The secret to the academic success of many Asian students starts in the home, with a study of schoolchildren suggesting a regular homework routine carries benefits into the classroom.

The research examined the study habits of three groups of Year 3 students and found that Chinese children spent more time on their homework, completed more work and did it on a more regular basis than Anglo or Pacific Island students.

The study by University of Western Sydney researchers and the NSW Education Department challenges the myth that Chinese students perform better at school because of a cultural disposition to study.

One of the authors, senior lecturer in literacy and pedagogy Megan Watkins, said the study habits learnt by these Chinese students in the home fostered a more disciplined approach to academic studies, which was evident in the way they approached their work at school.

Dr Watkins said these habits should be promoted in schools with all students.

"It's possible to learn the habits of learning; these things don't just happen in high school, they need to be slowly learned," she said. "The primary years are an academic apprenticeship not only in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy but also bodily skills of application to work and independence in learning. It's not about turning kids into homework robots but teaching them to apply themselves to their work."

The study by Dr Watkins and associate professor in cultural studies Greg Noble says the focus in schools on the cognitive aspects of learning tends to ignore the physical habits required, such as sitting at a desk and even holding a pencil correctly.

"There has been inadequate attention given to the ways educational attainment is founded on embodied capacities, such as productive stillness and quiet, which are crucial to sustained attention and application in intellectual endeavour," the report says.

Cathy Garde, a Year 3 teacher at Berala Public School in Sydney's west, agreed that less attention was paid in recent years to the practicalities of learning, and training young bodies to sit still.

"I often have to start the year teaching the kids work habits, the capability to sit down and focus," she said. "Some children struggle to control themselves. They don't have any self-discipline. You get children who come into the classroom and start walking around the room in the middle of a task."

The report, Cultural Practices and Learning, involved interviews with parents, teachers and 36 students in six Sydney schools, as well as classroom observation.

The study found that 56per cent of the Chinese students spent more than one hour a night on their homework, compared with 24per cent of Anglo children and 35per cent of Pacific Islander students.

But the study says the time spent on homework was not as important as the study routine.

A greater proportion of Chinese students, 40per cent, did homework in their bedroom or study at a desk compared with 13per cent of Anglo students and 25per cent of Islander children, who tended to do their homework sitting on their bed.

Source: The Australian, Australia,25197,24115399-2702,00.html