Beyond The Tiger Mom
Beyond The Tiger Mom

East vs West Education Styles.

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 styles of 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 if needed we would employ a tutor.


We always feel uneasy telling people we’re considering a tutor for our children. 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 of self discovery. Never forcing them to learn.

We view tuition as an aid to their education. Schools do a fantastic job, without question. 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 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.

Beyond the Tiger Mom
Beyond the Tiger Mom

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.

Western trends

Her accounts offer an insight into education styles in the west our. 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.

Eastern trends

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 summary

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.


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  1. I’ll be honest I had this type of education as a child and hated it.

    We’re in Paris and the education system is rigid, lots of rote learning and memorisation. The education is far more academic. It’s worked well for one kid, but not the other. Also, there’s a serious lack of creativity, which I really miss about the UK system. And I think nurturing creativity needs, and play has an important role in that.

    Nonetheless sounds like an interesting book. #kcalcols

    • It’s hard to cater for all children isn’t it. I think the author sums up a really good way of trying to find the balance and really advocates creativity and free play too. Really was an interesting book x

  2. Think I’ll have to add this one to my to-read list. It is so hard but so important to strike the right balance between learn and play. Like you mention, the Western way of learning is relatively new … we are still trying to figure it out! Definite food for thought, thanks for sharing.

  3. Very interesting. I’m very torn at the moment with educating my girls. They are both in a private pre-school who are doing a fantastic job but so many of the other kids are put into additional lessons after school hours – around 1/2 I’d say. I don’t do that. Instead I take them to dancing and swimming lessons and encourage out-door sport activities. I’m feeling very pressured to give them additional lessons so they don’t fall behind the kids who are advancing. But I don’t want to because they are only 3 and 5. There is more than enough time for extra lessons. I can’t believe the stress surrounding this issue though.

    • The stress can be immense can’t it? I really think you have to follow your gut instinct as you know your children the best. It’s trying to find that balance between encouraging them and giving them the best opportunities you can but also allowing them the freedom to explore and use their imagination. I think at 3 and 5 the activities you do are fab x

  4. I home educate my younger son and we are fairly relaxed in following his interests and building skills. My older son always attended school. We do the best we can for each of our children.

    Thanks for linking with #KCACOLS and we hope to see you again on Sunday.

  5. This is a really interesting post. I’m quite torn with the tutoring thing. My son is in Year 2 at the moment and I can see it would benefit him when he’s in Juniors. I agree that it must be hard to learn all you need when you are in a class of 29 other children.

    Thank you for linking up to #KCACOLS and I hope to see you back again on Sunday x

  6. It would be amazing if we as parents could combine a mixture of the two methods. I hate to think of the high rate of suicide among Eastern children and adults who really feel the pressure. I know from visiting Japan how target driven their society is and the shame that is felt if these targets aren’t met. At the same time I believe children need to understand that failure CAN happen and a hard working ethos will help them avoid this.


    • Exactly. I think we could take a little from the way they educate children but not all of it. Their system places far too pressure on children but that said a little pressure / encouragement and taking lessons from failing, or instead as the author puts it, it’s a ‘learning experience’ is good for children IMO x

  7. Some interesting points here, I think that children flourish when there’s structure for them to work around but at the same time they have to BE children. As with everything in life it’s about balance and finding the point which works for your family and YOUR child. I don’t think you should ever worry about people judging your thoughts on getting a tutor – you know your child best. #kcacols

  8. My son starts school in September and I do worry about how much one on one time with his teachers he will be getting with class sizes so big. This book sounds really really interesting. I never had a tutor myself but may consider it if it’s what my child needs. Thanks for linking up to #BlogCrush


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