Why Asians Are Smart At School. Or Not So Smart

There’s the stereotype that Asians are smart at school, always doing very well and coming in top of the class. There’s the stereotype that Asians get straight A’s on their exams and are academically gifted.

Not to brag but I was one of these students in high school and university. While doing the O’Levels in Singapore, I brought home trophies for the best student in English across my cohort and getting six distinctions in my final year of schooling there. So I well and truly fit this stereotype.

As we learn and get smarter about life, we feel more confident and let our true selves shine through | Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange.

As we learn and get smarter about life, we feel more confident and let our true selves shine through | Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange.

It’s no secret school is competitive in Asian countries and it’s a race to the top of the class there. In Australia, students with Asian-born parents outperform students with Caucasian-born parents and get honorable mentions in school, doing very well in subjects like Maths, Chemistry and Physics, and English too.

Sometimes we’re pressured by our parents to do well at school, so we study hard and accumulate more knowledge in our minds. Chinese-American author Amy Chua exemplifies this in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which garnered quite a lot of backlash, documenting her strict typical Asian parenting rules that lead to her daughters doing well at school.

When I was younger, my dad said to me over and over again, “Everyone has a degree now. Everyone. You don’t want to get left behind.” I suppose what he meant was school goes some way in getting us somewhere: gets us a fairly good job to support yourself, and your parents in the later years. And so our Confucian, filial-piety ethics drive us to study hard and in a sense be clever at school. Achievement at school is like a duty that we owe to our parents for some of us.

Longer school hours in many Asian countries means more time to learn and know the textbook back to front like the palm of our hand. I blearily blinked at the whiteboard in the classroom at 7.30am during high school days in Singapore and was always wide-awake at 2pm when school finished – just in time for remedial classes. There’s not forgetting evening tuition classes but my parents decided not to spend money on that, instead presenting me with the maths revision books when I came home from school in Singapore and Australia.

Perhaps some of us are just naturally smart. Studies have shown that kids in Asian countries perform better at school and have higher IQs, though their parents might not have had much of an education back in their day. Then again, every research study is subjective.

Maybe formulaic chalk-and-talk teaching systems in many schools in Asia – we sit quietly in class listening to teachers repeat formulas and equations over and over again, and think it’s disrespectful to talk while the teacher’s talking. I remember nodding along in maths class in Singapore, memorising formulas without knowing how they came about and just scribbled them down in the exams. That actually got me the marks.

I do remember my teachers in Singapore telling my classmates and I to sit in teams and do group work (think coming up with answers to questions put to us as a group) quite a bit a t school. Though schools in Asia have tried “teach less learn more” approaches in the classroom, this method doesn’t look like it’s here to stay. For most part, it seems that it’s not that we’re smart, but more so that we know the value of being hard-working and earning our slice of the pie. Sometimes some of us come to class knowing what the teachers will teach – I did my final years of school in Melbourne and realised half of the secondary school maths syllabus had been covered by my teachers in Singapore.

When we're smart enough to accept our true colours, it's then we can love others.

When we’re smart enough to accept our true colours, it’s then we can love others.

There are different kinds of smart. There’s study smart, the lessons you learn in the classroom. Then there’s street smart, the lessons you learn outside of the classroom from life experiences. Whether Asian or not, we all love to travel, and these days parents gladly shell out thousands of dollars for their kids’ graduation trips abroad post-high school or university. Seems many of us agree that we learn from once-in-a-lifetime experiences traveling the world. As my dad asked me when I was halfway through university, “Do you want to travel? Experience something different? I pay.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that getting an education and distinctions at school doesn’t necessarily guarantee us a job; sometimes we can’t keep listening to others but need to listen to ourselves. Though I’ve an undergraduate and post-graduate degree (majoring in cultural studies and applied maths), finding a job that I enjoy let alone a job itself has always been hard for me. It’s probably partly because sometimes nothing can really prepare you for spontaneous interviews and everyone wants a job these days – getting job is mostly a matter of luck.

And last year I visualised my book finished and on sale…amongst the millions and millions of other books online and in store. I then realised writing and my dream of being a writer doesn’t pay the bills unless you sell millions of books each year. Maybe I really wasn’t so smart at school after all.

Finding the answers to who we are, what we want to do with our life and finding time for all that we do. They don’t come from the classroom, but from within us as we journey in this world.

Were/are you a hardworking student at school?

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149 thoughts on “Why Asians Are Smart At School. Or Not So Smart

  1. I think the different Asian and Western education and lifestyle, they educate children grow up performance and achievements are also different, as children can Westerners more flexible and adaptable to the pressure is relatively strong, while Oriental Education Children good test scores, excellent teachers that are very smart kid, but there are also some are creative enough, because I have two children of their own, so this is my opinion.

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    • Very good point. Our lifestyle and the way we are brought up usually has an impact on how well we do at school. The common Western mentality is “work hard, play harder”, and it could be one reason why their studious Asian classmates do better on graded tests.

      That’s not to say Asians aren’t smart in the creative sense. In Asia, many of them are very dedicated to their extra-curricular activities like playing piano or dancing. But for a number of them, it’s at the insistence of their parents.

      Sounds like your children are creative. It must be interesting for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mabel,

    I think Asians are taught to work harder, that is what I picked up as a child and the same values I tried to give to my children. Whatever we do, we are expected to do very well and these expectations get the best out of us, whether at school or work. High scores are a big deal and those who don’t come up to the expectations of their parents are reminded every single day that they must study well, which is made the top priority. Co-curricular activities and sports take a back seat. The curriculum is also framed in such a manner that more emphasis is laid on learning, there is no flexibility at school level, rote learning is encouraged though latest changes focus on creativity too.

    All these facts are very well illustrated by Asian students who enter top universities overseas and do so well! Apparently they are smarter! The western concept of getting a job of one’s choice does not occur to them as they can adjust very well in all kind of circumstances, as they are groomed in such a manner. So they are smarter even at work.

