Win At The Starting Line: The Costs of Academic Success

Is having an edge over everyone else so crucial that we must start extracurricular classes? Hong Kong, like most Asian countries, seems to highly stress academics.

Is having an edge over everyone else so crucial that we must start extracurricular classes? Hong Kong, like most Asian countries, seems to highly stress upon academics in an extremely competitive environment. Parents want their kids and students to strive well in academics to be at the top percentile and above their peers.

However, if you look around a few of Hong Kong's most populated areas, say, Causeway Bay or Prince Edward, you would see many institutions—specifically, educational institutions offering courses to kindergarten children for them to learn primary school content (while they are still in Kindergarten), and these courses are everywhere. From this phenomenon, can we not deduce that this 'culture' of trying to be ahead of everyone else has already gone overboard? 

A Competitive Environment

Parents want their children to have a good education and a bright future, as that is their ultimate goal. To do this, they are willing to put down a large sum of money in everything that seems like it could help with the child's future, whether that be tutor courses that may help the child with struggles academically or off- curriculum things such as learning a musical instrument so that the child may seem outstanding and strive in such a competitive environment. 

Signing up to tutor courses, learning a musical instrument, participating in competitions, and winning medals help the student achieve more academically society's standards. This has grown to the point where the 'extended studying' periods (either off the curriculum or on the curriculum) have grown to start at Kindergarten, all to 'Win at the starting line'. 

Too extreme? 

Yes, being at tutoring courses to enhance our understanding of the content that we learn in school or being involved in further learning of topics that we know in school is a good thing, as we would be able to understand the concepts being taught in school easier. Yes, striving in competitions is good because it makes our academic profile look better as we seem to be striving academically. Learning a musical instrument is good because it makes our profile look like we do something other than studying. 

Maybe not learning musical instruments, but to a degree, being in tutor courses if we do not understand the contents that are being taught in school may be necessary, as we do have to start taking academics seriously at one point in higher grades where grades start mattering to our future, and from that point; we should be taking them seriously. But is it essential for children at a young age - at Kindergarten, to start studying off school hours? 

Should these times during Kindergarten not be used to explore a children's interest in subjects and learn about our environment and what's around us? 

Nowadays, parents, in general, seem to be fixated on the entire educational system, where it is believed that being in tutorial classes would automatically allow students to excel academically. Kindergarten kids are expected to know primary-school content, primary-school kids are expected to know secondary-school content, and by the time a student reaches secondary, they are expected to be involved in competitions and projects, not within the curriculum, to get awards of all sorts. 


The concept of 'winning at the starting line' seems to be instilled so deep into our society that by now, it has gotten to the point where everyone seems to be obligated to be enrolled in tutorial courses and understand all of the content in the syllabus (and potentially, more range than what is covered). By now, in contrast, the majority of students who go to tutorial classes versus the minority of students who don't now create an illusion to seem that the minority of students, who may not be underachieving as expected in that grade, would now seem to be underachieving, as they may not be as advanced when compared to their other peers in terms of understanding the content. 

And by then, when the majority of the class seems to have already known everything (and even more than everything that is required to be known in the syllabus), parents and peers around us would raise their expectations - and naturally start expecting all students of the class (even those who do not take tutorial classes) to also be at the same stage of those who do. 

This would lead to the point where students who were not underachieving become "true" underachievers, leading to more and more students being forced into tutorial classes to keep up with the rest of their peers. 

If we want to get good grades, it is understandable for us to take tutorial classes to understand the concepts or material we don't understand in class to get through the course. 

The time has passed for us as Kindergarten students to be ranting about having our free time spent learning maths 'for fun', but is it necessary for kids who are in Kindergarten now to start the 'competition' the moment they get into an education curriculum at the cost of the child's free time? 

It's All About The Progress Of The Race

Knowing that your child has the edge over their classmates is a feeling every parent wants to have; hoping that your child might be a prodigy, attend a top university, or save your family from the embarrassment of an underachieving child. 

Most Asian countries are indeed stereotyped as academically competitive and stressed, along with parents with overly high expectations, fretting about their child's performance at school and pushing them to an extent that might cause adverse long-term outcomes, such as depression and anxiety. 

Firstly, I'm afraid I already have to disagree with the phrase "winning at the starting line". The first impression that comes to mind when hearing this phrase is "The Tortoise and the Hare", a famous story also taught to Asian children that they mustn't give up and leads to the most iconic moral, "Slow and steady wins the race". However, the phrase "winning at the starting line" completely contradicts the fable's moral. No matter how well you perform at the starting line, it is about the progress of the "race" instead of how much confidence or potential you have of winning. Moreover, metaphorizing Kindergarten as the starting line suggests education is a "race", which teaches a poor idea for the children as they grow up thinking that they must compete with each other as a race can only have one winner. 

I agree with the writer that the competitive environment is too extreme to the point where the bar for an "adequate" performance is so high that it forces students to participate in extracurricular studies to keep up. Primarily if this situation already occurs since Kindergarten, giving kids the stress and habit of competing at such a young age is never a good idea when they reflect on how they spent their childhood. 

It's An Ongoing Trend

In general, winning at the starting line has grown much more vital in these years. Not just in Hong Kong but in places like mainland China, Japan, and Korea, the trend of 'winning at starting line' seems more popular than usual. This trend benefits the students since learning materials earlier than their peers will prepare them better for their future, in which they will quickly complete exams and tests and generate higher scores for themselves. However, the result will only be harmful if such a concept is taken to the extreme. 

What does that mean? Take the learning material as an example; if the parents want their primary children to learn secondary math concepts, this idea is widely accepted as long as the learning materials do not exceed the intellectual capabilities of their children. Or else the children will struggle to understand the concepts they are learning and become increasingly annoyed by what they are learning and thus become more and more burdened by the stress they have to bear. The idea must also be implemented during a suitable period at the right time. It would also be unwise for children in Kindergarten to learn the syllabus taught in primary schools since most kindergarten kids are neither mature nor intelligent enough to know things taught in primary schools since most of them would mainly focus on having fun with their peers and what they are capable of. Most would give up and concentrate on having fun if they encounter something difficult.