Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under pressure

Like I’ve told you guys before, I am working extra as a private English tutor for some Korean kids (nothing I applied for –it just fell into my lap. I was approached and asked if I could teach a 10-year old Korean girl by a Korean family one day when I was studying at Starbucks. The fact that I have no previous teaching experience didn’t matter –I guess my blond hair made up for it- and then it was on) and I have to say that I find the amount of pressure those kids are under quite… appalling.

Since the first Korean family was so happy with my ‘work’ (when I started teaching their daughter the girl was very shy and quiet and didn’t really dare to speak… I therefore decided to skip the books and the grammar and just focus on getting her to talk on her own… with the help of games, questions and me not being scared of making a fool of myself I managed -1 month later I couldn’t get her to stop talking! All her English was there –she just needed to work up some guts to start using it. Once she did, things went fast. In school, she was moved up to the ‘highest level of English’ in her class and the parents –who couldn’t even read the letter she got from the school, because their English is non-existent- thought it was all because of me and looooooved me) they recommended me to another family, that has a 7-year-old son whose English was said to be ‘so bad’.

The problem with this little kid was almost identical to the other Korean student. Although there was also the fact that he was so young. So I focused on games and having fun and only 2 weeks later he too was talking as if he’d never done anything else in his life (and nowadays I get served cheese cake every time I arrived –not so good for my figure I guess but I can tell that this is something I should not refuse… During the first lesson I ‘only’ got a glass of juice).

What I find the most striking with these families is that their kids are so young, but under so much pressure to learn three languages (Korean, Chinese and English) meanwhile their parents… only speak Korean! If I have something I need to say, I communicate to the kids, who then translate to their parents. School letters, grades and such (some things that the kids don’t understand) I have to read and explain to the kid, who then explains it to the parents.

Both dads of the two families are working in another city and the moms are typical ‘taitais.’ Home all day doing…. Yeah, what are they doing? Well I have actually no idea but I would guess.... Cooking? Cleaning? Well, they both have an ayi for that? Shopping? Telling their kids to do homework maybe?

Just the other week the mom to the 7-year-old stopped me on my way out, asking me (in poor Chinese) if I was still studying at Suzhou University (something she knew via the other family).

-Yes I do! I said. Oh, you can also speak some Chinese?

-Yeah, I studied there last semester. Only level 1.

-Why did you stop?

-I am too busy nowadays… with my sport studies.

-Sport studies?

-Yeah, I play golf!

-Oh, right…. Great!

Yup. Let the kids learn the languages so the mom can play golf. I know that things are different here to where I come from –but I still cannot stop wondering why these families put so much pressure on the kids meanwhile they are not willing to learn for themselves? Both moms are still quite young. Does personal goal go down the drain as soon as you pop out a baby over here?


Anna Davidson said...

Don't even get me started on this one Jonna! I work at an international school here in Wuxi, where the majority of our students are Korean and Japanese. The Korean parents put SO much pressure on their kids, it's crazy. They sign them up for every extra class possible, they all have out of school tutors for English and Mandarin, they all go to Korean school several times a week after school and on Saturday too. Play dates for these little kids involve sitting together and studying English.

It's a huge change from Australia, where most kids are encouraged to go outside to play and actually have a childhood. Most parents believe it's about having a balanced lifestyle.

And the sad thing is that, because they are studying from textbooks all the time and learning things out of context, the kids are not developing any 'real world' skills.

Hmmmm, there's my rant as a teacher!

Anonymous said...

just typical upbringings of Asian families.

my mom is always lecturing me on "why CAN'T I BE like these Asian people. : (

but, there is a serious shortcoming in there, which is the lack of creativity.


BTW, I hope I didn't bore you guys with the Freud stuff on the last post...

Brad Farless said...

That sounds difficult. I don't think I'd want to be in those kids' shoes. I think that kind of pressure is common to Asia though. I've heard stories about it frequently, and from what I've seen here in Singapore it seems the same.

You're right Jonna. Academics are important, but there are some things you can only learn from social interaction and being outdoors. You can't learn everything from a book.

I wonder if this intense focus on academics is a holdover from the "must-catch-up-with-the-West" mentality? Or beat us. Well, their schools are definitely better in most cases. That's another thing altogether though.

Nancy said...

Typical behavior by parents the world over. I am always amazed at the pressure put on children/adolescents to perform BETTER than the parents ever did! Expecting children to fulfill failed dreams, maybe? (One of the reasons I decided not to go into family counseling.)

flyingfish said...