    Thanks for highlighting the smartness of Asians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Co-curricular activities and sports take a back seat.” You are so right, Balroop. Although extra-curricular activities in schools (such as being a girl guide, being in the school band) in Singapore take place on Saturday mornings, they are usually cut out from curriculum in the couple of weeks towards the end of semester. It’s so students can focus on exams. Getting top grades is always a priority for the student, their parents and their teachers.

      Interesting observation that Asians from Asia do well in top universities abroad. It’s true. Also, if they can adjust moving country and finding a new social circle of friends, they can certainly adjust to getting a job after finishing their studies. Well said.

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    • What a lovely comment to read after a long day at work. Thank you, Lisa. You don’t know how much this comment means a lot to me. Book writing has been slow because of work, hopefully it picks up soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Figuring out who we are and becoming our authentic self is what’s must important in this life….in my opinion. Academics are great….but happiness in what you do and who you are – are greater! 🙂

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    • Yes, Tree, yes! Becoming our own authentic self is most important in life. When we are happy, then we can spread the happiness around and help others and make them happy too. No reason why you can’t make a difference without a school or graduation certificate. You are certainly smart!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That is such a good question – why Asian kids don’t rebel more against their parents. Maybe it’s fear, the fear of seeing their parents angry or sad or fear of letting their parents down. As kids, we rely on our parents for a living. We’re dependent on them for a living. So rebelling against our parents wouldn’t make for a happy household.

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      • We are dependent as well on our parents but for some reason we are feisty. I have a male asian friend who I’ve known for years and he is in his 50’s and never married because he never found an Asian girl to date and his mom would’ve been horrified if he did not marry an Asian girl. i used to ask him why does he care? He isn’t a child anymore. He could never really give me answer.

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        • That is sad to hear. Some Asian families til this day still want their kids to marry someone with brains or academic smarts. Then again, as you mention, we all have the right to make friends and fall in love with anyone we like.

          I think it’s a pride thing, for the parents. For the kids, I don’t know. The best answer I can suggest is we don’t want to make our parents sad, which is worse than making them angry.

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  4. Ah. Recently I was talking about teaching method in Indonesia with a friend of mine. He teaches at International School here in Jakarta. There are different ways of teaching he said. We are used to asked to sit and listen. Remember this and that, just like what you said. While outside, they are learning about how and why. Questioning all those things that have been thought. But for me, the old way has some advantage. The new way also.
    So if we are talking about smart or not, back again to the person itself, imho. Yes. I agree that Asian are told to work harder and I do also feel the same thing.
    Love your way saying this topic and answering the WPC.

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    • I completely forgot about International Schools in Asia. Thanks for bringing that up. Those schools are actually very popular, if I’m not wrong, but very expensive. “While outside, they are learning about how and why” Excellent way to put it. With such students of diverse backgrounds in International Schools, I suppose they learn the art of getting along with others in this multicultural world.

      So true. Old teaching method and new one have their strengths. Sitting down memorising formulas, we might learn persistence and dedication, while being closed-minded. Chatting in groups with classmates discussing projects, we might learn what teamwork is but might not come to stand on our own feet.

      Thank you, Ryan, for your nice words. Finding a suitable photo(s) for WPC is never easy for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading about the Asian stereotype is so common. Although I did not go to school overseas, I can totally relate just because I remember being young and being so competitive. Haha! As a student, I honestly didn’t have much social life because my time was filled with academics (in school and after school, for homework and study sessions care of mom and dad) and co-curricular activities (like learning a musical instrument, trying out sports and sometimes, arts and culture). Honestly, it didn’t feel weird at all, I grew up in a household where exceptional academic grades were expected, and where parents are their children’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders. As an adult, I really appreciate the way I was brought up – valuing school, hard work and education. I’ve gotten a bit more laid-back now, trying to pursue my passion (traveling and writing); but, at the same time, I’m in the middle of finishing post-grad, so maybe I’m not too laid back after all. 🙂 Great post Mabel. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

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    • “being so competitive”. That goes for so many Asian students in Asia, though I really don’t know if other high-achieving Asian Australian students share this mentality. You sound like a very colourful student in school with your extra-curricular activities, like an all-rounder! I was quite a nerd at school: my extra-curricular activity was helping out at the school library 😀

      Good luck with your post-grad studies, you sound like you’re on top of it! Not sure if it’s the same where you are, but here in Australia, everyone is highly encouraged to have a social life (e.g. join a club, volunteer) outside of their university studies.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was a high achiever in school for sure Mabel, many moons ago. Like your parents my parents wanted their children to have an education. In my case neither one of them had the opportunity and it was the expectation we would go on. It is no surprise to me that you are a hard worker. As far as your book you may need to supplement your income but don’t give up your dream.

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    • And I don’t doubt that you were a high achiever back in the day, Sue. I’m guessing you did very well in English as you write such engaging and hilarious stories on your blog for us to read.

      My parents came from very poor backgrounds and one of them did go on to do university. I think they wanted me to take the same path so that I had more opportunities in the workforce, to sustain myself on my own.

      Hopefully one day my book will be done. It’s going at a snail’s pace.

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  7. I was definitely a high achiever at school, much like you. I’m not too sure how it is like in Australia, but if you ask me to comment on the situation in Malaysia/Singapore and why we are so results/exams driven:

    1. Every year, the schools will have alumni or managers from some companies come and give motivational speeches. These people would typically tell you to not focus too much on the exams but more on the learning process.
    2. When it comes to graduation and job interviews, the same people who told you not to focus on exams, would trash the resumes of people with not-so-good educational qualifications. After all, there are so many fresh grad applicants that the easiest way to screen them is to only pick those First Class degree holders with CGPA higher than 3.8. Of course when they call you up for interviews, you need to exhibit your street smart characteristics, but without a good paper qualification, the doors will not even open.
    3. Of course, one can always go the blue collared route, but you know how we are. The income and social status difference between white collar and blue collar is enormous here.
    4. Give it 20 years (1 generation) of such practices and BOOM! The ever competitive (in school) Asian generations are born.

