Migration from Asia has transformed Australian schooling. Asian-Australian students are remarkably successful in school exams, dominate selective schools and classes, and are disproportionately found in prestigious university courses. ‘Skill level: Asian’ has become a pop culture shorthand to describe the ‘brainy Asian’.
Asian-Australian students’ achievements have ignited fierce debates about whether migrant families ought to be lauded for their commitment to education, or whether migrant parents are ‘pushing too hard’, raising the competitive stakes for everyone. Growing competition for places in high performing schools and classes has created racialised resentment against Asian migrants, who are seen by some as too successful. This is particularly evident in heated debates about Asian-Australians’ use of private tutoring, which some view as tantamount to cheating or ‘gaming the system’. Not only that, critics argue that children’s wellbeing is harmed by punishing study regimes, such that ‘tiger parenting’ is tantamount to child abuse. What is often missing in these debates is an understanding of what drives Asian migrants’ approaches to education.
My new book, Aspiration and Anxiety: Asian Migrants and Australian Schooling, explains their twin motivations: aspiration and anxiety. It examines how Asian migrants’ aspirations for their future focus uniquely on education, a focus that is reinforced by their anxieties about being newcomers in an unequal society.
Christina Ho is Associate Professor of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney, where she researches cultural diversity and inequality in education, and civic participation of Chinese migrants in Australia. Her latest book is Aspiration and Anxiety: Asian Migrants and Australian Schooling (MUP 2020).
Meeting ID: 4194099127