Tag Archives: india

Not The Asian Kids

14 Jun

Watch this video clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live (Wikipedia, Youtube channel).


For some, this video is funny; for others, it’s not. I don’t believe there is much truth in it, but here’s what’s true – “Not all kids. Not the Asian kids.”

Why are the Asian kids (especially, Indian and Chinese kids) stereotyped as bright, nerdy, and smart in the US, but not in their home countries? From Spelling Bee and National Geographic Bee to Intel Science Talent Search, the Asian kids dominate the scene. I have some theories.

In India and China

  • There are limited opportunities for the kids to show their talent or take paths that don’t conform to the norm. They are not allowed to take risks.
  • They don’t follow their passion. Even if they are interested, the passion dies because they are forced to excel at it.
  • Parents consider a professional degree (engineering and medicine degrees in India) a safe bet for landing a good job, even if the child is not interested.
  • The kids are forced to work hard and get good grades. They get good grades, but they don’t learn for the sake of learning.
  • The kids don’t go for higher education. They don’t aim high. They become risk-averse adults.

Why Asian kids do so well in the US

  • Most of us have come to the US for higher studies. We’ve gone to great universities. We have worked hard. We inculcate the same values in our children.
  • We expect our kids to go to best universities and earn at least a master’s degree (a PhD is better).
  • We don’t believe in online education. We go by the US News rankings. We want our kids to go to highly selective universities.
  • We encourage our kids to study hard (and force them, if required). We spend a lot of time with them and help them with studies. Their “time on task” is highest among any other ethnic/racial groups.
  • Mathematically, we believe s=f(h) where s=success and h=hard work.
  • Our kids are allrounders. They play musical instruments, participate in sports, and do well in studies. If studies are suffering, every extra-curricular activity is dropped.
  • We want our kids to study science, math, and computers. Humanities and social sciences are for the lesser mortals.
  • There are countless opportunities available in the US, so the pressure to do well is less. Less stress means more motivation and engagement.
  • We encourage our kids to be highly ambitious. Not as entrepreneurs but as academics, scientists, engineers.
  • For us, there are only two grades – “A” and “F”. If it’s not an “A”, it’s as good as “F”. And our kids are not allowed to get any grade other than an “A”.
  • The Asian culture is collectivist. If the kids don’t do well in studies, it’s a shame for the entire family. The kids know this and don’t want to let their parents down in front of their social circles.
  • Watching TV, partying with friends, and any other means of wasting time is strictly limited.

Related articles
On parenting – “asian” or otherwise
Why Indian-Americans Reign As Spelling Bee Champs

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If Cricket is a Religion, Sachin is God

23 May

Sachin Tendulkar (Wikipedia)

In India, cricket is indeed a religion. It unites a billion people with diverse traditions, languages, food, occupation, and social status.

A 16-year old boy had made his debut in 1986. In the last 25 years, he broke numerous records, carried the expectations of a nation on his shoulders, made a ton of money, and won an incredibly fanatic fan following.

The Time magazine, in its current Asian edition, featured a cover story aptly titled – The God of Cricket.

From a Time magazine 2010 article
When Sachin Tendulkar travelled to Pakistan to face one of the finest bowling attacks ever assembled in cricket, Michael Schumacher was yet to race a F1 car, Lance Armstrong had never been to the Tour de France, Diego Maradona was still the captain of a world champion Argentina team, Pete Sampras had never won a Grand Slam.

When Tendulkar embarked on a glorious career taming Imran and company, Roger Federer was a name unheard of; Lionel Messi was in his nappies, Usain Bolt was an unknown kid in the Jamaican backwaters. The Berlin Wall was still intact, USSR was one big, big country, Dr Manmohan Singh was yet to “open” the Nehruvian economy.

It seems while Time was having his toll on every individual on the face of this planet, he excused one man. Time stands frozen in front of Sachin Tendulkar. We have had champions, we have had legends, but we have never had another Sachin Tendulkar and we never will.

