Culture & Academics

July 20, 2009
Written by Sticky Wicket in
"Sticky Wicket" Questions
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Dear Sticky Wicket,

The Asian students at my school all seem to be super-good at math. Are they just born that way, or what?

~Confused in Kansas

Dear Confused in Kansas,

Mathematical prowess among Asian students has nothing to do with genetics and ethnicity, contrary to popular belief. However, many Asian nations do outperform other countries in the study of math and science. According to a report compiled by the American Institutes for Research, five countries were found to be performing at “proficient” levels in mathematics: Singapore, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei and Japan; whereas twenty-two countries, including the United States, are performing at “basic” levels. The explanation for this has more to do with culture than genetics.

The commitment to excel academically, especially in mathematics, is deeply rooted in Asian culture. University of Michigan researchers found that students in Asian countries spend more hours studying than their U.S. counterparts. Eleventh graders in Taiwan spend an average of 16.4 hours studying, compared to 11.4 hours for Japanese students and 10.1 for students in Minneapolis, Minn. The dynamic shifts in terms of time specifically spent studying mathematics: 4.4 hours for Taiwanese students, 3.4 hours for Minneapolis students and 2.4 hours for Japanese students.

While Asian students spend an equal amount of time enjoying leisure activities, most students are enrolled in after-school learning academies, such as juku for Japanese students and buxiban for Taiwanese students. According to researchers, mathematics is the most popular after school class among Taiwanese and Japanese students.

Aside from cultural indicators, instructional methods in Asian classrooms vary from other countries. Asians are more apt to memorize mathematical procedures and rely less on calculators. Canadian psychologist, Jamie Campbell, compared the basic mathematical skills of students educated in China, Canadian students of Chinese origin and non-Asian Canadian students.

On average, the two groups of Asian students used their memories 85 percent of the time to perform basic mathematical calculations, compared to 70 percent for non-Asian students. In addition, Asian students educated in China provided 58 percent more correct answers than Canadian educated students. Canadian students of Asian descent scored 19 percent higher than the non-Asian students. Considering these facts, it appears that the culture of learning in Asian countries and in Asian families is conducive to higher achievement.

"Sticky Wicket" Questions