You're making a great contribution by teaching through playing, though. I bet the kids look forward to your lessons, no? My students complain if they are cancelled: "Mom, can't we have our English lesson? PLEEAASE?" "Latin today? Yippee!" This is not because they are such industrious little scholars (they are regular little kids, if unusually bright), but because our classes are lighthearted. I join you in being appalled at the pressure,at how little time there is to just climb trees or watch the clouds sail by, but I encourage you to feel pleased with the way you can help lift some of that pressure a bit AND teach some stuff at the same time.

Janet said...

It is very sad. Koreans put a premium on education, which is great. Unfortunately, the main goal of the education is to get a job that makes a lot of money. It's all about making money to get life security. It's not balanced. I wish Asian cultures balanced that kind of book-smart knowledge with life-smart lessons in social and environmental sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

Japanese and Korean people put a lot of pressure on their kids. In both these countries, people are socially defined by what they do, where they study. So housewives put pressure on their kids because they want tjeir kids to have a good social status, which gives them some prestige, too. Kids are overworked and don't even play outside like kids should do. They have to juggle with piano lessons, english lessons, cram school classes, swimming class, and so on. No wonder a lot of elementary kids kill their classmates lately; the kids have nervous breakdowns!

"And the sad thing is that, because they are studying from textbooks all the time and learning things out of context, the kids are not developing any 'real world' skills."

I agree!!!!! Here knowledge is not something you use in real life, it's just test material, so it's totally wasted, for the most part...

Anonymous said...

I've lived and taught in Japan so I'll try to explain. Elementary and high school in China, Japan, Korea and many other Asian countries is highly competitive and can set the path for the rest of the kid's life. Without excellent grades they will not get into the best schools in the next higher level. These kids are outside of their domestic education system, so they are at a decided disadvantage. There is a fear of slacking off. The mothers need to keep the pressure on so that when they return home the kid will not have any negative impact, and therefore screw up their future prospects.

The father's job is to make money and send it to the mother. The mother's job is to keep the family together, handle the finances and educate the child. In Japan they are called "kyoiku mama", or education mama for this reason. These mothers can be fanatical and push their kids hard, ostensibly for the kids's benefit. There is devotion, doting and love from the mother, and the child returns this love by working their ass off and getting excellent grades.

I try not to judge other cultures too harshly, because they have their reasons. I've walked in their shoes and understand some of their pressures.

Rambler said...

I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm guessing that once they've gotten to where they expect to be with their life, they don't really think of expanding on it. They do, however want their kids to have better than they do, so they try to get them to do as much as possible.

Honestly, I wish that the concept of learning another language was more popular in America. I love the idea of being able to speak to anybody I see, no matter what language they know.

mantse said...

Easterner, like Chinese and Korean, they put much pressure on their kids as they do not want their child at same "level" like them in future. from lower class to middle, from middle to upper. that's most parents want. that's why they prepare much for their kids and push them harsh. Otherwise, they think their kids may step on the same "failure" road like them or even worse.

even in Hong Kong, a city which is more westernise, still have such "concept" in some of the parents...... how sad..

Anonymous said...

"Does personal goal go down the drain as soon as you pop out a baby over here?"

Actually, it does. Once you have a kid, she/he becomes the center of your world. And you become a mere spectator.

Ir. Darman Purba said...

Try to teach and play. Teaching english outbond. Wanna try?

Ilyana said...

I have to agree with Anna Davidson, when I work at School (Nursery) rain, snow or shine, we have to take the children out and let them have a free playtime. It's a MUST! CHildren no matter what language they speak, they will catch up quickly, When I used to work in Saudi Arabia, there are chinese, arabic, english, japanese children etc. but they seem to get along fine with everyone despite the language barrier.

The Candid Yank said...

everyone else has already said everything, so the only thing I would want to add is that there is a greater disparity among adults in terms of their linguistic acumen, while nearly all children are little language sponges. In my own experience at home and abroad, a grownup person can live in a country and hear almost nothing but that language for years and still not speak a word of it, whereas if you were to drop a two-year-old in the same place, he would be speaking that language fluently within a year.