    We need to be street smart to thrive, that is common all around the world. But to get the chance to thrive here, you need that impressive piece of paper qualification. It’s hard to be a nerd but not be a nerd at the same time.

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    • Excellent breakdown of the study-smart situation in Malaysia/Singapore. In a good humorous way too. I don’t recall having motivational speakers come to my school in Singapore. It was our principal giving one motivational speech in front of us students before the big exams started. So perhaps times have changed.

      Yeah, white and blue collar are treated differently in Malaysia. Be a blue collar worker and you’re more likely to be shunned and seen as someone who does crime. Blue collar jobs (or trade school) aren’t frowned on in Australia – they tend to pay big bucks.

      In Australia, there are employers who select students based on which university they graduated from. Quite unfair in a sense. There’s a general unspoken consensus Melbourne University is where the academically smart people go in Melbourne.

      “It’s hard to be a nerd but not be a nerd at the same time.” Nerds are cool these days. We’re the underdogs. And we all love underdogs.

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  8. I was always in the top classes at school but I learned to hide being smart. Showing that you were smart at the high school I went to made you a target. I really felt for the kids who couldn’t balance themselves between school and social activities.

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    • Ah, Conrad. I knew you were always smart 😉 Some people at school can really get jealous of those who get the top marks. You had the street smarts to hide your school smarts, I’m impressed. Being a chameleon, maybe that’s your superpower.

      I didn’t have to worry about being bullied for being smart at school because most of my classmates were of Asian descent and were all very studious, even when I finished high school in Melbourne.

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  9. I was never a hard worker in school. My priority was always my sports so in the end I needed to change to a sports high school in order to combine the best of the two things. In the end I got a pretty good high school degree (mind you, the sport school still got the same curriculum as the top high schools around here but the days are build up around sports, not the studies).

    During my university time I slowly quited my sports and then concentrated a bit more on my studies. Often I got top grades but I nver works hard for that. In the end I got a great average grade for my degree 🙂

    Sure there are people who are just naturally smart and suck up all knowledge from the books by just reading it once but mostly the people who are doing very well at school do it by studying a lot. To be honest, I never knew Asians to be the smartest kids in school as the once we had in our school were usually doing even worse than me but this was due to the upbringing. My best friend back then (Chinese born) had most of his focus on computer and sports. He graduated in the end high school but not so well…mostly because his parents managed a restaurant and were whole day away which meant that from early childhood there was no person directly forcing him to study day in day out.

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    • I have always wondered how sport schools worked. Interesting to hear, Crazy. A very dedicated swimmer you were in high school, I’m sure you got your fair share of awards for thrashing about in the pool 🙂 And getting good grades, well, maybe you balanced your time very well between sport and hitting the books. Maybe you appreciated the opportunity to do your sport and so decided to put some effort into studying the books too.

      “naturally smart and suck up all knowledge from the book”. Hilarious way to put it 😀

      I’ve had a few lazy Asian friends like that. Playing computer games all day and didn’t flinch when they got a bad grade on a test. The parents did nag them to study, but they were stubborn and got their own way.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve heard that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was taken the wrong way by most people; it was supposed to be somewhat satirical.

    There are different kinds of smart indeed, and the rote learning thing – some say – is becoming less valid in today’s more innovative tech world… I suppose good middle managers are necessary, but wouldn’t it be nicer for Asian immigrant communities to produce more leaders out of all those educated well-behaved kids…

    Are you aware of the ‘model minority’ thing in the States? Some activists say it is myth and a form of racism, a condescending attitude that disregards privilege.

    I highly recommend reading this article if you aren’t aware already:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-americans-2011-5/

    “Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?” A very fascinating take on the ‘bamboo ceiling’, racism in the United States, and that kind of Confucian work/study ethic. Right up your alley. Something people of all races, especially those in countries of immigrants like the U.S. and Australia, should read and ponder.

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    • I’ve never read Amy Chua’s book. Intend to at some point. From what I heard it’s one sided but as you said satirical and the author probably wants to highlight that this method of parenting is still prevalent today.

      Thanks for the link. That was a great read and interesting contradictions presented. Asian Australians aren’t that vocal as Asian Americans about the ‘model minority myth’. Bamboo ceiling certainly exists here in the law and political sectors.

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  11. Your post reminded me of a comedian that said, on the first day of kindergarten being told by their parents, “Today is the most important day of your life.” There is a lot of truth about the Asian stereotypical parents who push their child and want the best for them.

    While my mom wanted that, she couldn’t help us, so nothing was really reinforced. Perhaps this is why I was rebellious and lazy. I just couldn’t wait to go to college, and get out of the house. But I came from a rather unique background, so I’m okay with being the Asian who wasn’t good at school.

    Thai schools push their students too hard and throw a lot of money towards education. As a result, copying is the norm and students pass when they should have failed. The latter having more to do with “saving face” I’m sure. Thailand is the lowest with the AESAN English goals as well. They work harder not smarter. I wonder when they plan on figuring this out.

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    • Quite a memorable line from that comedian, but I disagree with his opinion. I don’t think many of us remember our first day at kindergarten.

      There are even some Asian parents who’ll send their kids to pre-kindergarten to get a head start in education. So competitive. But without this and pushy parents, you turned out fine, Lani. You have lots of spunk in your words and even have written a book 😀

      “throw a lot of money towards education.” About sums up most parents’ attitude to schooling in Asia. I always thought Thailand’s English was good as I’ve met a few Thai international students while I was at uni and their English was great.

