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  • Lucy Zhang

Asian students' peer pressure

Asian class room peer pressure

The archaic belief that all Asians are good at math is more than just a baseless generalization; it’s commentary on the cutthroat culture in Eastern Asia. The truth is, besides math, many Asian students, specifically the ones who grew up in East Asia or were brought up in this kind of culture, do much more to be competitive academically. The education system is designed to inspire relentless close-quarters competition, the cycle of which never stops — students must be at the top of their class or face a subpar future.

For traditional East Asians, the standard for a happy, successful life includes being economically independent and having a steady job that’s not primarily labor based. A white collar worker receives far more social respect compared to a janitor, despite the possibility of having the same income. Further, in many countries including China, laborers are not paid very well. For instance, a delivery guy only gains less than seven RMB (about a dollar) from each order and is paid about 5000 RMB (about 700 dollars) per month. Thus, all people are looking for some sort of desk job at a large company. And one of the most critical factors in such applications is educational background. You may not be able to get into the ideal companies for graduating from top-tier colleges, but you won’t stand a chance if you are not equipped with such a background.

In a lot of East Asian countries, each stage of your education is closely tied together. If you didn’t do well in elementary school, there’s less chance for you to get into good high schools, and if you failed your college entrance exam, there’s no way for you to get into a good college, and you are basically done for the rest of your life. For each stage of school, standardized testing is basically the only criterion, meaning the students who do not excel in academics aren’t really given the chance to show their personalities and other talents, which they may perform better. And the college entrance exam in East Asian countries happens once per year and can only be taken in one’s senior year of high school. Unlike SAT, which you can take multiple times at any grade, if you wish to redo the examination in East Asian countries, you practically have to spend another year in high school.

Thus, for normal people to have a standard life, they have to work hard the moment they step into elementary school, if not earlier. Most parents wish their children to be in the top percent of their peers. Most of the students in China take after-school tutoring because a lot of parents believe that to exceed the performance of same-aged peers, only learning standardized information from school is never enough. Other reasons to take tutoring may be that certain students are not performing well, and parents are trying to help reinforce their ability through outside sources. However, the main issue with this practice is that it can be quite “contagious”. Soon enough, everybody starts doing it and pushes the education environment to be more and more competitive. Sophomore Wonjin Eum said, “In Korea because everyone is going to do more studying after school, I feel like a lot of people get pressured to also do the same.” In China, the idea of “extracurricular” classes is really more of an afterthought as 60% of students participate in it, implying the necessity of participation. Since each stage of education is so important, most students start the after-school curriculum at an extremely early age. Ninth grader Tina Liu mentioned, “I started taking extra math classes in my fourth-grade year.” and sophomore Wonjin Eum said, “I started like first grade.”

After the Chinese government realized the issues, there were indeed policies banning academic-related extracurricular classes and the amount of homework given. Nonetheless, schools, institutions, and parents always find loopholes. A lot of parents, especially the ones with ample economic means, invite tutors to their homes for one-on-one tutoring so that the line between extracurricular classes and inviting a friend over can be blurred. One-on-one tutoring is far more expensive than group classes, so only people who are more well-off can afford it. Therefore, not only did the restriction not solve the issue, it deepened the gap. In terms of homework, different teachers can have their own definitions of it. Some of the teachers assign an abundant amount of schoolwork that needs to be done before students return home, but if you choose to bring it home, it is considered “unfinished school work” instead of homework, in which case they are no longer breaking any regulations.

Countless events like that have created the toxic environment of Chinese education today. The over-competitiveness has already downplayed the purpose of schools. I can still remember, during elementary school, when my math teacher praised the two students who previewed the whole math textbook before the school year even formally started. When that teacher asked about this a few days later, everyone in the class had already done it. Schools are no longer a place to absorb new knowledge but for students to compete with outside resources. For students who come from this kind of environment, it can be quite hard to erase the competitiveness in them.


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