East-Asian Philosophical Concepts as Analytical Framework for Interpreting Non-Western Images in Children's Picturebooks

East-Asian Philosophical Concepts as Analytical Framework for Interpreting Non-Western Images in Children's Picturebooks

Ngoc Tai Huynh, Angela Thomas, Vinh Thi To
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch019
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In contemporary Western cultures, picturebooks are a mainstream means for young children to first attend to print and start learning to read. The use of children's picturebooks has been reported as supporting intercultural awareness in children. Multiliteracies researchers suggest that other theoretical frameworks should be applied in addition to the semiotic approach of interpreting picturebooks, especially picturebooks from non-Western cultures. This chapter theorizes how Eastern philosophical concepts influence the meaning-making potential of illustrations in Eastern picturebooks. To do this, the authors first discuss the cultural constraints when applying a contemporary semiotic framework in analyzing non-Western images. The authors introduce a framework developed based on philosophical concepts that have influenced East-Asian art forms, particularly that of painting, to understand the Eastern artistic traditions. The chapter demonstrates how to apply this framework for interpretation of non-Western images to working with multicultural picturebooks.
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Global citizenship skills are recognized as one of the key features defining education of the future (World Economic Forum, 2020). In Australia, the increase in economic influences of Asian countries in the context of globalization has resulted in a growing concern for Australian policy-makers toward the knowledge of countries of Asia (Halse, 2015; Henderson, 2008; Salter, 2015). According to Salter (2015), “since 1969, over 60 Australian government and non-government policies, documents, committees, working parties and organizations” have made attempts to address the need to know better about Asia (p. 781). In educational context, the culmination of the need for Australian citizens to ‘know Asia’ is referred as Asia literacy (Salter, 2015). The implementation of the policy on Asia literacy in school contexts is the significant driver of this chapter.

According to the Melbourne Declaration, Asia literacy is the ability “to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia” (Barr et al., 2008, p. 9). Implementing Asia literacy in the Australian context means to develop citizens’ respect towards cultural diversity (Halse et al., 2013). Halse et al. (2013) analyzed data from 1,319 teachers’ survey responses about Asia literacy. The survey explored: teachers’ views on the features of an Asia literate teacher; definitions of Asia literacy; and teacher perceptions of the significance of Asia literacy in the classroom. The study concluded that “most teachers do not yet feel expert, with only a minority considering themselves “highly accomplished” or “lead’ teachers” (Halse et al., 2013, p. 5). A reflection from Asian Education Foundation (AEF) on two decades of implementing Asia literacy in schooling systems concludes that “there has been only small-scale progress towards Asia literacy becoming a universally attainable school education outcome” (Halse, 2015, p. 13). Altogether, there are problems in approaches and ideologies of the implementation of Asia literacy policy in the Australian education system. Findings from Halse et al. (2013) also raised questions of how various schools and teachers in Australia deal with the desired outcomes of the Asia literacy policy. According to Halse et al. (2013, p. 112), there are six features that distinguish the Asia literate teacher:

  • Possesses expert knowledge of content, assessment strategies and pedagogy for teaching Asia related curriculum

  • Demonstrates familiarity with a wide range of Asia related teaching resources

  • Actively builds intercultural understanding

  • Frequently, purposefully, and seamlessly integrates Asia into the curriculum

  • Uses ICT to connect their students with students in Asia

  • Leads Asia related learning within and beyond the school.

Among the above features, the level of understanding Asia-related teaching resources is the critical feature defining an Asia literate teacher (Halse et al., 2013). Also, Bullen and Lunt (2015) contended that it is essential for teachers to be familiar and critical when applying the Asia-related teaching material in the classrooms. This suggests that there is an urgent need for supporting teachers’ understanding and selecting suitable Asia-related texts for the teaching of Asia literacy and developing teachers’ competence in Asia literacy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Buddhism: An East-Asian religious and philosophical school found by Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha (ca. 560 – 480 BCE) in northern India whose full title is Shakyamuni Buddha. Several centuries after the death of its founder, Buddhism spread across other Asian nations and has become one of the major religions in this region.

Asia Literacy: An education policy established by Australian government, which places an emphasis on developing student’s knowledge, skills, and understanding about Asian countries.

Confucianism: A religious and philosophical school found by Confucius (551-479 BCE) which has been considered as one of the major religious and philosophical school in Chinese and other East-Asian cultures.

Picturebooks: Books that tell stories by means of illustrations and written text in which images have equal importance to written text. Therefore, images are required to do much of the storytelling work.

Intercultural Understanding: Ability to comprehend and engage with communities of different cultures. In the Australian curriculum, the term intercultural understanding consists of three interrelated elements, i.e., recognizing culture and developing respect, interacting and empathizing with others; and reflecting on intercultural experiences and taking responsibility.

Taoism: An East-Asian religious and philosophical school founded by Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu. Tao is often translated as ‘the way’ which is then further understood as a method of conduct.

Nature-Human Relationship: A religious concept which puts an emphasis on humans’ respect toward nature.

Cultural Symbols (in Picturebooks): Images carrying culturally specific meanings especially in terms of religion. Other examples include images of lotus flowers, dragons, golden fish, and so on.

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