Ambiguous aspirations: Parenting strategies around young children’s education in urban South Korea and Singapore

Kristina Göransson, Yoonhee Kang

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


South Korea and Singapore are widely recognized for their competitive education systems and for consistently topping international student assessment tests. They also share a ballooning private tuition industry, fueled by parents’ anxiety over their children’s academic achievements. This paper is based on a comparative ethnographic study on parenting strategies around young children’s (aged 4-12) education, and how these strategies intersect with class, gender and generation. Our findings indicate that there is a predominant assumption among parents that a child’s chances of succeeding in school and future professional life is directly dependent on addressing possible ’learning gaps’ in early childhood. Parents fear that their children will fall behind academically if these learning gaps are not addressed, and moreover, that the failure to perform academically would have a life-long negative impact on the child’s self-confidence. At the same time, this paper points to a more complex and ambivalent diversification of parental involvement in education, which can be conceptualized as a tension between the ambition to secure conventional career paths (academic achievements) versus the nurturing of the child’s own needs, interests and emotional well-being. We propose that parents’ attempts at balancing these seemingly paradoxical aspirations must be understood in relation to an expertise-based approach to parenting and a shifting perception of children, in which children are seen as vulnerable to all sorts of risks (cf Faircloth 2014). By comparing and contrasting South Korea and Singapore, this paper seeks to understand and contextualize urban middle-class parents’ ambiguous aspirations in relation to notions of risk, fear and responsible parenthood.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Sept 1
EventAssociation for Asian Studies in Asia: Asia at the Crossroads: Solidarity through Scholarship - Kobe, Japan
Duration: 2020 Aug 312020 Sept 4


ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies in Asia
Abbreviated titleAAS-in-Asia 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work


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