Striking a balance with Education.
A review of the book ‘Beyond The Tiger Mom’ by Maya Thiagarajan
I was recently asked to review a book titled ‘Beyond The Tiger Mom’. The author Maya Thiagarajan describes her experiences and thoughts of being a teacher both in the US and in Singapore. I was drawn to this book as education is something that weighs heavy on my mind. My partner and I have often discussed how we will aid our children’s education. We discuss what we could do if they either excel in a subject or fall behind in a subject. We both agree that at some point tutoring would probably be a good idea.
We always feel uneasy telling people we’re considering a tutor for our children and those we have told have said to us that it’s unnecessary and places too much pressure on children. In western thinking, the view on educating children is one where children self discover and evolve on their learning journey. Never forcing them to learn. We view tuition as an aid to their education. Schools do a fantastic job but how is it possible for teachers to really focus on a child’s individual needs in a class of 30 mixed ability students. I know they try hard and it is a task I admire their efforts with. I don’t really agree with the degree of tuition that is the norm in the east but I definitely feel there is value in it.
We feel that in this modern age, children are growing up faster and more is expected of them as adults. Technology is exposing children to the world in a way our generation never experienced. I want to prepare my children for this competitive and at times harsh world without placing too much pressure on them. I really hope to find the right balance. I think this book sums up the balance perfectly and I highly recommend reading it.
Whilst reading this book I learned about varying styles of education and it has actually helped affirm our standpoint on how we are choosing to help our children learn.
About The Author
Maya grew up in India and progressed her teaching career in the US. She taught in both low income area schools and in american private schools. She eventually yearned to go back to where she grew up, Maya and her young family decided to move to Singapore. In Singapore she continued teaching in both local and international schools. It was at this point in her career she saw the vast differences in educational pedagogies and outcomes between the west and the east.
Her accounts offer an insight into the views on how we educate our children. In the west we encourage the discovery of learning, never forcing but encouraging our children to learn. We focus heavily on books and reading for pleasure. We hold teachers, parents and circumstances accountable for children not learning to the standard expected, but never hold the children accountable themselves. We protect our children from failure and value free play and self discovery. However this way of learning is relatively new and in our experimenting with educational pedagogies many of our children are not learning to expected standards. The gap between the lowest achievers and highest achievers is much larger than that in the east.
In the east it is almost the polar opposite. Great importance is placed on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). So much so that families pay fortunes on tuition each year, they spend hours on homework and always tell their children they can work harder. Maya explores the question ‘why is it always asian children on the math team?’. Many asians excel in math and other STEM subjects as a result of their intense education and math rich homes. Children learn through drill and repetition. They expose their children to failure and teach the importance of effort.
The way children are educated clearly works when it comes to results. However rates of mental ill health and suicide are much higher. Many students will comment about the pressure to please their parents and perform. Mothers are often described as being ‘Tiger Moms’. A ‘Tiger Mom’ is a mother that is described as being strict and demanding in terms of their children’s education. They strive for attainment of top grades and success.
The chapter focusing on memorisation was fascinating. Some argue that memorisation is no longer required in a digital age, google have all the answers after all! However it is also argued that one cannot learn the skills to think creatively and analytically without first having the knowledge base – acquired through memorisation.
Wider influences on education
Maya tells us about the many families she’s interviewed. She discusses which aspects of education they value the most and why. She offers her views on how the economic history of the countries and devolution of the extended family unit influences education styles. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on the extended family and how through urbanisation, the role of members of the extended family are being outsourced to professionals and more worryingly peers.
At the end of each chapter she offers some brilliant tips on how to achieve the balance, create a math rich home, encourage reading for pleasure and allowing children to play, discover and use their imagination. All the tips are easily achievable and very well explained.
In a vastly changing and developing world we often wonder how best to aid our children’s education. Maya discusses her balanced and realistic view on how we can bring the positive aspects of both western and eastern educational styles together, to benefit our children. She expresses her love for her experiences and how they have shaped her as a parent and an educator. The tips at the end of each chapter offer interesting and wonderful ways in which we can create the best environment for learning.
I particularly like a quote she shared by Heng Swee Keat (Singaporean Minister of Education) “If creativity is about connecting the dots, you need to have solid dots in the first place or you will have nothing to connect. So a grasp of the basics is necessary.”
In her own words, “Without structure, there’s chaos and they [children] tend to flounder; yet without freedom, creativity and imagination are stifled”.
More on Maya Thiagarajan here
If you have school age children I really urge you to read this book. You can buy the book on Amazon.
Read my thoughts on why we should read with our children.