      Copying – I remember so many punk boys at school in Singapore asking me for my homework so they can copy it all. I always said no…but then they’d take my homework from under my desk without me seeing and copy it all. Only found out when I saw them with it.

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      • The comedian was being absurd. I don’t think many remember their first day of school! I don’t even remember learning to read!

        Thai students who make it abroad usually come from a wealthy or middle class background. Getting a visa out of the country is difficult. $$$ helps. And yes, their English is great – almost always, they work hard for it.

        Nobody copied from me! It was the other way around, I assure you! Hahahhaa.

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        • Many in Asia want to study abroad not only for a good education, but for a better life. In contrast, those in Western countries tend to want to study abroad for a broad range of social and creative experiences. The status quo right there.

          Ooooh. Now I can see why Lani will be a good sleuth sneaking around!

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing shots of these beautiful flowers Mabel and a very interesting and well written topic for sure. I think you are very smart and you’ll get far. Keep going. 😀 ♥

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      • I think you’re doing a great job Mabel and you’re way better with words than I am. Being actually Afrikaans speaking, it’s sometimes difficult for me to find the right words as my concentration is not what it used to be and even sometimes in my native language, I can’t communicate well. I am not one for talking much most of the times. I’ve always admired smart writers like you. 😀

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        • Awww, thanks, Sonel! Writing doesn’t come easy to me. Sometimes I struggle to write a page a day, and lately it’s been that way. But through the struggles it’s when we learn the most and learn to be a bit more smart.

          You write very well, and you’re very smart at photography. Amazing work of the close-ups of spiders and monkeys. Photography – it’s something we have to learn on our own and practice a lot, like many kinds of art. A whole new kind of smartness there.

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          • Well, if that was me if would take me forever. 😆

            I agree and we must do that we can and develop our skills. 😀

            I am very glad you think so. 😆 Thank you for the lovely compliment as well. I just enjoy doing it and it’s true. You have to know your camera as well and practice with all the different settings sure helps too. 😀

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            • Developing and learning skills take time. A lot of the time things can’t be learnt overnight, just like we don’t become a genius overnight. New concepts take time to sink in. So study hard at what we love and there’ll be a better chance of achieving what we want to do.

              So true. I’ve been shooting in manual mode more and more, it’s been so fun 😀

              Liked by 1 person

              • I totall agree. Practice makes perfect or we can try at least. 😆

                I’m forever changing my settings on my camera and it’s fun to play with it and see what comes out and the differences. 😀

                Liked by 1 person

  13. This bring back lots of memories. Even though I’m fifth generation Australian there remained a strong sense that I had to study as long and as hard as possible.
    If I had my time again I’d spend more time doing other things.

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  14. What an insightful and delightful read. I fully concur – it’s not just about being smart, it’s mostly about hard work. I know it first-hand: I was good at school, but I spend almost all my time studying. The difference between a successful student (or a successful professional) is often not about smartness but about how hard they are willing to work for it. Thank you for this article!

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    • Thank you, Mara. As the academic that you are, I can certainly imagine you being good at school. Hope the post-grad is going well 🙂

      Hard work will take us far.We can only learn so much from reading a textbook and memorising formulas. Studying smart and working hard usually entails not being afraid to ask questions when we don’t know the answers, working with others to share ideas and giving ourselves a break so we can stay focused.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. “Smart” is so much more than just being academically smart. Knowing how to live…. is possible the only type of intelligence one needs. We don’t mean… literally knowing how to live… we mean, knowing how to live in communities, how to behave, how to treat people, how to be assertive, how to do what’s right, how to be respectful etc etc…..

    Being great at Maths or getting a thousand qualifications might confirm one is smart…. but there is so much more to life than just being smart in that way.

    David and Le were chalk and cheese during school. And stereotypically, Le was the brains… David was all about the brawn. It might have mattered then… but now, no one cares about those things.

    You make friends because of who you are , not because of what you know or don’t know!

    Another thought-provoking piece 🙂 Well done!

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    • “Knowing how to live…. ” You two monkeys are smart. That, and surviving in this world, we need not only some basic education, street smarts and an attitude of respect, and common sense. You’d be surprised some people in this world do silly things…

      Totally agree there is more to life than being smart in one thing. But that is not to say we should try to be a jack of all trades as that can be stressful. Balance is key.

      Le and David certainly compliment each other well 😉 Thank you monkeys for always popping by!

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  16. I am proud to be Asian too hehehe..
    Well said Mabel. But sometimes, many Westerners still tend to consider Asians have oriental face or someone from East Asia. While someone from Indonesian, many of them consider us as Filipino. I said “Hellowww, I am Indonesian!” Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipinos even till Maori, Madagascar, Hawaiian and Rapa Nui as well as Aboriginal Taiwanese have the same root.
    Typical Indonesian?…Hmmm..which one? Javanese? maybe! We’re mixed then hehehe.

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  17. Many people consider me as Arabs, Indians, or even East Indonesians as my darker complexion and guess my origins, I just keep silent and smile. Generally speaking, many people also guess me as Christian or Catholic from my face. But…when they saw me pray in a mosque, they’re shocked. Hahaha..

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  18. I was a very good student! I didn’t really have much pressure from my parents but I enjoyed school and I always found easy to learn the lessons. Yep, I was the one who would lend homework to others so they could copy it haha. Most Spanish students tend to be lazy. I think that is the key with Asian students, they are very hardworking!

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    • And I believe you were a very good student! Haha, sounds like you were also very kind hearted, lending your homework to others to copy. Miss Popular, perhaps 😀
      Didn’t know Spanish students can be lazy. But you are an exception 😀

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  19. Interesting point of view Mabel! I am totally with you that getting an education and distinctions at school doesn’t necessarily guarantee us a job. Sometimes “social networking” is the main factor in getting a job or career improvement. Sorry – out of topic..but yes, Asian education and social pressure cause competitiveness and sometimes it is only about being the smartest and the winners..we forgot that there are so many factors influences someone to success..