Everyone here is a teacher! so maybe this won't be a revolutionary statement, but having taught both children (2.5 yrs - 8 yrs)and young adults (aged 18-26) I can say that many adults' minds are not only poor at learning languages, but downright resistant. Having taken DZS (deutsch als zweite Sprache, german as a second language) here, among people aged 19 - 50, it seems apparent that yes, when you have kids and husbands and stuff like that, your mind is full and working along different lines. Single and unattached women seemed to learn better/faster than women of the same age who had children. Maybe the golf lady tried out learning Chinese and realized that she'd be much better cut out for sport instead! lol

would be a good topic of research.

Anonymous said...

In a country where you can't find a decent job(that means a acceptable pay) without a university degree, you have to work hard. To make it worse, you have to compete with tens of millions of students to even get in a university. So you work your ass off as soon as you get rid of your dippers.

In countries where one can live a comfortable life with a high school diploma and have his ass covered by a social security system, he sure can have the luxury to enjoy life. But in most asian countries, a balanced life is a luxury one doesn't have. You will work hard too if you can't afford to fail.

Asians are not crazy. It's not like we like this. But sometimes reality sucks, doesn't it? We just hope we work hard now and someday, maybe our children eventually can live like their western counterparts. We do envy the western way. But please, don't feel sorry for us.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Chen1 -I don't disagree about the fact that u need a good education in order to score a job -it's not as if you don't where I come from... But I think people here are pushing a little bit too hard too soon. There is a limit of how much you can learn when you are 7 years old... you don't need to go to school and take evening classes until you fall asleep, I seriously don't see how that is going to make you any smarter? Although then again, I never did as a kid, so how would I know...?

I just believe that there are so many other ways to bring up smart kids than but constantly pushing them... and btw, I don't feel 'sorry' for you guys... although I do feel a bit sad for the small kids missing out on the fun bits of being a kid, such as playing, and being able to use your imagination and be all childish and silly. It's not like you get a chance to do that later in life.

Blank-Socrate said...

yeah this is our eastern culture :(
hey, incase you willing to visit Egypt I wish to be your guide :)

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post!!! Jonna, thank you!!! And your observation is right on the money. I grew up in China in the 70's and 80's. I wasn't being pushed as hard for academic excellence when I was a youngster, thanks to that era of continous political campaigns. I did have to study very hard in the middle and high school for 5 years before taking the college entrance exam. I didn't regret it since that was the only way for me to succeed in life then. I had a decent college education in China in the mid 80's and later had a chance to come to America for graduate school. My kids were born in the U.S. and we now live in the U.S. My kids are about the same ages as the two Korean kids whom you are tutoring. While Chinese kids in China today probably aren't being pushed as hard as the kids in Korean, Taiwan and Japan (smaller countries tend to have bigger pressure), they are still being pushed a lot harder than what they can take in. Very sad! I know in Taiwan it's quite normal for a middle schooler to leave the house with their working parents in the morning (about 7:30AM) and don't return home until 9:30PM. They eat lunch and dinner at school. They go to all kinds of rigirous, test oriented after school classes for math, English, etc. For a typical Asian parent, sports is for people who can't make it academically. Again sad! What about Asian kids in the U.S.? Well, if they have immigrant parents (meaning not 2nd generation American Chinese, Korean, etc.), they are still being pushed like crazy. Unbelievable amount of pressure on these poor kids! Evidently my wife and I don't do that to our kids (lucky them :)), but our Chinese friends do that to their kids all the time. We believe in an all-rounded education for our kids, which have been questioned and even jeered at by our Chinese friends. The most common "pushing" with Mainland Chinese friends we know of is forcing their kids to excel so that they can be in the same advanced group with kids from higher grades. Our kids go to a weekend Chinese school to learn the language for 2 hours on Saturdays. You won't believe the amount of Chinese homework you are assigned by the Chinese teachers. For crying out loud, they are learning Chinese as a second language. Also, some Chinese parents have pushed very hard for the Chinese school to "adopt" the Chinese educational system (or shall I said educational system with Chinese characteristics) by allowing their kids to skip grades. You heard me right. Parents feel so proud when their kids can pass an exam of the next grade and then get to skip that grade to a higher grade level. To do that, they usually push their kids so much and so hard during a summer break to study Chinese for several hours a day in order to take the test for the next grade level at the beginning of the next school year. It's unbelievable. Of course, not all Chinese parents in America would do that to their kids.

This has been a dear topic to my heart. I hope many Asian parents here can get a good balance in this area.

- Alan

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonna,

Let me tell you a secret of mine.

