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The construction of British Chinese educational success: exploring the shifting discourses in educational debate, and their effects

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Abstract

The high achievement of British Chinese students in the British education system is established in the official literature and has recently been subject to increased attention and comment; albeit it remains the case that few studies have asked students or their families about the factors contributing to their success. This paper revisits findings from an earlier research project that investigated the extent to which British Chinese students and their parents value education (and their rationales), their experiences of British education, and the construction of British Chinese students by their teachers. The study revealed the ‘hidden racisms’ experienced by British Chinese students, the problematisation of their perceived approaches to learning by British teachers in spite of their high attainment, and the benefits, costs, and consequences of their valuing of education. This article contextualises these prior findings within more recent discourses and debates around ‘Chinese success’, precipitated by increased policy attention to the educational attainment of different groups of students, especially from low socio-economic backgrounds. It argues that these discourses on one hand elevate Chinese successes and teaching methods (in contrast to prior narratives), but on the other they continue to exoticise and ‘Other’ the British Chinese, misrecognising educational practices common among White middle-class parents.

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... Chinese students are traditionally identified as "Chinese learners" distinctively subjected to exam-oriented education (Ryan 2010;Francis, Mau, and Archer 2017). Examoriented learning entails implementing certain strategies, such as emphasising personal diligence, outcome-driven evaluations, the authoritative roles of teachers, memorisation and repetition, the ethics of diligence and the importance of exemplarity (Dello-Iacovo 2009;Kim 2009;Tan 2017;Wu 2016). ...
... It is a negotiation of the students' own interests with their commitments to their schools and families. Highlighting such multiplicities, tensions and ambiguities paints a broad picture of who these Chinese students are rather than reproducing the polished stereotype of "Chinese learners" (Francis, Mau, and Archer 2017;Ryan 2010). ...
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British Chinese pupils have been seen as a ‘successful’ group in the British education system in the last decade. A significant portion of Chinese heritage pupils are UK-born and some have parents and/or grandparents that have been settled in the UK since the post-war era. Increasingly, many families have moved away from the catering trade that has been strongly associated with the UK Chinese population. Many of these young people are well integrated socially and academically at school. The emergence of new forms of identity among the younger generation has created greater diversity within the ever-evolving British Chinese ‘community’. This chapter explores the emergent British Chinese identity in which young people recognise their flexible, relational and complex hybridised British Chinese identities, including the possibility of being both British and Chinese.
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Informal social settings outside of school are as important as formal educational settings for children's learning and achievement. In the United States, informal settings are often organized by ethnicity and socioeconomic status in order to mediate the processes of individual learning, which consequently leads to intergroup differences in educational outcomes. This chapter examines how a particular type of informal social setting is created and structured by the ethnic community in order to generate resources for school success. By looking specifically into the non-profit and for-profit institutions serving young children and youth in Los Angeles' Chinese immigrant community, the chapter describes an ethnic system of supplementary education that not only offers tangible support but also reinforces cultural norms in pushing immigrant children to succeed in school. It is shown that the kind of informal social setting to which Chinese immigrant children are exposed is not necessarily intrinsic to a specific culture, but results from a national-origin group's migration selectivity, the strength of a pre-existing ethnic community, and the host society's reception. National-origin groups that constitute a significant middle class with valuable resources (i.e. education, job skills, and financial assets), upon arrival in the United States, have a leg-up in the race to move ahead in their new homeland, while others lacking group resources trail behind. Educators and policymakers should be careful not to attribute school success or failure merely to culture or to structure, but to the culture-structure interaction.
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Past and recent studies have consistently found that ethnicity significantly affects varied outcomes of social mobility among different immigrant groups and that such divergent outcomes in turn lead to further changes in the character and salience of ethnicity. Much of the intellectual debate on ethnic differences is between the cultural perspective - emphasizing the role of internal agency and the extent to which ethnic cultures fit the requirements of the mainstream society - and the structural perspective - emphasizing the role of social structure and the extent to which ethnic groups are constrained by the broader stratification system and networks of social relations within that system. Social scientists from both perspectives have attempted to develop statistical models to measure quantitatively the effects of “culture” and “structure” for the upward social mobility of immigrant groups. Under ideal circumstances, these models would include indicators illuminating pre-migration situations. But because of data limitations, many social scientists typically attempt to control for “structure” by documenting specific contexts of exit, identifying aspects of post-migration social structures, and operationalizing those components for which they have data. This is not only a conventional practice but also a reasonable approach, since many post-migration social structural differences (in the socioeconomic status of persons who came to the United States as adults) are likely to either reflect, or be carryovers from, pre-migration differences. However, even the most sophisticated statistical model accounts for only a proportion of the variance, leaving a large residual unexplained.
