Factors Contributing to Academic Success

By Alfred Tang

(Math and Physics Instructor at The Edge Learning Center)

It is commonly thought that academic success is a simple formula of natural intelligence, hard work, and good educational environment. Indeed what happen in the classrooms play a significant role in students’ academic achievement. However other factors are also important. When students struggle in school, the default remedy is the brute force approach of more hard work and more tutoring. Although hard work and tutoring are always important, the root of the problem may not be treated if only the symptoms are treated. Education has to be a holistic approach involving the schools, families, tutoring center and the students.

Read Alfred’s blog on “Effective Tutoring in Math and Physics”

It is a fact that family has a significant impact on the development of teenagers. A stable home environment provides a base for young people to explore the multifarious unknowns in life. To the teenagers, the pillar of a safe home environment is their relationship with their parents.[1] Besides parents, teachers are the second most important relationship that teenagers have with adults. In talking to students, I often get the impression that they do not have the best rapport with their school teachers. Many times, students try hard to do well in school in order to please the parents and/or the teachers. If the relationship with the teacher is not the best, a student has one less motivation to try harder—at least on that subject. The difference between a school and a tutoring center is that the student cannot choose his teacher at school but can choose his tutor in a tutoring center. There are usually 3 things that students look for in tutors—competency, personality, and character—i.e. the same things they look for in every relationship with adults. A tutor basically fills the void for adult relationship that the students do not have in school. But he cannot fill the void of that adult relationship for the students at home. If the students have trouble at home and are willing to trust the tutor, they may find temporary relief for that void while they are with us and hence find a reason to try harder at academics. Of course, at The Edge, we do not form a habit of asking questions about students’ personal life. We only ask what is going on in school and try to maintain a default position of being good role models as adults for the students regardless of the unknowns. It is hoped that the students get their needs met both academically and emotionally for as long as they are with us. So far it seems to work very well based on the results that we get.

Beside home environment, religion (or the lack thereof) is another important factor in students’ psycho-social development. Faith connects individual persons to something bigger than themselves. For some, the something bigger is God. For others, it is the organism called the secular society. We all need something bigger than ourselves because we alone are not big enough to provide meaning for our existence. Connections and relationships are key elements in the teenage psyche because teenagers are actively seeking the meaning and purpose of life. But the practical question for a tutoring center is whether personal faith contributes to academic success. Many research studies fail to find a correlation between the faith and academic achievement but many others do.[2] The probable reason for the lack of consensus in research results is that there is a lack of consensus on the meaning of faith. According to the atheists, atheism is the opposite of faith. But according to the theists, atheism is a form of religion. For some, faith is a deep personal relationship with God while others think that it is just a matter of public displays and rituals. One way or another, in my opinion, faith is essential to academic pursuit because the search for knowledge is driven by the search for meaning. Students are bored when we merely ask them to memorize a bunch of meaningless information for the sole purpose of reproducing it on tests. They do not understand why the meaningless information is so important that they need to deprive themselves of fun with their friends and suffer the endless cycles of oppression. But as soon as we give them a meaning for what they do, they understand the purpose of the bigger scheme of things. Of course, they still need character and maturity to respond to that knowledge. It is why secular education needs to be supplemented with moral education to build the character needed to make responsible knowers. That moral education is traditionally facilitated through religion—particularly Christianity in the western world.

For both the atheists and theists, the meaning of their academic pursuit is to understand the nature of things and to use this knowledge to make the world a better place. Hence everybody who is driven by the pursuit of knowledge is driven by faith whether they know it or not. The advantage of religious faith over atheistic faith is that the former provides a basis for ethics and morality. Honesty, integrity, hard work and the universal ideal of altruism—the natural outcome of deep personal religious faith—provides the motives for academic excellence. It is said that atheist scholars in the west are able to do so well academically because they indirectly benefit from the residual spirituality of a society that has been imbibed in Christian faith for so long. Of course, I am not saying that only Christian students can be successful. Many good students are Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and agnostics. One way or another, religion in one form or another is an important factor in students’ academic achievement because something needs to drive them to work that hard and something must give them the moral reasons to stick to it. That something is a deep sense of meaning and purpose in whatever form that may be.

At The Edge, we strive to provide a supportive environment to nourish virtues that are conducive to academic success and to disseminate knowledge efficiently through our courses and private tutoring. To a large extent, we also function as mentors to students by modeling healthy adult-adolescent relationships that aims to point the students in the right directions—not just academically but also holistically whenever it is appropriate. No teacher is perfect. At the very least, we are aware of the issues teenagers face and try to be positive influences in their lives for as long as we have them.

[1] Justin Grubb and Tre Long, “Parental Divorce and Student Academic Achievement”, Artifacts: A Journal of Undergraduate Writing, University of Missouri (https://artifactsjournal.missouri.edu/2014/08/parental-divorce-and-student-academic-achievement/).

[2] Nakhon Kitjaroonchai, “The Correlation between Students’ Achievement and Ethical and Moral Activities Involvement in a Christian Institution”, Catalyst, Volume 12, No. 2, 2015.

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The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off a very successful year in which 84.62% of their clients were accepted into one of their top 3 schools and an astounding 48.15% of their Ivy Plus* applicants were accepted. (The general acceptance rate was only 7.61% last year) Check out the rest of our 2017 Admissions Results!

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