More than 42,000 Year 12 students in Queensland have just been notified of their university course offer for 2008.

A teacher friend, based in a large Brisbane high school with a significant enrolment of Australian students of Asian parentage, commented that offers into science (medicine), pharmacy, dentistry and other related careers were keenly sought and gained by those students.

The success of students from Asian backgrounds in academic performance has been the subject of several recent cross-cultural studies both in Australia and in the United States.

The general conclusion is that Asian families who have settled in Western countries appear to approach their studies more seriously than non-Asians and aim to achieve high grades.

A recurring theme of many of these cross-cultural studies is that children from Confucian heritage cultures (especially, China, Korea and Japan) academically out-perform their Western counterparts.

This conclusion is also supported by research from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). It recently reported that university entrance rankings for Anglo-Australian students averages 70/100 while for Australian students of Asian background it is 79/100.

A survey of 2600 Year 11 students in state and public schools in Sydney was conducted by Paar and Mok (1995) who reported that children born of Asian families residing in Australia were more likely to gain a university place than people born in Anglo-Australian families.

This survey also showed that the parents of Asian-Australian children placed a greater importance on their children going to university than did their Anglo-Australian counterparts.

My teacher friend suggests their parents back up the efforts of teachers to encourage their children to do well at school.

The influence of parents on a child’s education is well documented. A fascinating result was found by a study of South Australian final-year primary school students in 2000, comparing Asian-Australians to their Anglo-Australian peers.

The study, by academics Justine Dandy and Ted Nettelbeck, confirmed the popular belief that Asian-Australian school students do more homework than Anglo-Australians.

The study showed that the Asian-Australian students spent an average of 12 hours a week in home study, compared with about five hours for Anglo-Australians.

There are other indications from the many cross-cultural studies that ethnic differences in tertiary entrance performance are associated with higher parental expectations.

A study by Paul Ayres of the University of Western Sydney (1994) reported that the work ethic is the premier factor for Asian-Australian student success, especially in mathematics and science.

In the US over the past two decades, the academic achievements of Asian-American children have been recognised not only by classroom teachers, school counsellors and administrators, but also by the general public through the mass media.

Their high academic achievement is reflected in the numbers who receive scholarships from leading universities. This success has attracted the attention of many educators and sociologists who are focusing on the potential variables contributing to these accomplishments.

The cross-cultural factors identified in the US studies probably apply in Australia as well: Asian parents traditionally feel obligated to assist their children in any way they can. Asian parents show strong feelings concerning the value of education for their children’s success. Asian parents are willing to commit all their resources to ensure the best education is available for their offspring. Asian parents still preserve the traditional attitude that parents play a major role in their children’s education and career choice. Asian parents try very hard to assert their opinions and to exert an influence on their children’s future occupation.

Anglo-Australian parents on the other hand adopt different cultural factors: Individualism is highly marked and personal choice is generally well respected. A student’s weekend activities are less rigid and task-orientated than for Australia-Asian families. Team sports and other group-oriented ventures are pursued rather than individualised pursuits such as music or language lessons. Anglo-Australian students are more likely to have part-time jobs.

Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard recently reported a fall in Australia’s education standards. A 2007 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports the performances of Australian high school students in the key areas of maths and reading have fallen since 2000 compared to other developed nations.

Anglo-Australian students, particularly at secondary levels, perhaps need to adopt the hours of study typical in Asian-Australian families.

However, most Anglo-Australian families would never countenance the lifestyle sacrifice this would require.

Source: Courier Mail, Australia,23739,23067479-27197,00.html