I've always wanted to marry a hot well to do lady, so she can work and I can be the "tai tai". I have absolutely no problem with being forced to not go to work. I might even force myself to wake up late, play tennis or golf, or indulge in learning a frivilous new "language of the moment", like Mandarin Chinese.

I'm very much into sexual equality :)

Take care,


ps: It just occurred to study Chinese dont you? In that case, ignore my comments about Chinese merely being the language of the is a language that will be crucial to the very survival of world trade and civilisation for the next 200 years!

*phew- got that one by Jonna*

조안나 said...

Don't even get me started on overworked Korean kids. I teach at a 'hagwon' which is like a school for extra studying after school for kids here in Korea. My kids go to school all day, then they go to piano lesson, then they come to my class for two hours, then they go to a math class or taekwondo or art class or something crazy, then they go home, do homework till 12 or 1 am, then they wake up at 6 am to study and start school at 8 am and do it all over again. No wonder my second graders fall asleep in class. -_-U

Anonymous said...

You are right, Jonna. Actually, I agree with you completely. My previous comment was more a response to some other comments. I just want to say, everything has a reason. And cultural things may also have economic and social roots.

I don't know about Koreans or Japanese, but many Chinese have already started to think this issue over. Many critics say exactly the same as what you said. Now, at least some parents have agreed that the only important thing the parents should have their little kids known before school is how to be a good person. However, once the kids started to go to school(that is the age of 5 to 7), the competition begins. And there's little the parents can do on their own.

It actually bothers me to see a lot of parents still believe that by filling their children's free time up with extra classes, they can help them to "win at the starting line". But the reality probably is that this won't change any time soon until the whole social-economic situation changes.

Yogesh said...

I am big fan of urs..!!
Your blog is on my list (on my blog literally ;) )
Keep writing such good stuff...

Unknown said...

I taught English in Zhenjiang city in 2007 and loved it, but because I know very little Chinese, I think I missed most of thee dilemmas. I'm glad we're all talking about this sort of thing, because I think I might want to make a life of it and these moral situations do frighten me a little.

Is this life style very gratifying?

Anonymous said...

>u need a good education in order to score a job

Well, what I see in Canada is technical majors can't find a job since all jobs have been outsourced. Liberal Arts majors couldn't find a job even before outsourcing.

They say that in China there are 4 millions new grads every year but only 1millions jobs for them.

胡崧 said...

The competition for better education is extremely fierce in China. So it is unfortunate that so many kids must participate in so many "extracurricular activities" in order to thrive. On the other hand, a nation cannot move forward without the spirit of competition, so I guess it is necessary to some extents.

The day kids can be kids is the day China has become a developed nation.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anna Davidson -I hear you. I reckon that would be a huge change for anyone coming from a western country. I totally agree with you... -there's a limit to what u can learn from books. Not to mention all your social/problem solving skills that u develop from playing w friends/just being a kid... It's sad.

Incognito -no worries about Freud. I've studied psychology too, so I already knew about all that. Not sure if I agree to 100% though...

Brad F -agree...

Lover of life -uh.. if that's the case that's sad... I am never gonna do that to my kids... when u push too much in one direction the kid normally rebels one way or another (ask me, I was a rebellious kid! Perfect grades -but a nightmare of a teenager)

Flyingfish -yeah, that is just how it is... they love the lessons. Only 2 weeks into teaching the youngest kid his mom told me that he 'reallllly likes Ms Jonna' (that they call me) and that he wants me to come twice/week. It's nice to hear that. And I will continue to play games with him. Quite fun for me too... besides, this is a big booster to my confidence, because before I did this I believed I had ZERO kids skills.

Gigwriter -u r right. It really seem to be a lot about money over there. Some of our teachers at the uni mock the Korean boys when they answer 'make money' on all questions related to the future (eg: why are u studying Chinese? What do you want to work with in the future). But then again, a lot of people around the globe are money-hungry... so it's not unique in any way.

Don Tai -I don't mean to judge.. I just wish that sometime they would think outside the box.. I understand that pressure is big in this countries but why are people so d*** sure that there is only ONE way to succeed in life: by studying. Gosh, there is so much more u need to learn in life in order to become successful.

Tripfriend- one thing is quite interesting.. when I graduated from high school I moved to London to work... I had then been learning English since I was 9 years old... (but never lived abroad or had any foreign friends or anything like that) and I was often 'praised' for my English skills...

