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You are here: Home > Teaching Tips for Books You've Purchased > School Tips & Education Articles > Chinese Students - What can be Learned from them for Getting Good Grades?
Chinese Students - What can be Learned from for Getting Good Grades?

Chinese Students - What can be Learned from for Getting Good Grades?

As of the 2003-2004 school year, the national average rate for high school graduation is 75 percent.  Sadly, the statistics mean at least a fourth of high school students never get a diploma.  So why do Chinese in the US, who are only 4% of the population, make up 10-30% of students at the best universities in the US? The NY Times had an article called Little Asia on the Hill about UC Berkeley, where 46% of the students are Asian, but only 12% of the California population is.   Instead of blindly accepting the poor state of education in America, families can  learn some great ideas from Chinese families and culture on getting good grades and striving for success academically.

High Expectations

One time I had a good student who's grades began to drop drastically.  Naturally, as the teacher, the first thought is: "What am I doing wrong?"  In conference with the young gentleman, the reason for the drastic change was soon discovered.  Seemingly, his mom did not care about her son's grade as long as it was passing.

The attitude is totally unacceptable in any culture!  Unlike many parents today, the Chinese have high expectations for their children.  Getting anything less than an "A" can be a source of shame.  Post-secondary education is planned with the goal of attending top ranked schools such as Harvard or Yale, not the local community college.

Academic Priorities

Some schools place a high priority on  on sports, to the exclusion to everything else.  The school day is shortened, so teachers and students can attend the matches or other competitions.  Awards for the best sports team are displayed in showcases.  But, little is said about academic excellence.  In one class I was substitute teaching, heavily Hispanic, I asked the 7th graders what they wanted to do.  The majority of the class wanted to be professional basketball players.  A few wanted to be professional baseball players.  So I had the class do some simple math.  How many teams are there, number of players per team, and they worked it out.  According to the chances of a male high school athlete being drafted by an NBA team is .03% or 3 in 10,000

In the Chinese culture, good grades and scholastic success is paramount.  Under normal circumstances, athletics are a great social and ego boost, but it does not translate into a good job and personal growth out in the workforce. Flipping burgers at a fast-food joint is not acceptable. The ultimate goal is financial, social, and personal achievement of the highest order. Do well in school, and reach for long-awaited success.

Set a Career Path

As most high school students what they are planning after graduation and a vast majority will be unsure.  Many students seem incapable of thinking beyond the next assignment.  Not so in the Chinese culture.  From a young age, children have a career path in mind.  The premise of early planning is to gear class selection and education around the subjects that will most likely help a student reach his/ her career goal.  The parents decide you will be a Doctor, Veterinarian, etc.  I have seen this in schools where a Chinese 5th grader (top student in the class) answered she was going to be a veterinarian, and the other non-Chinese students had no real goals of their future careers.

Although a solid career decision may not be important in grade school, secondary education has so many choices for a well-rounded education.  Thus, students can pick the courses that will provide the best possible preparation for a chosen career path. In a study of Harvard MBA students of the power of goal setting, after 10 years the 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals? They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

Family Support

Although hard to believe, some high school students rarely see parents.  Mom and Dad both work.  The kids are responsible for getting off to school, only to come home to an empty house at the end of the day.  Anything important that happened during the day is old news by the time the parents come dragging in the door.  

Not so with the Chinese.  Parents want to know the day's events and homework is a family affair.  Mom or Dad will sit down and make sure the lessons are completed.  If something is difficult to understand, the parents do whatever possible to help sons and daughter succeed with the highest possible marks.  Sometimes this gets carried away, where the children's projects are done by the parent.  In my daughter's fifth grade class, you could tell who had help on their project.  I admit, my family did get a bit carried away on her project when we built a model of Joss House Weaverville Model Project.  My Father got the blue prints from the national park, I bought a video, and lots of research on the web.  At least we were truthful and explained to the teacher my daughter had worked on the landscape and that's what she was graded on.

Chinese parents will gladly pay the premium to live in better school districts to make sure their kids get the best education possible.  In the Los Angeles area Cerritos, Walnut/Diamond Bar (where my daughter attends), Arcadia, and San Marino all have excellent school districts.  They are also heavily Chinese and the housing prices are not cheap.  So which came first, the good schools or the Chinese?  The good schools came first and the Chinese then bought homes with a preference for a good school district and pay a premium for it.  I know one parent who lives in Covina, and bought a Condo in Walnut so their daughter could go to school there.  They got lucky (like us), and their daughter got in via a lottery that allowed out of district students to go to school in Walnut/Diamond Bar.


When a subject is particularly difficult or the stakes are extremely high, most Chinese parents do not simply accept a child's average grades.  When necessary, parents will sacrifice and do whatever is necessary to enlist the help of a tutor.  Many kids will participate in after school programs or tutoring, in order to receive the highest grades humanly possible.

Likewise, as the students get older and the SAT exams are looming, parents will hire tutors to help students gain the best scores.  Without stellar marks, the Ivy League colleges will never be a reality.  So, tutoring is an expected element of education.  In other cultures, tutoring is a last resort rather than an insurance policy of scholastic success.  Where I live in Rowland Heights, there are so many tutoring places.  It seems that every strip mall has them.  From after school programs that help with Math and English, to SAT preparation classes.  Summer is the time these private schools are especially active.  Parents will have their kids take during the summer classes that they will be taking during the year.  For example Calculus may be taken during the summer at one of these schools for no grade, and then repeated at a public school for a grade.  Taking a class for the second time helps the grade.  One of my daughter's friends because of all the work she has done in private after school and summer programs is taking Calculus in the 9th grade! She also got a perfect score on the SAT in 7th grade.

In Summary

Getting good grades should not be a cultural issue.  Every student should want to achieve the best possible education.  However, many of the kids who go to school today have a nonchalant attitude toward academic success.  Plus, parents are so busy, kids are practically raising themselves.  As long as the grades are average and the principle is not calling, everything is status quo.

 Students should be motivated to do their absolute best, and parents should be right behind the effort to succeed.  Academic achievement is a family goal, not an afterthought.  Sacrifice and hard work are worth the end result. A lot can be learned from Chinese families and the cultural attitude toward good grades and personal success.

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Fat Envelope Frenzy by Joie Jager-Hyman.  English. Paperback.
Fat Envelope Frenzy by Joie Jager-Hyman
Our Price: $14.95
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Fat Envelope Frenzy by Joie Jager-Hyman.  A former Ivy League admissions officer follows five bright and eager high schoolers--students from diverse ethnic, social, and financial backgrounds--as they each put their best foot forward on the road they hope will lead them to the hallowed halls of Harvard University.  Jager-Hayman also offers a startling frank appraisal of the college admission process and the important roles race and class continue to play in a student's efforts to attend the best school possible..  English.  Paperback.  231 Pages.

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