    About your feeling as a book author and earnings, that’s exactly how I feel about my photography and my short writings. They will never pay my bills even if my articles and photographs got accepted by magazines editors every week – and these were impossible achievement. A friend told me once that’s just because I have never tried to focus on it as a career nor perhaps not wanting it as a way to pay my bills…I guess she has fair points. It is about choice and courage to change from A to Z – something that academic school has never taught us. I would say keep on going and never give up on your dream. I hope to read your book someday!

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    • No, no, not out of topic at all, Indah. Social network does go some way in getting a job and meeting (prospective) employers, and it’s a skill and kind of smartness in itself. As sad as it is, personality sells in the real world and it’s all about the first physical, face-to-face impression at interviews.

      Your underwater photography is stunning, I wonder why you aren’t worldwide famous for it already 😀 As your friend said, maybe work hard on it and give up other things and that can happen. I look forward to reading a book of your underwater photos in it one day!

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    • I am sure you were very, very, very good at the subjects you were good in, Sylvia. Yes, sometimes teachers depend whether or not we put much effort into a subject.

      One time I had a scary history teacher who yelled at any student who talked when she was teaching, and yelled when we couldn’t answer a “simple” question on the test. We tried to study hard, we really did.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Sounds so much like what I have hard in California. In US, India and Korean students are very much competitive. Like Chinese students, they also gear to get to EE, computer science, and medical school. I’m so happy to hear about your academic achievement and I admire you. It may not help your to find the job you want right now, but the education you have will always be our back bone. Great writing, Mabel! 🙂

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    • Interesting to hear that things are similar in your part of the world. Maybe it’s due to their upbringing, or a pride thing. Whichever it is, education is a privilege, and sadly not everyone has access to that.

      Thank you, Amy. I want to work for myself and me only, don’t think there’s a job like that out there for me. Where there is achievement there is always failure…and it’s something I will explore in my book.

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      • Your education achievement will help you get there, Mabel! Failure can only make one stronger. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and insights. 🙂

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        • You are so positive, Amy. And I think that’s what’s lacking in many schools in Asia. Too much textbook studying focus and not much morale and confidence boosting that’s needed to get through many situations.

          Hopefully one day, a book. But it’s going so slow. Better slow than stop and not at all 😀

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            • “edu gives us confidence more than we know.” You are so right, Amy. With an education, at least we have something to fall back on – we can show the world we have a set of skills…if we paid attention in class!

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  21. My computer froze while I was in the middle of commenting… urgh..
    You are young and extremely wise. I think part of the reason we “seem” doing better at school is that we focus on nothing but our school work. But I do think we have missed a lot. For example, social skill, creative thinking skill… or even getting to know ourselves (we were too busy to study.) I am not sure if there is the best approach on this. If so, I shall like to know.

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    • Oh no, I am so sorry to hear your computer froze while you were trying to comment here. Annoying. So sorry about that 😦

      With age, comes experience and wisdom. Now that I have finished studying, I realised how easy student life actually is compared to working life at times. The real world requires it’s own set of smart skills, and as you’ve suggested, social and creative skills. But street smarts or these skills can be learnt over time. Actually, all skills can be learnt over time. No rush. Maybe that’s the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I was a really good student. I studied hard during the week but had a lot of fun on the weekends with my friends. I was always focused and determined to do the my best. My parents put no pressure on me because I was self-motivated.

    However, I feel that exact opposite is the case in Taiwan. Anything lower than 100% is considered not good enough by many parents. I have had students cry because they didn’t get 100%. With that being said, I find students in Taiwan are very good when there is a concrete answer. However, if you ask them to offer their own opinion or to be creative, they struggle. They are not used to it. They are used to something being right or wrong with no gray area.

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    • Work hard, play hard. That’s the spirit! I feel very sad for the students in Taiwan who get depressed over not getting everything right on the tests and exams or being No. 1 in class – they feel as if they bring shame to the family. Sometimes their parents can even be more anxious than them about grades.

      When I was in Singapore, sometimes my teachers would give us lollies if we answered questions in class right. A bit like bribery. Don’t know if this is a good way of learning or not, can go both ways.

      Like

  23. Another “bingo” post! It’s interesting to read about the various reasons why we work hard in school. In the Philippines, education has been always a viewed as key to get out of poverty. So it’s common to hear parents say to they children, “Do well in school. It’s what will get us out of poverty.” or “Education is the only inheritance I can leave you”. With my parents, it is the latter. But I did well in school not because of the pressure but simply because I love reading and learning. Hehe! 🙂

    However, I agreed with you that having a good education does not guarantee you a better future or job. It only provides you with a jump start. At the end of the day, it’s how you use your smartness to make things work you that will determine how far you go in life. 🙂

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    • “Bingo post” Hahaha 😀 What a way to describe my posts. Your parents are very generous to give you an education, and good on you for lapping it up like an eager beaver. If we love what we’re learning, I think we tend to get better grades at that subject…but this wasn’t the case for me. In my final high school exam, my worst subject was English, Maths tops.

      Yes, for some people in Asian countries, education is a ticket to get out of poverty. It’s probably why some Asian parents save up and sacrifice lots to send their children overseas to study.

      “how you use your smartness to make things work you that will determine how far you go in life” Well said 😀

      Like

        • It’s true. I always was the top in English in quizzes and test at school, but when it came to the English exams and the very last high school English exam, I got a very average grade (a ‘B’, not even ‘B+’) and didn’t do as well like my teachers and classmates expected. But that didn’t stop me from being a writer 😉

          Like

  24. your academic achievement will surely get you far Mabel! there are those who are truly gifted and effortlessly smart. but hard work, focus and discipline will surely pay off in school. that’s a given. i did well because i had a lot of resources coming from a family of educators.

