It looks like sending kids to schools which start when the schools end is required by law in all Asian countries. Kids releasing their evening energies in cram schools are one of the cultural connections that unite East-Asian countries like Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan, along with chopsticks and the combination of geeky hairdo with black-rimmed glasses. We Asians downplay our similarities in general and emphasize countless news headlines on border disputes and "sovereignty", in a manner not dissimilar from Mr.Universe competition. Do we see difference, if any, among the participants?
Cram schools are optimized for a single goal: to get kids into better schools, sometimes another cram school. Here in Taiwan, ultimately it means sending them to other countries with better educational institutes, notably the United States. My friends in the US are vocal about how their educational system is being dysfunctional beyond repair, but what matters for the cram schools (and rich parents) is the top tiers, not the average. As Hollywood has proven, the United States is still the best in the world in terms of attracting top talents.
There are even companies that "assist" students writing essays for entering U.S. universities and grad schools. Here is an excerpt of an original manuscript, collected by my friend working in one of those editing services: An issue of international concern that is important to me came after knowledge I got about global warming from the famous film "The Day After Tomorrow" by former VP of U.S.A. Gore. (I see the point: according to reviews of An Inconvenient Truth, the two films aren't that different in terms of scientific authenticity)
I feel sorry for the kids. But although the practice seems horrible, they do the hosting countries a big favor. Once those kids learn different cultures and thinking (along with diploma), it becomes impossible for them to see the world in black and white as they had been doing until they started their new life on a foreign soil. I think the biggest negative effect cram schools have on students is the idea that every problem has a single solution.
They tell the academic version of Disney fairy tales–The princess met the prince and the two lived happily ever after–through countless exams. But by living on their own for the first time, the kids learn the real rules of the real world: there is no black or white, only shades of gray. Most problems have multiple solutions with different trade-offs. We frequently see two contradicting truths which are both correct.
So are they all coming back to their homeland with a re-educated, international mindset? Not so fast – we still live in a "real" world full of contradictions. To be continued in the next entry…