Asian American Academic Pressure

Last week, I wrote about how parental pressures in education drove some students to stress, depression, suicide, and even sneaking into universities and pretending to be enrolled students. I even suggested that the disadvantaged backgrounds of Asian immigrant parents contributed to these pressures, though for the best of intentions.

(I should note that it’s not just academic pressure alone that leads to such consequences, but a lack of emotional support and awareness as well. But since these all stem from the same root issues that cause academic pressure, for the purposes of this entry, I’m considering them all one issue.)

But that only describes some of the Asian immigrant parent population. There are also parents who come from advantaged backgrounds.

During my recent trip to Hong Kong, one parent told me how his son skipped ahead one grade in an American school because the higher grade better matched the academic level his son was used to in Hong Kong. He also feared that the slower pace of the American education system would pull his son’s education down, so he hired a private tutor. And this was all in a top school in Silicon Valley.

So wait a second here… students in Asia are learning at a faster rate than those in the US? Are Asian immigrant parents in the US pushing their children unrealistically then? Or are they pushing them at the same rate as the students in Asia?

In the book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman writes about Asian countries place a strong emphasis on education.

The [National Science Board] reports found that the number of American eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds who receive science degrees has fallen to seventeenth in the world, whereas we ranked third three decades ago. It said that of the 2.8 million first university degrees (what we call bachelor’s degrees) in science and engineering granted worldwide in 2003, 1.2 million were earned by Asian students in Asian universities, 830,000 were granted in Europe, and 400,000 in the United States.

The Asian focus on science and engineering means that creativity is still the American advantage, Friedman claims. But oops, not anymore, says Aric Chen’s article “The Next Cultural Revolution“.

China is not content to serve as factory to the globe. Call it economic foresight, or cultural pride, but despite the stratospheric growth of its economy–10.7% last year–China knows that cheap labor alone can’t sustain the boom. While a flurry of activity (and, yes, a government five-year plan) has stressed scientific and technological innovation, look a little closer and you’ll see that creativity in art and industry–in design, fashion, media, and the like–is fast becoming a driving national mission.

While not empirical evidence, these anecdotes suggest that the education system in China is potentially teaching their students faster than their US counterparts. So… are Asian immigrant parents in the US pushing their children unrealistically then?

Let’s take a step back for a second. The pressures faced by Asian American students are clearly leading to consequences. Are students in Asia facing similar consequences?

Apparently, yes.

Although I couldn’t find much on the web, an abstract for the article “Academic Pressure and Impact on Students Development in China” states that it covers the “enormous pressure Chinese students face at home and in school to obtain high academic achievement”. Another article, “Academic pressure and impact on Japanese students” proposes that the “pressures on the students are multi-dimensional (i.e., psychological, emotional, intellectual, and physical)”. And the treatment of mental health issues in China? The Ministry of Health has said that mental illnesses are slowly rising, though it doesn’t elaborate on whether there’s an actual rise, or just greater awareness and support services, leading to a rise in diagnoses of mental health issues.

What’s this all mean?

To me, I think we’re seeing another effect of globalization. Bare with me for a second as I try to explain how this isn’t just another attempt at using that nebulous buzz word.

Globalization has led to greater visibility to different standards of living around the world. As societies compare themselves with each other, they’re becoming more competitive. One area of competition is education. Some governments have responded by enacting education programs and policies, such as those in China.

On a local level, some parents have responded with academic pressure. These parents look at the standard of living in other societies and want the same for their children. So they conclude that the fastest way to get there is with a high-paying career – and the fastest way to a high-paying career is with a strong education. (By “other societies” I don’t just mean other countries, but communities within countries, such as the wealthy.)

This is happening all over the world, even in the US. Asian immigrant parents typically still have ties to their countries of origin, either through reading foreign newspapers or keeping in touch with family members. These ties strengthen their sense of competition and thus, their academic demands of their children. I suspect the same can be said for any immigrant parents and not just Asian ones.

And more importantly, I think it’s inevitable. Globalization is going to be indirectly conditioning such behaviors for a long time to come.

Unfortunately, these pressures are being applied without an awareness of emotional support. Understanding the emotional psychology of a child has never been a prerequisite of parenting in the history of human kind. This doesn’t make anyone a bad parent; our societies just haven’t begun to realize the importance of emotional intelligence. (I don’t mean spoiling your children either. Some parents go to far in the name of emotional support and end up coddling their children way too much, IMO.)
Okay, that’s an explanation. But what does it mean?

I think it means we’ll be seeing more stories like Jennifer Tse and Azia Kim, unless there are support systems in place to help students suffering from intense academic pressures from their parents, as well as support, awareness, and education services for their parents.

I could be wrong; I’m hardly an education or sociology expert. What do you think?

(Hat tip to taterthoughts for Aric Chen’s article. Photo by Elaine Lee.)

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About Mike

I'm an idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student. And what, you want to Internet-stalk me too? Why, sure.
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