Presentation at





Bjarne Fjeldsenden, retired associate professor at NTNU


Hofstede defines "Culture as the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another".
He 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.

Gert Hofstede (1980) influential book CULTURES CONSEQUENCES- International Differences in Work-Related Values will be outlined with respect to certain salient points.  He characterized cultures along the following four key elements, or "dimensions"; Power distance, a measure of the inequality between bosses and inferiors, extent to which this is accepted

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

Individualism v. Collectivism, 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 LAT-latitude of the capital city (ibid., p.89). The correlations are based on 40 countries.


1: 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) find correlations between certain types of
mathematical abilities and spatial visualizations.
Field dependent- 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 requirements 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.

2: 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 get recommendations 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 spent more on private tutors to their children than the whole school budget,
an at a visit to Japan a year ago (1999) I heard said that the children probably learnt more from their tutors than they learnt during
school hours.

3: The role of language.
Some will argue that Chinese is better suited for mathematical thinking than English because the number words are shorter than in English
and Malay and there is a more direct relation between the way the digit is spoken and written, i.e. ten-one for 11. ten-two for 12 etc..
Elliot (1991) found that among Singapore children that they remembered best digits read to them in Chinese, both Mandarin and Hokkien,
than English, and better in English than Malay. He attributed it 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) Children in Southeast Asia also learn numbers at an earlier age than children
in the Western world.

4: 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 expect the mastery of 2000 signs, and a university
student are supposed to know around 3000 Kanji out of at least 8000-9000, maybe as many as 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. At bus stations you have to ask or know the starting point of a bus going to a particular
place. They also perform well below Europeans and Americans on a visual test like Ravens Progressive Matrices and spatial tests, while
some school children in Hong Kong did slightly better than English children.

5:What is important for development?
Reich (1991) 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 get more and more global. This is facilitated by ICT.
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.

In Japan more children get a good education and they have a very low crime rate. 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)) seem 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.

What about Norway? Norwegian children get a far less strict upbringing than Ghanaian children (Fjeldsenden 1999) and Norwegians perform
clearly better on Raven Progressive Matrices than Ghanaians. Most Norwegian children have a stimulating environment in pre-school years
but the school system is not giving enough challenge to the gifted children due to the Norwegian equality policy. Children have different potential
for learning and according to the school law education should be given according to the ability of each child. But the law seems to be ignored on
this point. This is a waste of human resources. Also some children with specific needs like dyslectics are not given appropriate education in some
This attitude of equality may also be considered a cultural trait and is applied in such a way that it may be considered a vast of resources and may
effect the future development of Norway in a negative way. People can have equal value even if they have different levels of knowledge and skills.

If a country shall maintain a high living standard it is dependent on a high level of education in its population, and mathematical knowledge is essential
in this context. A technological advanced society needs a substantial number of such people. To obtain this one should look both at the attitude of
parents and educators in relation to child rearing practices, the physical environment of the child and the whole school system. The latter is the
weakest point in my view. The strengths of Norway as I see it is that we stimulate the children in pre-school years, we have good kindergartens
and parents give the children a free upbringing so they dare to do things on their own when they grow up. We have after all quite a few
"Peter Smarts" and many people which have shown initiative in Norway.
Where will US, Europe and Southeast Asia be in 20 years from now? Which factors will be most important for development?
But also within Norway we probably have clear differences, and to illustrate this some quotes will be taken by a well known Norwegian author,
Agnar Mykle.

6: Om folkegrupper i Norge (in Norwegian)
Sunnmøringer og nordlendinger blir beskrevet i Mykles bok Rubicon. Om sunnmøringer sier han; "De er robuste, seige, de synes født med en immunitet mot svakhet." Litt senere; " Han er Norges mest lærenemme mann. Gi en sunnmøring en slåmaskin, et vekkerur, en trikk-han vil på fem ,minutter kunne ta tingen fra hverandre og sette delene riktig sammen." Og noen linjer senere; "Praktisk allsidighet, selvstendig." " ...han forakter en arbeidsdag som ikke inneholder mer enn 8 timer, han ville i en fabrikk sprenge alle akkordsatser, sunnmøringen er fagorganisasjonens skrekk." " På jorden fikk de aldri utløsning for sin foretaksvirksomhet, på jorden var ikke blivende sted for dem. Slik ble i århundrer havet deres felt for aksjon" "Efterhvert ble de de fremste på sjøen, alltid lengst ute, alltid hjem med de største fangstene.
Om nordlendinger: "Når det gjelder et skippertak, når det gjelder roing over kort strekning, kan nordlendingene endog banke sunnmøringene, men da må det stå kvinner i fjæra å heie. Uten kvinnegunst ikke så mye som leer en nordlending på seg. Nordlendingen er Norges drømmer, fantast, flottenheimer. Mon tro om ikke nordlendingen på mange måter, er inkarnasjonen av Norges sjel?"
"Når en sunnmøring kommer hjem fra fisketokt, har han tjent 400 kr. Han setter 400 kroner i banken. Når en nordlending kommer hjem fra tokt, har han tjent 200 kroner. For de 20 kjøper han silkesjal til kjæresten, for de 180 kjøper han wienerbrød! Hans ordspråk er; Man må ha det litt godt her i livet.""
Mykle siterer et ordtak fra Trøndelag; "Du kain spiker en sunnmøring på flate fjøsveggen,-jaggu lev'n og bli feit"
English short version: People from an area called Sunnmøre, south-west of Trondheim, are described as very skillful and enterprising, while people from Nordland, a coastal area north of Trondheim are use what they earn on more immediate needs and are not putting money in the bank.


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

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


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

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

Mykle, Agnar (1965) RUBICON. Gyldendal. Oslo, 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.

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E-mail address:
Mail: Bjarne Fjeldsenden, Fjellveien 3, 3960 Stathelle.
Phone: (47) 35960630, (47) 22101831