pedagogical culture.

Pre-pedagogical education – natural and direct way of value exchange. Shared information as a background of individual knowledge is denoted by the life itself, by the primary need to survive and exist. The main criterion of knowledge and skills – ability to meet actual practical necessity, immediate application dominates and it does not demand serious changes to adjust Nature itself – people adjust to the Nature. Reflection is not necessary or its functioning is limited by a sort of a natural experiment, imitation. Educational ideas are not generalized. Experience by doing constitutes the background of the folk pedagogy. Family and the way it lives is the only educator, it creates norms to transfer experience to the younger generation.

There is nothing new or unknown, and the study course on folk pedagogy used to be as one of several courses that comprise the professional programme, till the teachers themselves noticed, that in the large stream of the foreign pedagogical literature with a lot of approaches, theories and models they felt themselves at a loss. Observations and discussions with teachers confirmed the anticipated stability of the roots, the primary experience of up-bringing, basis of the folk pedagogy.

The student teachers confirmed their rising interest in the folk pedagogy with the aim to interpret and better understand the ideas, that have come from abroad. It seems that folk pedagogy as a component of the actual pedagogical culture adds to its reality, meets the needs of the teachers, parents and pupils and is related to the feeling of stability at least in the periods characterized by rapid change.

Traditional education, reproductive pedagogical culture is characterized by norms of organized education. Up-bringing and education in general constitute one of the man’s activities with specific aims, professionals able to carry out the aims. Information and value exchange is conveyed to the younger generation by specially for it trained specialists. A certain amount of special knowledge is created and selected to differentiate education and thus decide for its un-equality, which is usually connected with alienation as a possibility. Pedagogy as a transformation science serves for it, and the possibility that one and the same pedagogical system of a teaching-learning model produces different or quite opposite results. In education there predominate descriptive and interpretive models-methods, that are based on information about values, created by generations culture to be transformed and forwarded to the learners, who are mainly in the role of observers.

Several models are introduced to make pedagogical reality diverse (will be mentioned later).

These conclusions are based on the analysis of the current situation as well as evaluation (by the teachers) ability of the theories of education to solve the actual problems, related to the growing amount of information to be processed.

Open borders, growing migration, economical and political contacts, transnational or global organizations contradict (from slight to destructive) to local ethnic-based understanding of values, cultural settings and structures that usually appear to be more transnational due to their essence and functions than local and ethnic. Rapid introduction of global activities are often comprehended as both a sort of contradiction between national and global values and as values to be introduced immediately. The subject of discussions among teachers and students is quite often related to this problem. It is even more actualized by the peculiarities of our pedagogical reality: our families are used to share the educational tasks between the family and school, and the school is obliged to deal with the value education alongside with the family. It is unacceptable that our school deals only with knowledge and skills. That is why our understanding of education is much closer to that of German and Russian than Anglo- American. Though the majority of literature that enters the country is in English.

One could expect that normative, traditional pedagogy can help the educators reach the desired results. Observation and discussions with the teachers lead to a conclusion, that the period of transition and rapid social changes caused by this process makes the feeling of pedagogical crisis grow. The existing pedagogical theories in this social reality cannot help the educators solve the sharp problems they have to face, they do not meet all the expectations of the teachers.

Though normative pedagogy is usually considered to represent a higher level of pedagogical culture than the folk pedagogy, the latter gains additional votes and its popularity grows. It is less criticized than the traditional pedagogy: folk pedagogy has reached its goal and met the needs of the civilization of that time, it used to be a part of the culture and besides it functioned as a set of pedagogical ideas in the past (we do not experience its actual limitations); future pedagogical visions are less criticized because they are not a pedagogical reality yet – it is still to come and its promising possibilities attract hopes and expectations of the professionals. Thus the actual reality undergoes severe critics. It is criticized for being too limited (often because all of them are not learned by teachers and thus cannot help them), for being regulated by the state and other political structures, for standards of education and the official procedure of evaluation etc.

Though the dominating attitude of the teachers support the changes and obtained opportunities, quite often teachers with a portion of nostalgia complain – the government cares less of education if compared to that of a totalitarian system (then it was easier to reach the goal within definite frames and following strictly defined norms).

Society of knowledge and information is coming to initiate a new pedagogical culture. It is easy to foresee that an individual would hardly be able to process the growing amount of information and besides acquire values to remain a human being. Information processing becomes more and more alien to an individual and mediated by the processing machines. Shall we be able to create a pedagogical culture and pedagogical reality good for value acquisition in balance with ones knowledge and responsibility for the possible consequences of our activities. How shall we define the outcomes of education and knowledge in particular – mainly as information and its usage or mainly as moral responsibility? Besides we have to take into consideration that man has created technical devices able to process information much faster than man’s individual brain does it, than man’s understanding and responsibility develops.

A stage of the normative, traditional education constitutes what in German is called Geisteserziehung and has no corresponding notion in English (something between spiritual and intellectual education/development). It is in a way opposite to pragmatic education, and comprises development of critical thinking, free development of the potential abilities of a child.

Traditional, reproductive, normative pedagogy is to be developed into the creative pedagogical culture – another stage of its development with highly reflective individuals (Kolesnikova I.). Holistic, integrated and at the same time versatile view on man, mankind, world, space is necessary to overcome the limited character of pedagogy and understanding of human development – characteristics of an entirely new quality, that might provide inner forces for a man to survive, live, be happy.

One more conclusion that is based on this analysis: education is going to be entirely humane and humanistic – in the sense of being with these qualities instead of having them (Fromm E.).

