Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory focused on the affect of the surroundings, namely the culture, peers, and adults, on the developing child. Vygotsky proposed the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) to explain the influence of the cultural context. ZPD refers to the range of tasks which a child cannot finish alone since they are too difficult, but such tasks can be completed with guidance and aid from more-skilled individuals.
The lower limit of ZPD is the level of skill that the children can reach alone, and the upper limit of ZPD is the level of skill that the children can reach with guidance from a more skilled individual, such as teachers, parents and more-skilled peers. Imagine a child is having difficulty writing book reports. With suitable aid from teachers and parents, this child can improve in writing book reports and eventually he/she can finish a detailed book report after reading on his own.
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In this example, the upper limit of the ZPD is to finish a book report and the assistance provided by the adults is called scaffolding. The assistance provided by the more-skilled individuals will act as a scaffolding to help the children to develop into their upper limit of ZPD. As the children are making progress, the assistance will gradually reduce and removed when the children can complete the task in their upper limit of ZPD on their own. Vygotsky also emphasized on the importance of language in a child’s development.
The use of language by children to self-regulate is called private speech. According to Vygotsky, private speech, which Piaget deemed egocentric and immature, is crucial during early childhood years as children use it for planning, guiding and monitoring their actions and help them finish tasks. Vygotsky suggested that children who use private speech will be more socially competent as children must be experienced in using language to communicate with others before making the transition from external to internal speech.
In the past, the main emphasis of education of Hong Kong is to get good grades in public exams, as they provide more opportunity towards success. This results in schools focusing on instructing knowledge to students like feeding chickens in a farm and doesn’t really care whether the students understand the knowledge instructed or not. This exam-oriented style of education ignores the students’ development as a whole, and generates many graduates with good grades in school and struggled in workplace.
The old educational style of Hong Kong seems not to fit with Vygotsky’s theory. Nowadays, the emphasis of education in Hong Kong seems to be starting to shift from instructing knowledge to assisting students to construct knowledge. As teachers will not only instruct knowledges, but also guides students in finishing tasks such as laboratory exercises and group projects. This implies the ZPD as teachers will now try to dig students’ potential and help students to reach them. Peer mentors are also very common in secondary schools nowadays.
Senior form students will volunteer or be recruited by teachers to assist junior form students to finish assignments or group projects. Cross-age mentoring is more common than same-age mentoring. Same-age mentoring will only occur in class, as students with better understanding on the subject will help explain the concepts to other students and assist them in finishing in-class assignments. The peer mentors are suggested to adjust the amount of guidance according to the progress of the tutees.
This implies the scaffolding concept and that culture is important in learning as the tutees are making progress, the peer mentors will reduce the amount of assistance by allowing the tutee to think on his own. Also, the mentors can act as a guide to the tutees so that the tutees can learn from both the teachers and peer mentors. This can also stimulate thinking and the mentors can learn from tutoring as well. The idea of private speech is not very popular in Hong Kong, as children exercising it will be deemed stupid and immature, and parents will feel embarassed and think their children have mental issues.
In Hong Kong, a “good” child should be quiet when working. Therefore, the use of private speech when working on tasks are not encouraged. Students in Hong Kong are now encouraged to take part in various activities such as field trips and museum visits. These activities implies the key concept of Vygotsky’s theory: the importance of culture in learning by creating simulations of real-world circumstances and help students to construct the knowledge the teacher desired.
However, such activities are not very popular among Hong Kong students as they tend to think such activities as a waste of time and money. In Hong Kong, the culture emphasizes on creating good results with the least effort. This results in students attending expensive tutorials just to get desired grades and attend desired universities. It seems to me that all the effort from the Education Bureau and schools to turn an instructive, exam-oriented education ystem to a more constructive, all-rounded system are ineffective as the students consider this as redundant. It’s very common for students in Hong Kong to say things like “I prefer past papers to field trips” as past paper will help students get good grades but field trips won’t. To conclude, implications of Vygotsky’s theory can be found in traditional schools in Hong Kong. In my opinion, the key concept of Vygotsky’s theory and other social constructivists’ theory is to stimulate thinkning and construct knowledge through sociocultural activities.
This can definitely help students to develop a better understanding of knowledge and stimulate all-round development as a person. However, the education system in Hong Kong, even with addition of elements to exercise Vygotsky’s theory, is still very exam-oriented. This is mainly due to the reluctance of the students and teachers. As students find these additions of elements redundant and a waste of time, some teachers may also find these additional workload is tiring and ineffective.