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Humans adapt to their surroundings. Somewhat simplified one may say that nature is forming culture which again strongly influences child rearing practices which again moulds humans both with respect to personality and cognition. "Human capital" may be a key word. Each human is the building block of society, and the quality of the society depends on each individual.

Gert Hofstede (1980) defines culture as "the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another".

What does "programming of the mind" imply? What conditions, mechanisms and influences are shaping our brain? And what are the consequences of different programs or cultures?

"Hofstede (ibid.) emphasizes that culture is not a property of the individuals, but of groups. Country boundaries are usually cultural boundaries, and national culture is instilled from birth. It has to do with what is considered proper, civilized behavior in that country: It includes for instance how to act towards strangers, colleagues, family; how to address somebody, whether to look them in the face, when to invite them home.

How different are people around the world and along which dimensions can different cultures be characterized? Gert Hofstede (1980) came up with four dimensions and later added one in his influential book CULTURES CONSEQUENCES- International Differences in Work-Related Values.

He characterized cultures along the following four key elements, or "dimensions";

Power distance, a measure of the inequality between bosses and inferiors, the extent to which this is accepted

Uncertainty Avoidance, the degree to which one is comfortable with ambiguous situations, can tolerate uncertainty.

Individualism v. Collectivism, the degree to which one thinks in terms of "I" versus "we", either ties between individuals
are loose or people are part of cohesive in group throughout their lives.

Masculinity v. Femininity. Also known as achievement-versus relationship- orientation - cultures high on masculinity rate achievement
and success more than caring for others and the quality of life.

Later a fifth has been added- Confucian Dynamism -the long or short term orientation of different cultures,
a dimension found in Asian cultures  (via Michael Bond's work, he built on Hofstede and carried out a smaller
study using Chinese cultural values). The countries with the highest long term orientations were China,
Hong Kong,  Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, while countries such as Australia (ranked 15th),
New Zealand (16th),  USA (17th), UK (18th) etc.)"

The individualism v. Collectivism dimension has attracted most attention. Hofstede finds a correlation
of r=0.82 between individualism the way he measured it and GNP-Gross National Product in 1970
(Hofstede 1980, p. 289), and a correlation of 0.68 between GNP and latitude of the capital city
(ibid., p.89). The correlations are based on 40 countries.


Child rearing practices.
Nature forms culture, which strongly influences child-rearing practice, which again moulds humans both with
respect to personality and cognition. Also the type of intelligence we acquire is affected by how the child is
treated. Strict- or overprotective child rearing will put restriction on the child's physical activity and contribute
to a poorer spatial ability (Berry, 1966) which again leads to less well developed capacity to learn mathematics.
(Geary 1994, p. 226). Manger (1997) also finds correlations between certain types of mathematical abilities
and spatial visualizations.
Field dependent v. field independent is another dimensions first introduced by Witkin (1962)  The field
dependent person often comes from stable agricultural societies where compliance with social norms is more
important than independence and initiative. They have generally a strict child rearing practice. The field
independent person often comes from hunters and gatherers and the children encounter few restrictions. One
good example is Berry's (1966) study of Eskimos in Canada and the Temne tribe in Sierra Leone. The Eskimos
performed much better on spatial tests and on Ravens Progressive Matrices, a non-verbal visually based
intelligence test, than the Temne. The environment in which they live makes very different demands on them.
The Eskimos have to navigate over vast distances and need good spatial skills while the Temne live close to
another so they measure the distance from A to B in one, two or three villages.

Attitudes towards education.
People in Southeast Asia seem to value education highly, and they start early stimulating their children. On
Internet one can find tests for pre-school children, and based on this parents or educators get recommendations
about what toys and pedagogical material to buy. Children in this region, which includes Japan, South Korea
and Singapore, do better than European and American children in mathematics and physics. A South Korean
professor said at a conference that parents probably spent more on private tutors for their children than the
whole school budget, and at a visit to Japan in 1999 I heard claims that the children learnt more from their
private tutors in the afternoon than they learnt during school hours.

The role of language.
Some will argue that Chinese is better suited for mathematical thinking than many other languages because
the number words are shorter than in English and Malay. Elliot (1991) found that Singapore children remembered
best digits read to them in Chinese, both Mandarin and Hokkien, than English, and better in English than Malay.
He attributed this to a shorter pronunciation of the Chinese words, which again made it easier to keep more
digits in mind when making calculations. In Ghana children in class 6 and 9 remembered better digits read to
them in English than two local languages, Twi and Ewe (Fjeldsenden 1999)
The way the language in relation to numbers, especially from 11 to 19, is structured may play a role (Geary 1994).
In major Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian, they say "ten-one", "ten two" etc..
This arrangement makes it easier to understand "the ones", "the tens" etc. and their role in calculations.
These languages are more compatible with mathematical thinking.

Visual and auditory societies.
Japan and China may be considered "visual societies". The ideograph script system, like Kanji in Japan,
made up of 214 radicals or basic elements, require good visual discrimination and retention. After primary
school one expects the mastery of 2000 signs, and a university student is supposed to know around 3000
Kanji out of at least 8000-9000, more likely 40.000-50.000. Japanese Kanji was developed from Chinese
and they have a lot in common. Computer programs are available which mark those signs, which are
different in Japanese and Chinese.
Ghana, probably like most African countries, can be characterized as an auditory society. They sing, play
music and dance a lot, but you find very few signs on buses and in public places. In a bus station you have
to ask or know the starting point of a bus going to a particular place.
They also perform well below European and American on a visual test like Ravens Progressive Matrices
and spatial tests, while some school children in Hong Kong did slightly better than English children.