Suggested readings
Quotes on Sachin Tendulkar
How great is Tendulkar?

Best Universities, Most Dropouts

22 Dec

In 2009, President Barack Obama talked about the US losing its competitive edge, and wanted to increase the college graduation rates. The competition, he said, would come from developing countries like China and India. Manufacturing jobs have mostly gone to China and customer service to India and other Asian countries. More and more private companies have been setting up Research and Development centers in emerging economies where they can find cheap and talented workforce.

The public school system are not delivering the results despite the spending (as a percentage of GDP) being higher than other developed countries. Funding to schools are being cut, teachers are being fired, and mediocrity has taken over. The No Child Left Behind Act has also played its part.

  • There are about 3 million students graduating from high school each year.
  • Approximately 70% (2.1 million) are enrolling in college within two years of graduating from school.
  • The total undergraduate enrollment is 17.5 million.
  • Only 57% are completing a bachelor’s degree within 6 years.
  • 43% students fail to complete a bachelor’s degree in 6 years or are dropping out.

Per a US News report, 6 of the top 10 universities, 13 of the top 20, and  a large proportion of  the world’s best universities are located in the US. If the US has the best universities in the world, why are so many students failing to graduate from college? The dropout rate in the US is the highest among the OECD (also the most developed) countries.

Driven To Succeed

28 Nov
The Overachievers

Last week, I read the book Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins. The author follows eight high schoolers over a course of a few weeks and tells the story of their achievements, struggles, aspirations, and more. These kids, belonging to a high performing school in Maryland, struggle to cope with the stress of school, homework, extracurricular activities, and peer and parental pressure, primarily to build a resume that would help them get into prestigious universities. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our education system and the hypercompetitive admissions process that overemphasizes the SAT scores, GPAs, and the amount of extracurricular activities. We can’t really blame the universities because there has to be some mechanism for selecting incoming students. Many people blame the US News college rankings for this mad rush to get into a top-ranked college without realizing that it might not be the best fit for a kid.

I understand this struggle because I’ve been part of a similar experience in India. India has a system of entrance exams whrein the kids’ physics, chemistry, biology, and math skills are tested. Any extra-curricular activities are not taken into account that leads to engineers and doctors who are brilliant but not innovators or sportspersons or community servers.

There are many kids driven by an immense desire to succeed in every field and eventually burn out. They sacrifice their childhood to get accepted to a selective university. Research has shown that a large majority is depressed and many attempt suicide. Even if they succeed, they are not happy. Because achievement doesn’t always correlate to happiness.

Stanford School of Education professor and psychologist, William Damon says today’s young people miss a sense of purpose, a feeling of meaningful existence that should be our main concern (full report here: Getting Off The Treadmill).

I don’t know how to make my kids’ lives meaningful without getting into this race, but I’ll be thinking about it. A lot.

Does the Length of a School Year Help Increase Competitiveness?

9 Jun

President Barack Obama said in March this year (2009) that he would like to increase the length of a school day and a school year to help the American kids compete in the world. Last year too, he had mentioned in his speech that the American children need to compete with the Indian and Chinese kids. The Education secretary, Arne Duncan, echoed his views – “You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year.”

Are Obama and Duncan right in thinking that the American children need to be more competitive? In a word, yes. Definitely. But what about them believing that increasing the length of a school day and year would lead to the children studying more and being competitive? Again, in a word, doomed. This proposal, I think, is based on the assumption that the more time you spend at school, the more you study (or spend on academic activities). But is it necessarily true? No, it is not. While it’s true that the result of an activity is a function of the time spent on that activity, including studying, it’s a misconception that children would study more if they stay at school longer.

In the past, studies have been conducted with children in advanced countries across the world and it has been found that Singapore children score the highest on standardized tests though they spend lesser time in school than American children. India and China were not included in those studies so data is not available for Indian and Chinese students.