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    • Thank you, Lola. Your family is so encouraging of learning, that is great and you must have liked learning and school. Often education gives us a set of life-long learning skills, like as you said, discipline and being hardworking. And that is the beauty of it.

      Like

    • Thank you, Sandy. I’ll admit it. I was never the top student in class, never finishing the year as the number 1 student but always second best. Sometimes third. But we’re all different and so different achievers in our own way 🙂

      Like

  25. Interesting, Mabel.I was a high achiever too – and has always been. Not pushed by my parents, but by myself only. I have been doing university studies for almost 30 years, but for the most time working as well. In Sweden they only cost you the books – everything else is for free. I took various subjects – those that interested me. All the time driven only by curiosity and my constant wish to learn new things. Finally, in 1998, I decided to become a teacher in some of the subjects I had degrees in.
    My parents never had the chance to study, but never ever pushed me. I have never tried to push my own children either…because they have got the same “drive” as I had. Constantly studying. My daughter studied several languages and latin and linguistics, accompanied by social geography. Now she is studying to become a dentist. My son took a lot of IT- graphics and aimed for a career in game construction. Now he is taking a degree in Social Studies. They are 24 and 22.
    I guess we have different reasons for studying hard. Not all of us love to learn new things. I am very grateful for this “drive” inside, but also worried about it, because it is difficult to stop in time – to stop before you ask too much of yourself. That happened to me in 2000. I “hit the wall”, as we say in Sweden. So, I don’t take university courses anymore, only work and read. Learning new things will never lose its fascination!

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    • What a lovely comment, Leya. Always happy when you stop by because you say the most insightful things. ” In Sweden they only cost you the books – everything else is for free.” Oh my, that is so generous of your country. Study as much as you want at tertiary level. Amazing. Agree that ‘drive’ comes when we have the desire to learn new things, and if we’re fascinated by a particular new topic and want to improve our skills too.

      Your children will go far and do great things, I know it. Some say a broad education – like a general arts or science degree – is a waste of time. Then again, a broad education gives us a feel of what we really like to do, and what we don’t like.

      Hope you don’t “hit the wall” again, Leya. It sounded like a very exhausting time for you, physically and mentally. We all have our limits, and for most of us, we can only study so much.

      Like

  26. Yea, a good student after maybe Gr. 2 or so. I had to learn English in kindergarten even though I was born in Canada. So parents quite concerned that I catch up at that time. 5 siblings all were great students but we all had to work at it. Yes, we all graduated from university….a huge feat since my parents were poor. We applied for student grants and worked summer jobs to pay for tuition, etc.

    I think the stereotype of good Asian academic student is tough on some Asians who aren’t good in school for a variety of reasons.

    My thinking for any high school student, regardless of their race, ethnicity and where they live in the world, that at minimum, they must strive to finish and pass high school. Then they can deal with life decisions later on. They will be forever grateful in future to have at least finish high school..assuming the teachers were properly qualified.

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    • Sounds like your family worked hard to give you and all of your siblings an education. Good on them. Education is a privilege, and glad they recognised that.

      In Australia, it’s seen as perfectly okay if you do not finish high school, which we refer to as ‘finish Year 12 (the last year of high school). A good number will finish Year 10 or 11 and then go onto technical, apprenticeship or trade school where they’ll study things like cooking, carpentry and so on.

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      • High school has changed since I was there. About 15 years after I finished, Ontario abolished Gr. 13 which was intended to academic, university bound students. So only Gr. 12 as found in other provinces.

        I believe students in a lot of Canadian provinces, are streamed after Gr. 10 where the more technical get a different suite courses and different level of academics vs. the academic are on a different path. In Canada, it is probably very desirable to at least finish high school for a lot of employers. They want trainable people with a good foundational set of skills and thinking capacity. There’s stuff like occupational health and safety which does help one able to read manuals, listen to instructions carefully and follow a set of risky procedures.

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        • Sounds like Canada’s school syllabus is similar to the one in Singapore. In Singapore, high school students get streamed into technical or more academic book-types when they are fourteen, fifteen years old.

          You are right. OHS is all over the workplace these days, and it requires a lot of commonsense. But you’re right: behaving in the workplace does involve a number of skills we’re taught in school, no question about that.

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  27. I agree with “it seems that it’s not that we’re smart, but more so that we know the value of being hard-working and earning our slice of the pie. ”
    I am not born as smart but I always believe hard-work will be paid-off.
    Let’s me flashed back those years when I was moved from country-side school to metropolitan city. Shocked, it was how I felt because students so competitive. I hard to understand all the subject and almost gave up (even I still have bunches reason).
    But, there inside me which kept on telling no matter how hard it would be, I need to persistent and work hard, moreover my parent had paid much for my education as they wish I would have better future, better career and life than they.
    My work hard paid off, I was one of the stupidest student in my class but later on the following years I became one the best student in school. My classmate might spend one or two hours for study or just reviewed the lesson while I put double even triple effort than them.

    Like

    • Moving from the country to the city must have been very challenging for you. Usually, such a move distracts from studies and school as you settle in and set up your new home.

      School is probably more competitive in the city than in the country because students are probably eager to work in the city in the future. And to get a job in the city in an office building, we often need a certain qualification.

      Good on you for persisting with working hard at school and becoming a top student. You must have felt very relieved at the end of your studies. Well earned.

      Like

  28. Hi Mabel, I think you’re right that it’s the values of cultures that make for better grades in school. Determination helps too! I liked how you applied your personal situations to the article here – keep writing! 🙂

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    • Determination along with courage will get us far no matter how street smart or academically smart we are. There are endless lessons in this world and we learn as we journey along. The grades we get at school really isn’t the true reflection of how smart we really are – upon finishing school, we have a whole life ahead of us. Well said, Christy!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wise words from The Dragon. I’ve always been the odd one out in class…and at work too these days. We’re smart when we learn how to accept who we are. Thank you for the encouraging words, LD.