What is important for development?
Reich (1991), a prominent American scholar and politician, argues that what counts for economical
development is the skill and knowledge of the people in any particular place. The nations will play a
smaller role in an economy, which is getting more and more global. ICT-Information and
Communication Technology, facilitates this

What are the strengths and weaknesses of various nations? US is a highly individualistic and dynamic
society with many creative people, but also many who get a poor education and generally little stimulation.
17% are functionally illiterates and 15-20% get an excellent education according to Reich (1991).
Many people end up in prison and large sums are spent on security to avoid being hit by crime.

The Japanese culture:
In Japan more students get a good education and they have a very low crime rate. They seem to work
hard to get into the best universities which again is very important for what positions they can get into.
But when they do get into a university almost all get through. Students sleeping in lectures is quite common
I was told by several students from various parts of the world.
But what about creativity? I once asked a Japanese professor about this, and he answered; "We can be
creative as a group". The book "The knowledge creating company" (Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H. (1994))
seems to support this. One example is how a group of "middle management people", a varied group
consisting of people with experience from many different countries, was told by Honda top executives
to come up with a very different concept of a car. What emerged was "Tall Boy", a car built tall and high.
It was a success according to the book.

Norwegian culture:
What about Norway? We seem to have more in common with US than Japan, but we are even more
different from countries like Venezuela, Peru, Singapore and Thailand which are very low on individualism
and high on power distance. We are moderately high on individualism and rather low on power distance
together with countries like Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Finland and Denmark according to
Hofstede (ibid., p 223)
Education in Norway:
Norway has an ideal of equality which is commendable from many points of view, but when schools don't
differentiate to give every pupil a challenging learning environment according to their capacity, then it is a
waste of human capital. I have talked to several students who have told how boring school was.
One even described it as a torture. I have also, as an expert witness, assessed young grown up dyslectics
who haven't been given a proper special education offer in school.
A paragraph in the Norwegian school law says that children should be given education according to their
needs, but this law is not taken serious. Resources to education in elementary school is the responsibility
of each municipality and the rich ones may use three times as much as the poorest.
It is really surprising that a rich country like Norway, the state has accumulated a great fortune due to
income from  the oil in the North sea, spend so little
on education. PCs and internet connections should be obligatory in every school, the teachers should receive
better pay, but other professions like computer experts should also be allowed into schools. In addition the
schools should be open to late in the evening being a meeting place for parents and others with interests in
education. The schools, but also the universities, should put more emphasis on learning than teaching . Children
in particular, have often an enormous curiosity and would learn a lot by themselves. To communicate with
children in other countries would be an incentive to learn English and perhaps other languages and they would
learn about other cultures.
Norwegian children in elementary school are far behind children in Singapore, South Korea and Japan in
mathematics and physics. Details here .
Education is the key to progress. Why are the Norwegian politicians so blind?

Economists are the most influential group in relation to politicians and indirectly with respect to resource
allocations, but their models and theories seem to have difficulty in predicting long term development. One
example can be found in a B.A. honors thesis by Ingrid Fjeldsenden. (1998) which compares the development
in Malaysia and Thailand using a regression model by Barro and Lee (1994) and Barro and X. Sala-I-Martin (1995).
The regression is computed on the basis of a sample of 118 developing countries in the world, and out of that
they try to find out which variables have been important for economic growth in the different countries.

Asian Development Bank (1997?) has written a document called " BookinProgress ". It focuses on what may be
called human capital with emphasis on learning and development. A link from the document above is called "
Architecture of learning " The same article also mentions that learning can be linked to the pursuit of at least four
types of goals:

What sort of development do we want?
We may ask questions like what sort of society do we have, and what sort of society do we want, and what
do we have to do to obtain this. More about this can be found at  (in Norwegian)
Kulturens rolle for kunnskapstilegnelse .

The four goals just mentioned may be part of the answer. Sustainable growth may be another key word,
which implies both population control and constrains on energy use because they contribute to pollution
and emission to the atmosphere of harmful gases. Education and freedom of expression may be considered
essential for human development.

Concluding remarks.
Awareness and knowledge about how culture, through child rearing practices, the school system
and numerous other ways, mould us, can contribute to development in whatever directions we
choose. Politicians and influential people are thinking mostly in economical terms, and insight
into learning processes may contribute significantly to that. But perhaps it is even more important
to ask what type of development do we want having in mind future generations.


Asian development Bank 1997?). Book in Progress .

Asian Development Bank 1997?). Architecture of learning.

Fjeldsenden, B. (1999) Architecture of Learning
is an edited version

Berry, J. W.: Temne and Eskimo skills. International J. of Psychol ., 1966, 2 207 - 229.

Elliot, J.M. (1991) Is Language Important in Mental Arithmetic? Singapore Journal of Education, 11, No 2, 35-44

Fjeldsenden, B. (1999)  Kulturens betydning for kunnskapstilegnelse (in Norwegian)


-the past and the future
Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

Fjeldsenden, B (2000)  Hva påvirker intelligensen

Geary, D.C. (1994) Children's Mathematical Development. American Psychological Association

Hofstede, Gert (1980) Cultures Consequences. Sage Publications.

Manger, T. ( 1997) Gender differences in mathematical achievement among Norwegian elementary
school students. Ph.D. thesis. Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway

Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H. (1994). ‘The knowledge-creating company’. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reich, R. (1991) The Work of Nations. Preparing ourselves for 21th Century Capitalism  ISBN 82-417-0230-2

Witkin (1962), H.A., Dyk, R.B.,Faterson,H.F., Goodenough, D.R. & Karp, S.A. Psychological differentiation.
London: Wiley.

Last revision:  April 06. 2001