What increases competitiveness is competition. And the fear of competition, failure, and not getting where you want to be. The American children have always had it easy. All physical amenities from the day they are born. There is nothing to aim higher for. If you already have a house and a car, other things are pretty much way cheap. If you have a stable job, you can easily keep paying installments on the car and the mortgage payments on the house. There is a small fraction of very talented people who start up companies, help grow businesses, and in the process create lots of jobs, which are available to the rest of the population. When the children know that they are going to have everything easily, there is nothing to go after, and hence, there is no will or necessity to be competitive.

The Best Cuisine – Views of a Food Dude

14 May

Centuries ago, when explorers landed on the Indian soil, they were amazed to see the multitude of spices Indians grew and used in their food. They took the spices back to their countries, and soon India became a hub of spices export to many countries. Even today, many different types of spices are exported from India all over the world. According to the data available for 2006-2007, $793 million worth of spices were exported. It represented 47% in quantity and 40% in value of total spice trade in the world. Spices such as chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, spice oils and oleoresins, vanilla, and big cardamom are the main spices exported.

I have always been a plain eater, primarily vegetarian, appreciating the quality of spicy as well as simple food. Though there are thai, chinese, japanese cuisines available in India, the restaurants serving these foods are run by Indians, making the food kind of Indo-chinese, and so on. Nothing authentic here. I, being a lover of Indian home made food, have never found myself much interested in international cuisine (my fitness-freakiness is another reason).

After moving to the US in 2005, I tried all kinds of food – American, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Italian – and found most to be pretty good, though some are indeed outstanding. The crowded restaurants prove how good the food is in these restaurants. However, I don’t see the Indian restaurants even half-filled on weekdays. Why is it so? Is the food bad? The service sucks? Or is there some other reason? I gave it a thought and came up with a few reasons why not too many people go to Indian restaurants.

  • Indian food is mostly curry-based, which doesn’t make a for a good presentation.
  • The Indian restaurants are run by Indian families, and are not professional enough (the way most Indian businesses are run).
  • Marketing Indian food to the world has been non-existent.

After trying out international cuisine for a couple of years, I decided to take a break and eat only Indian food, simply because, in my opinion (no offenses to any country or culture), Indian food is, without any doubt, the best in the world. Best as in taste, not in appearance, originality, or any other criteria. Having been to an Italian restaurant twice in the last two months, and eating vegetarian food, I’m sure I’d not go there again in at least another six months. It’s not that Italian food is bad; they gave pizza and pasta to the world, after all. I just happened to go there with my colleagues on Thursdays, the only day of the week when I don’t eat non-vegetarian food.

The event I write about next should settle the argument.

In the spring of 2006, when I was a master’s student at Stanford University, an international food gala was organized by the student society. Food from more than 20 countries were available in as many stalls. Everyone was given five coupons each, free of charge, which meant we could eat food from any five countries. I decided to look at the food from all countries to see which ones tempt me enough to spend my coupon there. I spent two coupons on food from two European (I don’t remember which) countries and an African country. All looked good, some were sweet and some salty.

I had two coupons left with me and I didn’t want to go home and cook dinner, and my palate was not satisfied too, so I decided to go to the Pakistani stall. I was sure it would make my taste buds happy, though my stomach might remain unfilled (the quantity of food available everywhere was small). I started moving towards the Pakistani stall when I realized that the Indian and Pakistani stalls were overcrowded, with long lines of people wanting to grab something before it was over.

I stood in line, and after some time, my found myself standing in front of the tables. Tandoori chicken, mutton biryani, gulab jamum, and some other stuff was kept on the tables, but the Pakistani students were not serving the food like other students. Unable to pass this opportunity, I filled my plate with delicious Pakistani food.

After I was done with my dinner, I still had a coupon left, so I decided to finally go to the Indian stall. The long lines were gone, but so was the food! However, I had whatever was left and went home and slept in peace thanking the wonderful Pakistani food.

By the way, I brought up the spices story at the beginning of this post because both Pakistani and Indian food are very similar and use many different types of spices for flavor.