      Like

  29. Another thought provoking post, Mabel ….

    You have given the essence of the article in the last paragraph, starting with, ‘Finding the answers to who we are…. ‘

    In India, we could see a very similar pattern been repeated time and time again,

    A mad race to capture ‘A+’ grades in all subjects with or with out the pressure from parents.

    Finally, we have an army of men and women, a confused lot, who doesn’t know what they really want in life or what exactly to do with their ‘A+’ grades?

    There is a flow, and every one tries to keep themselves afloat.

    We could hardly find anyone, trying to swim across and reach the other bank, leave alone trying to swim upstream 🙂

    I was also part of the same flow until an year back, and now, trying hard to reach the other bank, in search of a new world 🙂

    Like

    • Interesting to hear you say in India, many are obsessed with bringing home stellar grades. It sounds like each individual person wants to because, hey, why not? There’s the common mentality that if we have something in our hands, we can put it to good use and other opportunities will present themselves. In other words, if we study smart and get good grades, a whole new range of jobs will supposedly open up to us.

      “There is a flow, and every one tries to keep themselves afloat.” And that sums up my thoughts exactly on this issue of studying hard at school. You said it 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by, Sreejith. I missed your comment, my apologies for that 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello Mabel,

        It’s been a few days since I logged in. As I mentioned before, I am preparing for a competitive exam and feels like I am right back in my college days 🙂

        Missing comments… I have, even a bigger buffer 🙂

        The fact is, when you are in an exam mode, it’s hard to get enough time 😦

        Hope to be right back here in the middle of all action, soon 🙂

        Have a beautiful weekend 🙂

        Like

        • “When you are in an exam mode, it’s hard to get enough time”. So true. Preparing for exams requires a lot of concentration. The key is to study smart, revising step by step and make sure you get enough rest 🙂

          I am sure you’ll do very well for your exam. Good luck with it, and if you’ve already done the exam, I’m sure you’ve given it your best shot. Best of luck and looking forward to seeing you back to blogging soon 🙂

          Like

  30. I have always heard about this, its true 😀
    I think it is a compliment, and a cultural thing too.
    I was a hard working student, but was never the best in anything. I was always very bad at math and physics. I only enjoyed writing, Geography and History haha. Anyways, we Brazilian dont have this stereotype of being smart hahaha
    Now you on the other hand, were a great student 😉

    Like

    • Always knew that you were a hardworking student, Allane. You write so well, so you must have paid a lot of attention in English class…and as you said, you enjoy writing 😀 So you are a very special Brazilian, a very smart one!

      Now, me on the other hand, also smart. But in the final exams my English result was always a B grade and all my classmates and teachers were shocked 😀

      Like

  31. Hi Mabel,

    I worked my butt off in high school, and was the top of a few of my classes, though my final score didn’t reflect my abilities as a result of falling I’ll in year 11.

    I went to a school that was a heavily Asian dominated school, as it was in an area where many Asian families lived so the pressure was on the Aussie kids to keep up and compete. Although the Asian kids were often top of the class academically, as you mentioned memorising formulas which you didn’t know why they had come about, this was often the case with the Asian students in my classes, they knew the answer, but didn’t know WHY it was the answer.

    Interesting article and I enjoyed reading it from an Asian perspective. I think it would be great if some of these Asian teaching techniques were applied in Aussie schools for the sake of balance and to give the Aussie kids the same level of knowledge!

    Awesome read! Loved it!

    Like

    • Well, you worked hard so it’s no surprise you were a star student at school! I’ve heard and read about white Aussie kids having the keep up with Asian kids in the classroom, and that some Aussie parents even avoid enrolling their kids in such schools, thinking that they must be overly competitive and stressful.

      “…but didn’t know WHY it was the answer.” Spot on. The funny part is that the teachers, or at least my teachers in high school in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, avoided explaining why and how the formulas worked. If someone in my class asked, the maths teacher just explained the method used to get to the answer again :/ From personal experience, to pass calculus and Applied Maths subjects at university level, you really just need to apply this same technique. Don’t question Why, just trust the formulas.

      Thank you for supporting!

      Liked by 1 person

  32. WOWZA Miss Mabel, you really are a smartie. That’s fantastic, I love that you were/are so dedicated to being your absolute best. That alone takes a significant amount of dedication. 🙂 I did wonder if this was an Aussie stereotype that Asians were smart, always good at Maths and Science. So, its interesting to hear you confirm it.

    I was always a bit of a nerdy kid, excelled and won awards for English, arts and in later years, I excelled with my chefs apprenticeship. I love learning, I love filling my brain with knowledge and I really love being the best at stuff. So it has never been an issue for me to study.

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    • Thank you, Miss Anna. You are a smart cookie for calling me smartie. Asian parents tend to encourage their kids to study maths and science as they believe jobs in these fields pay the big money, so because of this some Asians work hard at these subjects.

      Always thought you were hardworking and I won’t be surprised if one day you open your own three-star Michelin restaurant and be a famous chef! Since you love learning and have so much enthusiasm, it’s only a matter of time…

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  33. Well I am hardworking only and only when it’s an absolute necessity ! lol
    Like I don’t study at the start of the term, you know like studying on daily basis but when exams get closer I fire up my engine, I stay awake at nights, I study…HARD Core ! (Even my parents get worried sometimes 😀 )

    we as a nation even, are hard working only when it need be, Otherwise we always find shortcuts. you know as Bill Gates said — ‘I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.’ I am definitely that lazy person he is referring to here! 😀

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    • “… fire up my engine, I stay awake at nights”. This phrase seemed to come so strongly from you. I can really feel your hard core drive to study and know all that you have to know for the exam and pass with flying colours! At the saying goes, better late than never.