In fact, many people often think that Scandinavians (not all, there are always exceptions, but in general) speak quite good English... at least they have no problems getting around or using it for work purposes... (which is what it is all about, right?) and how much have we studied English as kids?? Hm.. not that much.. (again, let me point out that we speak SWEDISH in Sweden and not English as so many people tend to believe). if I remember things correctly we used to have English lessons twice/week in school... the rest I learned from watching Beverly Hills, Melrose place and that sort of stuff as a teenager... and then I wasn't even aware of it!

No private tutors, no afternoon classes, no HUGE pressure to become THE best English speaker in Sweden... and it still went quite well. What I mean by sharing this is that I don't know if it is necessary to push a kid with lessons so much... you can only learn that much from your teacher/studying.. the rest comes from... I don't know... personal interest? watching TV, listening to music, being out and about and most of all: communicating...

Anonymous -I understand that the focus shifts when u have a baby, but really, do you let go of all personal goals? Gosh... now that's something worth thinking about.

jo-anna -that's just crazy...

Jin said...

I think it still has a lot to do with developing countries. Like with a lot of countries, once they achieve some economic success and adapt to a different lifestyle (good or bad...i.e. fast food, literature, arts, basically having more disposable income to enjoy life), things will change. With Asian countries, they still compare their economy with other countries and their educational policies tend to look down upon spending time outside with extra curricular activities. If kids have time for activities outside, then they have more time to study.

This type of thought is good and bad, good for competition and educational diversity (studying various subjects), but bad in that they loose efficiency. From what I have heard...after school tutoring is not only for the kid to study more, but also a substitute for daycare/babysitting.

You can't fill a 500cc cup with one liter of water, especially when a kids attention span is like 15 minutes.

Nerissa said...

They really put pressure on them. In Korea some kids finish their studies at 1 or 2 pm. That's because after school they have to attend several academies, English, Math, Piano and many more...
I don't know if I can stand that. But that's how their society works if you don't do those things you will be left out.

Betsy said...

Last semester I watched a film titled "2 Million Minutes," which documented the life of two (girl and boy) American, two Indian, and two Chinese high school Seniors. Basically, it amounted to the Americans watching Gray's Anatomy and going to varsity football games while the Indians and Chinese worked their butts off all year. And at the end of the year, the Americans got into the best schools in the country while the Indians and Chinese were rejected (although they clearly did more work).

Also, I want to point out to Incognito that not all Asians are like that. Although, I just finished freaking out over a B in my HIS283 class. . . .

Emily said...

I believe this is why the other students at my university (in the U.S) jokingly call getting a B on an exam "Asian-failing"

Unknown said...

Those Chinese students work so hard because they have no choice. The ONLY way to get a good white collar job is to go to university. If you can't get into University, you can either go to a technical school, work in a factory or work on a farm. All require long hrs and hard work and don't pay as well as a white collar job. China has a one child policy. That means that child must support both sets grandparents and his/her parents when they get older (6 people). That is a lot of pressure.

When the parents push the kids, it's not just for the child's benefit, it's for the parent's as well.

Working hard and a good education is ingrained in Chinese society, you can blame Confuscious for it. Academic achievement is how you show off your child's skills to others.

I think a lot of the pressure students feel is not just parental pressure, it's the pressure they put on their selves. Most students don't want to end up working 12 hr days in a factory or end up doing back breaking farm work. Everyone wants a peice of the wealth. The ONLY WAY to get that is to get a university degree. Only a fraction of students can get into university.

If you don't start young, it is probably very difficult to compete with your peers when you get older. If you don't get into a good elementary school, it's harder to get into a good middle school, and if you can't get into a good middle school, you can't get into a good high school. Your high school is a huge factor in your preparation of high school entrance exams.

It's probably not a good idea for children to do that much schooling so young but if 10 million kids want to go to university and there are only 7 million spots, you don't have a lot of options.

If you are rich in China, you can afford to not push your kids that hard. They can go to international schools and international universities and have a "well rounded" education. But how many people can afford that? There are thousands of chinese students studying overseas but thousands is a drop in a bucket when millions want to go to university.

I know it may seem like the child is suffering under parental pressure but it's not like the child knows any other life. His/her peers are going through the same things, this is normal for them. I guess in a way, it sort of defines you as being, "Chinese" from China.

I have no children and I am not condoning the pressure and the amount of classes Chinese children must attend. I was born and grew up in America so I never had to face as much intense competition as in China. Life for a student in China is rough and tough.