1st Academic International Conference â€˜Exploring Leadership & Learning Theories in Asiaâ€™ (ELLTA) (ELLTA 2011)
Venue: Asia- Europe Institute
|Event Date/Time: Feb 15, 2011||End Date/Time: Feb 18, 2011|
|Registration Date: Oct 15, 2010|
|Early Registration Date: Jul 31, 2010|
|Abstract Submission Date: Mar 31, 2010|
|Paper Submission Date: Dec 15, 2010|
The core emphasis of the conference is on understanding Asian perspectives on leadership and learning. Leadership and learning, like various other concepts, are often viewed/ treated as global. Similar tendency is observed in case of â€˜organizational learningâ€™ and â€˜learning organizationâ€™, which have also been approached in terms of general theories. However, the majority of these theories which claim to have global application originates in different parts of the Western world (see, e.g. Dimmock, 1999; Easterby-Smith & Araujo, 1999). This raises an important concern: Is it wise to assume that all these theories are universal in nature and could be equally applied to all contexts? The question is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, and has been raised under different labels, as discussed below:
False universalism: One set of concerns is related to the underlying assumption that the social theories are universally applicable, which undermines the role and significance of context (Nguyen, Elliott, Terlouw & Pilot, 2009).
Remoteness from the Culture: Another set of concerns is related to the remoteness that such borrowing/adoption creates from the everyday cultural practices (Serpell, 2007).
Educational Neo-colonialism: Some have taken a more critical perspective, emphasizing the power dynamics attached to it. These critical theorists view such adoption as a new form of colonialism in education, explaining that, through globalization, western paradigms tend to shape and influence educational systems and thinking elsewhere in the world (Nguyen et al., 2009).
Unexamined and uncritical adoption of Western approaches: Amongst the existing spectrum of concerns, visibly evident is the criticism of adoption rather than adaptation, borrowing rather than contextually relevant application of Western theories and approaches (e.g. Winser, 1996).
Unidirectional Learning: It is quite well-established that the flow of ideas has thus far remained pre-dominantly unidirectional, i.e., from the West to the rest (e.g. Wang, 2006). This has undermined the rich cultural heritage, perspectives, insights and learning that the Eastern part of the world embodies.
This makes a strong case for challenging and examining some of these assumptions, and making efforts to explore alternate views and make space for them.
As a response and reaction to the predominant presence of social theories rooted in the West, there is a growing recognition of and movement towards understanding theories through the wide range of diverse contextual and cultural perspectives available in the East. The significant role of culture is highlighted to an extent that some Asian researchers suggest that effective leadership in one culture may be counterproductive in another (Tjosvold, Wong & Hui, 2007). The shift of emphasis is evident in various other voices raised on the issue as well (e.g. Tan, McInerney, Liem & Tan, 2008). However, the voices need to be synchronized, strengthened and amplified.
It is in this connection that the conference is strategically an important initiative, as it aims at contributing to the knowledge on leadership and learning in Asia. Leadership and learning have been taken as examples, as the juxtaposition of these two magical words has given rise to a range of intriguing combinations such as â€˜leadership in learningâ€™, â€˜leadership of learningâ€™ or â€˜learning for leadershipâ€™. The two notions, we believe, are interrelated and interconnected, which is evident in the increasingly shifting emphasis towards studying the correlation between leadership and learning outcomes (see, e.g. Day & Leithwood, 2007; Day et al., 2009; Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004; Mulford, 2006; Mulford & Silins, 2003; Waters, Marzano & McNulty, 2005; and a special issue of School Leadership & Management: â€˜The impact of school leadership on student outcomesâ€™, Leithwood & Day, 2008). However, both leadership and learning are relatively â€˜softâ€™ and abstract areas, which provide a lot of space for generalizations, such as being treated as global, which needs to be debated. This was our motivation behind selecting these two, in conjunction, or separately, as core themes for our deliberations. Moreover, leadership and learning are important areas when it comes to peopleâ€™s beliefs; political, symbolic and business leaders have a major impact on our lives, as well as the school and university leaders, and â€“ not the least â€“ those who lead the learning that takes place in those organizations: the teachers. Learning and leadership, thus, seem to be two very broad areas with a great importance for issues such as globalization and whether ideas and theories are universally applicable, whether they have to be adapted to the local contexts, or whether they are context-dependent and thus have to be locally designed and developed.
Thus, the questions that the conference intends to address are:
o Are the west-inspired theories on leadership and learning relevant for Asia in general and different contexts in Asia in particular?
o Is there a need to develop theories specific for Asia in general and different contexts in Asia in particular?
o Are there existing theories on leadership and learning with an Asian origin, which have not received much attention or have not been acknowledged so far?
Asia presents itself as a landscape of diverse geographical, cultural, religious (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, etcetera), social, socio-economical and socio-political heritage. Most of the civilizations are ancient, and have long-standing traditions of learning and knowledge. The contexts are unique in their multi-dimensionality and so are they in terms of the breadth and nature of challenges faced by the region. If we make a comparison between the Eastern and Western contexts, their values, traditions and the very worldview of the two contexts â€“they are different and, often quite opposite. For example, as Professor Nisbett (cited in Dhanarajan, 1998) puts it in his thesis, we see a very strong sense of individual liberty, freedom, and free will prevailing in the different contexts in West. On the other hand, in the East (at least in many Eastern contexts), in place of the idea of each personâ€™s being in charge of his or her own life and having freedom to act accordingly, harmony, friendship and family are valued more. In contrast to the western debate to discover the truth, preserving a harmonious interdependent social life is prioritized in many contexts in the Eastern part of the world. Such socio-cultural factors have their impact on the leadership and learning styles, behavior, performance and outcomes that cannot be simply ignored by taking a simplistic universal or general Western approach.
Thus, there is a need to examine/challenge generalizations related to learning and leadership across cultures and geographical boundaries, between East and West, but of course also between Eastern contexts. That is where the conference makes a significant contribution.