      That is a hilarious quote by Bill Gates. Well, there is something called working hard, and working smart 😉

      Like

      • Yeah exactly, I’ll categorize myself as someone who works smart but only works hard in the last few weeks before exam ! lol 😛

        Always love having conversations with you Mabel. Hope your week is going well 🙂

        Like

        • Better late than never, Zee, as always. And you write smart too, write when you feel like it and I think that’s why each and every one of your blog posts is so emotionally powerful. Thank you for the well wishes. I hope you enjoy the weekend up ahead 🙂

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          • Thanks Mabel for always being so supportive and understanding. I’ve been having a hard time catching up to blogging because of my schedule but I try. So thank you for taking time to read and listen to whatever I’ve to say 🙂 ❤

            Like

            • I hope you are doing well whatever you are doing, studying and working. It must be hard. To juggle our real life demands and blogging, it takes a lot of smart planning. You are doing a great job, Zee. Looking forward to chatting more soon 🙂

              Like

  34. This I have to agree with you. In every side of the coin, there’s two faces. Asians are more prone to classroom studying, particularly in Singapore. I have experienced it the whole of my education life. But I guess we learn moral values like being hard-working and striving for the best in between periods like that. Definitely, engaging ourselves into outdoor activities or traveling broaden our minds – learning life skills like communicating and opening up to others. A mixture of both will be best.

    Like

    • True. Schools in Singapore and Malaysia might push us to study hard and always read the textbook before the teacher starts teaching the next chapter. Then again, they are pushing us to learn more, and as you mentioned, pushing us to find a passion and morals for life-long learning.

      It’s encouraging to see Singapore schools make it compulsory for students to take up an extra-curricular activity after school, those these activities wind down considerably when exams approach.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Excellent post and so true, Mabel.
    ” …… getting an education and distinctions at school doesn’t necessarily guarantee us a job; …” In olden days being a scholar is a passport to life but in present days it is more the skills and working on those skills to success. Who would study to be a chef or a hairdresser in olden days? Those were jobs for those who were less intellectual. Today, it is no longer true as skills are pathway to success, turning your passion into profession.
    Asian students are generally smarter certainly due to upbringing and “pressure from parents”. “Everyone has a degree now. Everyone…… ” as you wrote is indeed a constant a reminder to excel. I wish I had used that on my children but unfortunately (or fortunately) they grew up like any other kiwis here, went flatting, chose their own course of studies at their own pace and time, never pressured. If I had enforced the Asian upbringing on my kids right through, I probably would have got a doctor or two in the family.

    Like

    • A very important point you bring up there. School is more than just maths, science and English language subjects. There’s also the more technical field of education as you mentioned, and those require certain skill sets and smartness as well. Sadly, the latter fields tend to pay less than the former. Maybe some study “smart” to get the money in the future, maybe the older generation are the smarter ones.

      I am sure your children are smart, smart in their own way and you are proud of them where they are at. We all eventually find our own way as we learn bit by bit 🙂

      Like

  36. Asians gave a much better work ethic than Aussies who can become cynical, lazy or disenchanted at high school. On the flip side, my kids had many Asian friends who were never allowed to “play” after school or come along to birthday parties because they had to do homework. I think this left the Asian kids at a slight disadvantage socially, and disappointed my children that their Asian friends were not able to join in with them. So it is very true your comments are n this post.

    Like

    • Your comment reminds me of a time during my childhood: I attended my Aussie friends’ birthday parties when I was around six and seven. Halfway through the parties and usually when I was playing with my Caucasian friends at the playground, my mum always appeared and took me home so I could look at books.

      Sorry to hear that your kids were disappointed that they didn’t get much play time with their Asian friends. Perhaps someday this will change since more and more Asians are breaking stereotypes these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course books are also important, Mabel, as you already alluded. But I try to have a balance between both extremes, but this also depends as much on the child’s personality and what they like to do as the parent’s values, I guess.

        Like

        • So true. We learn different things from different methods of learning. There’s classroom learning, learning online, learning through excursions and so on.

          But so true, it depends on the student’s character and which method they feel they can learn the most from. Parents also have a part to play here too. After all, they are usually the ones in charge of paying the school fees.

          Liked by 1 person

  37. I do look forward to reading your book when it is available ~ you have such a great take and also asking interesting questions. The culture of Asian society I think is where this stereotype is created ~ and there is a lot of truth to it based on studies of test results and just the incredible value/success Asians have had in almost every country in the world due to working hard, and the lessons a great culture can teach.

    I think you are a perfect example of the perfect child any Asian parent would dream to have (as well as any parent of any descent), from what I gather from your writing you work hard and are respectful and basically will be a success at anything you do… In a sense, filling that perfect “Asians are so smart” stereotype 🙂

    As the world become more global, and kids start becoming multi-cultured, I think this will change rather quickly is many areas ~ but stereotypes unfortunately in many cases stick around for quite a while.

    Like

    • No question Asian stereotypes are still profound in Asia. Stereotypes have their place in that they carry on traditions and ensure the significance behind these traditions are valued and respected. Parents pushing us to study might mean we learn the value of hard work. However, there are various methods of learning (reading, asking questions, going out and exploring) and each method brings different lessons.

      Oh, Randy, stop flattering me. Now I am blushing 🙂 But no, thank you for the nice words and for spreading the love. You are very kind and generous. These days it seems like “one step forward, two steps back” when it comes to writing my book, amongst other things that come up. Still, onwards and upwards 🙂

      Like

  38. I teach maths in an Asian country. Everyone I ever speak to says, “Oh, yes, children are very poor in maths here.” The average mark on annual exams last year for my students was 41 out of 100, which is typical for student performance in that subject. Asia is a diverse continent.

    Like

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