So A-level results are out today, and as always, the news is awash with what seems like slightly inflated statements:
“…record proportion of papers had been awarded an elite A*”
(If everyone is getting A*’s, surely it’s not elite any more but normal?)
“Smallest gender gap in A grades between boys and girls since 2000”
“….overall number of students expected to take up university places is likely to top 500,000 for the first time ever.”
Some social commentators would say that the system is simply getting easier. Parents on the other hand would know that our children are under more pressure than ever before to perform academically.
As Asians, we understand all about the pressure to do well at school. For most of us growing up, comments like “Why did you only get a ‘B’?” or “How do you expect to go to medical school with marks like that?” are served up with breakfast on a regular basis. My dad used to lament over the fact that I was more creatively minded (God forbid!) than capable at the traditional subjects. I will always remember him telling me to “be more intelligent”! Er….?
Maybe it’s our innate competitiveness as Asians. We’re always so concerned with “what the family will say” about anything that we do. I’m pretty sure that academic achievement is so highly prized just so that it can be boasted about at the next function!
The question is will our generation of British Asian parents repeat the sins of our fathers by applying the same level of pressure on our kids? Will we push them as hard as we were pushed? By all accounts, British Asian children today continue to outperform their white counterparts, pipped only to the post by the Chinese. It’s clearly a cultural thing- our work ethic is drummed into us at a very early age and anything less than over-achievement is not tolerated.
It’s true that we parent the way that we were parented; it’s simply doing what you know. Today, I’ve had to work pretty hard at suppressing the Tiger Mum in me. I continually check the urge to push my daughter to spend more time on homework; the temptation to instil in her the importance of doing well at school and keeping up with her peers. Have I mentioned that she’s only 5?
But it’s also no secret that schools today put our children under a lot of pressure- far more than we experienced. They have their first formal assessments at the age of 6. When they’re in junior school, the talk of much-coveted high school places starts around 9 or 10, with many 11 year olds putting themselves under intense pressure to pass school entrance exams and the 11+. (My nephew is on a three day intensive tuition class as we speak in preparation for his 11+.)
According to one report, universities are now placing more emphasis on GCSE grades due to the over-inflation of A-Level results (everyone now achieving the ‘elite’ A* status is a case in point), so there’s no hope of floating through these like we did, only to roll your sleeves up in 6th form.
I want my daughter to be able to compete on this platform and I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to instil the value of hard work in our youngsters.
But how do we do that in a healthy way that respects their individuality? How also do we achieve it without inspiring an unhealthy sense of competition, the sort that we see at Asian functions where people compete over job status, what car we drive and so on?
Finding a healthy balance is a challenge for me personally. Here are some of the guidelines my husband and I working towards:
- Find your child’s individual bent and go with that. Is she a problem solver? Is he a naturally gifted musician? Encouraging their natural giftings will make your child a happier as well as more successful student
- Avoid gender stereotyping. This is an area that is close to my heart, repeat after me: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BOYS/GIRLS SUBJECTS, THERE ARE NO CAREERS WHICH ARE MORE SUITABLE TO EITHER BOYS OR GIRLS!
- Give them the tools. Today’s classroom is a competitive place, so any help you give them is an advantage. Support with home learning definitely has its benefits
- After school clubs and activities such as sports, dance or drama classes will give your child an outlet for other talents and interests outside of formal learning. Some high schools also offer places to children who are exceptional at these, for example schools with a performing arts emphasis.
- Avoid unhealthy comparisons with cousins, siblings or classmates. It only serves to damage self-esteem when they feel they don’t reach up to that standard; or an over-inflated ego if they outperform them
- Our children are individuals! Help them reach their own potential, whatever level that might be at.
Good luck with the new term to both children AND parents!