“What are you doing this summer?”
When a lot of Asian students are asked this question, “summer school” – followed by a glum look – is a typical response. For many children, “summer” means attending fun camps, traveling with family, or relaxing at home without the stress of schoolwork. But for many other students, “summer” means getting ready for more school.
Elite high school entrance exams, the SAT, ACT, or simply keeping busy are all reasons why so many Asian parents send their children to “cram schools” during the two-month vacation.
I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, in a small suburban town with a large Asian population. Since early elementary school, classmates attended afterschool programs to brush up on their math and reading skills. Hagwon and buxiban (“cram schools” in Korea and Taiwan/Mainland China, respectively, who have made their way across the Atlantic to the U.S.) were commonly heard words.
In the midst of fractions and phonics in third grade, students would be busy solving for variables and reviewing vocabulary flashcards. When other students played sports and attended Girl Scout meetings as extracurriculars, many Asian students headed to Kumon, C2 Education, and Honors Review.
Of course, the SAT was a huge focus when high school started. At my high school, many Asian students were sent off to SAT prep schools for at least one summer. Though attending school eight hours a day for seven weeks may not seem like a very appealing summer activity to most teenagers, I felt pressure to enroll in SAT courses because everyone around me was doing so, and if I didn’t spend that extra time preparing for the exam, I would definitely fall behind.
I have lived in my hometown all my life, and over the years, I’ve noticed more and more Asian-owned learning centers opening up. A growing number of parents are investing money into their children’s education by sending them to these for-profit academies. Children are being tutored for longer periods of time, and they are also starting younger.
This phenomenon stems from East Asian countries and the high value they place on quality education. Students in East Asia continue to outperform their Western counterparts in academic performance and international exams. When their children are very young, many Asian parents begin to emphasize the value of education.
The summer after my first year of college, I taught English to underprivileged elementary school students in rural southern Taiwan. Though many of these children’s parents worked long hours for little pay, a lot of my students attended buxiban after six hours of English class every day.
When I was a teacher’s assistant at an English-Mandarin bilingual school with a large percentage of Chinese-American students, I noticed that many children rushed off to tutoring programs when the school day ended. But what really opened my eyes while interning at the school was though most students there were born into low-income immigrant families, the teachers were excellent, children were enthusiastic about learning, and attendance was near-perfect.
Whether it is doing vocabulary drills or solving equations, when summer finally rolls around, it is certain that many students will be busier than ever.