Education during the long history of this phenomenon has had and is still having several functions, one of them is to transfer cultural values both by the content of teaching-learning or education in general and by the quality education itself comes to be a reality. Relation to both national and global culture appears in the personal culture of teachers and their students. The latter perceive better what meets their needs and is supported in their families. Thus culture as a component of teaching-learning in a specific way appears in all the components of this process (for the summary of this introduction to research of culture as a component of education within a society in transition the views of several authors are used – Wagner R., Bohme G., Hurrelmann U., Kule M., Kolesnikova I.):

  • culture – a quality of social development, it is inherited from generation to generation by education (school, life itself, contacts with people etc.);
  • concrete population though in contacts with other areas use to live in their natural and social environment with specific features of their culture, which is protected to some extent by education (ethnic, national, language, other local peculiarities), and education aims at such general goals as survival, welfare, creation of appropriate background for prosperous life of future generation;
  • at the same time education is a way cultural values are enriched by introduction of the cultural values of other nations or those that are recognized as general human values, and the acceptance of values is measured by the actual need of identity;
  • the stronger is the feeling of loosing ones ethnic or national identity, the higher is the activity of the community to protect their cultural values, the larger is the desire to define particular educational aims to protect and preserve them;
  • verbal and non-verbal symbols comprise the content of teaching-learning according to the dominating (or recognized as such) cultural values and they are oriented to the ability of the learners to acquire them, use symbols in thinking, to vary language and its expressiveness, make use of other products of a cultured man’s activity, communicate, produce and process information etc. that is common to homo sapiens;
  • man’s activity interferes with the nature and changes the environment, but the activity of a cultured man is characterized by responsibility of preserving the environment – this ability can be reached by education (family, school, community etc);
  • common human values within a concrete culture exist in the specific for the local culture forms, which can display a vast scale diversity both in details and philosophical approaches, therefore the values of one cultural setting can appear as destructive for the other one and cause the feeling of discomfort, especially if religious beliefs are concerned;
  • exchange of cultural values expands due to the global co-operation, but this process cannot be too fast (the case of the societies in transition after the Soviet Union collapsed) to mach the speed of the changes in people’s beliefs and let people adopt to the changes to avoid destructive outcomes of the process – education can soften the process by the component of culture in the curriculum.

Both the subject matter and the way global tendencies are introduced by education are historically concrete and related to the local culture. Changes in education of the societies in transition coincide with the already appearing features of the information and knowledge society, it makes the process both more complicated and challenging. Within the pedagogical culture, which is based on normative theories, pedagogical reality appears in several characteristic ways (some of them coincide with the pedagogical paradigms). It depends on the basic factor, which keeps the components of the pedagogical process in a functioning system:

  • Process with the child in the centre is characterized by its background criteria – free individual development of a child. All the other components (teacher’s activity, methods, organization, arrangement of the subject matter etc.) are subordinate to the needs and possibilities of the child as far as the culture of the period allows to. As child-centred this process exists within the social environment and culture in the status of an opposition to the dominating normative process – an island in the wide world (Campanella, Rousseau, Montessory etc.). Pedagogical process already by its nature needs purposeful activities to become a reality, a child-centred process needs efforts of a special quality to maintain and preserve its functioning.
  • Teacher-centred process covers a vast range of specific qualities – from authoritarian teachers and their dictatorship to the democratic and humanistic ones with a high respect to their students. Quite often such a process leaves behind its century and mass experience.
  • Subject matter is in the centre, and teachers address their efforts to cover the information.
  • Ruling policy oriented pedagogical process usually becomes a reality in totalitarian systems. The government creates structures to work out regulations and control education according to the official standards. The system can be highly productive as to a part of the population, people who like to follow strict prescriptions. The mutual relations are vertical, though within one school with highly collaborative stuff democratic relations are also possible.
  • On cooperation and interactive functioning based pedagogical process is characterized by horizontal mutual relations and follow high respect to the needs of both the students and teachers. Activities are deliberately harmonized, free development of students is the dominating aim, the process is humane. It facilitates self-development of the students’. Innovations are the criteria of the pedagogical process and background of quality of education. This pedagogical reality can be considered as an attempt to introduce the next stage of the pedagogical culture.

The findings of the research also indicated that teachers’ attitude towards innovations of the national teacher education programmes and school curriculum is positive, though it differs between the rural (national culture dominates) and urban (more open to global cooperation) population. It is followed by a certain difference in teachers’ and parents’ views on global influence and subjects their children have to learn: parents become concern of the possibilities for their children to get a job; teachers are open to innovations though sometimes it is difficult to recognize them in their everyday routine.

A significant positive correlation was stated between teachers’ education both academic and professional, and the quality aspects of teaching-studying-learning both as to the national context and global influences. Students of the master programme are more aware of the theoretical approaches and methodological diversity in education. Master students’ respect to the national traditions and the ways they are inherited is more vivid if compared to that of the students of the professional programmes. The first ones are looking for sound pedagogical knowledge and understanding to integrate novelties and the national traditions of education, while the students who follow the professional programmes are more willing to collect technologies and practical issues, and are less particular about their origin.


a) several ways of integration between global influences in education and national traditions are possible on the background of common values;

b) the teacher education curriculum should comprise three components to reach the goal – two of them refer to teacher education (educational theories, methodologies, philosophical approaches – cross-cultural), one can be called teacher training and it comprises concrete technologies (related to national culture, establishing links between the cross-cultural and national components);

c) due to the differences in national traditions, language structures and its cultural background as well as the social processes and educational policy in different countries philosophical approaches to education and its theoretical assumption is represented by different content of pedagogical categories, and they can hardly be completely compared or borrowed without the appropriate analysis;

d) there is a tendency of the English language domain that brings about tradition based concepts and ideas of education, and that causes in its turn a need of deep comparative research to develop cross-cultural cooperation in teacher education. raksts

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