Tuesday 26 March 2013


Hard Work and Academic Success

Last Saturday, we watched a Danish documentary about how hard work brings academic success using the so-called "Chinese" method. Here is the video broadcasted on 23 March 2013:


That sets me thinking...

In general, the Chinese are known to be extremely hardworking (but there will always be exception. I have known many many extremely lazy Chinese too).

The Chinese value hard work more than intelligence.

The Chinese's greatest strength of hard work is also the Chinese's greatest weakness.

There is no quality of life. What a life! No one would wish for.

But the Chinese had no choice - no choice in the past, nor any choice in the future, except to be hard-working.

There is NO WAY OUT.

Since ancient times, the Chinese competed with the Chinese to be the number one scholar serving the emperor.

The ancient Chinese stories are full of stories of the Chinese burning mid-night oil, studying under candle light to prepare themselves for the scholar exam.

It was so 5000 years ago. It is so now.

With overpopulation, the Chinese society is highly competitive where only the fittest survive.

In this grim perspective, it is comforting to know that if you are hardworking, you will survive no matter what. If you are hardworking, willing and able to take hardship, there will be jobs for you.

This is what every Chinese child is taught from young. This was also what I was taught by my dad as a child. This was also what I was taught by my teachers in school in Singapore.

Contrary to what the rest of the world think, the Chinese are not competing with others.

No, the Chinese are actually competing with themselves.

The Chinese environment is very harsh. Any other environment in the world is most likely softer.

It is hard to compete with the Chinese and their ability to work hard, make sacrifice and take hardship, as they are born and breed in such a harsh environment, and thus are used to such environment.

The Chinese children spend a long period in school - up to 9 hours daily, excluding extra classes after school - within the school compound. This means that the Chinese children spend time longer in school than the Danes spend daily working, since Danish working hours are 37 hours a week.

For high school students in China, it is the norm for teachers and students to go home at 11pm after tuition.

Thereafter, the Chinese teenager self-study until 2am. The day normally starts at 6am. You need to get to school by 7am.

My Chinese friend used to tell me how she would watch her neighbour who attended the same school as she was. If the neighbour switched off the lights at 3am, she would try to match that.

Here is an article on schooling in China:


According to the Danish TV station, the video "followed the family Bentzen, with the help of a Chinese coach to do the family's two children  to do better in school. The method is two hours of extra school work every day and personal trainer to coach their leisure activities. The children are sent to exam before and after the course. The question is: Can the Danish family survive living with a simulated, albeit somewhat water-down "Chinese-type" pressure? The goal of the video is to examine how the upbringing and parents influence their children's success. Have they been beaten to do homework or have they been allowed to take care of themselves and have only been surrounded by love without demands?"

The Danish kids in the video was behind in their school by at least 1.5 years compared to the students in their class.

After being coached by a Chinese and having 2 hours of homework and revision for a month, their grades have improved equivalent to half a year - in just a month. That's a remarkable achievement.

According to the Chinese coach Xinxin, if the children do not do well in school, it is the parents who are to be blamed.

The Danish parents, especially the mom, sacrificed to make it work, coaching her children for 2 hours after work everyday. The whole family has enjoyed the fruit of the labour. But can the Danish family continue at this tempo, especially the Danish parents? This will remain a question mark.

What implications have this on J?

After watching the Danish video, I am convinced of working hard is the way to go.

We should not stop working hard for academic success. It is good to work hard. With hard work comes the reward of being good at something.

It is no good to work hard at the expense of everything else. It is important to strike a balance.

We will not set the goal of competing with the Chinese with working hard. There is no way we can beat them.

We will set the goal of being at least on par with the Singaporeans, although it is getting increasingly more difficult, growing up in a softer environment.

However, life in Denmark is not secure 30 years for now. J must be able to be agile enough to move out even to the Chinese world.

That would mean that J has to embrace the value of hard work, pursue academic success and be able to understand Mandarin, if not being fluent in it.

This should be done in a good balance.

However, the challenge is finding a balance - both for me as a mom and for J.

But we will have to try.

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