Article
A small group of high-performing East Asian economies dominate the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. This has caught the attention of Western policymakers, who want to know why East Asian children obtain such high PISA scores, and what can be done to replicate their success. In this paper I investigate whether children of East Asian descent, who were born and raised in a Western country (Australia), also score highly on the PISA test. I then explore whether their superior performance (relative to children of Australian heritage) can be explained by reasons often given for East Asian students’ extraordinary educational achievements. My results suggest that second-generation East Asian immigrants outperform their native Australian peers by approximately 100 test points. Moreover, the magnitude of this achievement gap has increased substantially over the last ten years. Yet there is no ‘silver bullet’ that can explain why East Asian children obtain such high levels of academic achievement. Rather a combination of factors, each making their own independent contribution, seem to be at play. Consequently, I warn Western policymakers that it may only be possible to catch the leading East Asian economies in the PISA rankings with widespread cultural change.
Conference Paper
This paper aims to interconnect quantitative results and qualitative findings of an international study on the effectiveness of mathematics teaching in primary schools across England and China and present thorough explanations of the teaching differences and performance gap between the two countries. Educational effectiveness researchers have consistently found that schools make a difference and that teachers make a difference about five times bigger. The past four decades of teacher effectiveness research (TER) has consistently found positive effects of certain teacher behaviours on pupil learning outcomes. There is however a lack of cross-national TER studies to tap the full range of variance and evaluate what teacher factors may work internationally. Historically, the field of TER has developed a strong quantitative trait, and the dearth of qualitative data has been preventing the field from generating rich and in-depth data to explain its results and from collaborating with teaching improvement researchers. This study thus conducted two lines of enquiry. Firstly, structured observations, standardised mathematics tests and questionnaires with teachers and pupils were carried out to evaluate and correlate teaching and learning internationally; secondly, unstructured observations, video-stimulated interviews with teachers, video-stimulated focus groups with teachers were performed to collect various views on the effectiveness and quality of mathematics teaching from different roles in and beyond classrooms within and across countries. It has been found in the study that 9 to 10-year-olds (n = 326) from China outscored their English peers (n = 236) at the same age by over 20 per cent in each of two mathematics tests derived from TIMSS 2003. Structured analysis of lesson videos has revealed that Chinese mathematics teachers scored much higher than their English colleagues on an internationally validated observation instrument which focused on the quality of six dimensions of teacher behaviours. Furthermore, the quantity of teacher behaviours were also measured and the subsequent correlational analysis on pooled data indicated a positive effect of whole-class active teaching (r = .97, p < .01) and pupil time on task (r = .95, p < .01) and a negative impact of whole-class lecture (r = -.91, p < .01), individual/group work (-.81, p < .05) and classroom management (r = -.77, p < .05) on pupils’ mathematics performance cross-nationally. Qualitative findings are connected with quantitative results to explain how teachers think, how this relates to the way they teach and how the differences of teaching result in the performance gap cross-nationally.
Article
While racialized youth are often central in debates on citizenship, multiculturalism and belonging, those ascribed as ‘British Chinese’ are constructed as model minorities, lacking a hybridized culture but insulated from racism, and thus invisible in these discussions. This article argues, however, that the model minority discourse is itself a specific form of contemporary racialization that revives ‘yellow peril’ discourses on the capacities of particular ‘Oriental’ bodies. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, it examines how young people challenge these constructions, by drawing on popular culture to organize and participate in what they call ‘British Chinese’ and, more provocatively, ‘Oriental’ nightlife spaces. It analyses how through these spaces participants forge a sense of identity that allows them to reimagine themselves as racialized subjects. It demonstrates how these spaces constitute transient sites of experimental belonging, facilitating new cultural politics and social identifications that at once contest reified conceptions of British Chineseness yet also create new exclusions.
Article
The article is an initial consideration of data collected for a project exploring working parents' choices of care for their pre-school children. First, the policy developments in this area are reviewed. However, the heart of the article is an analysis of the ways in which the sample of mainly white middle-class mothers operates within the childcare market. The impact of class and gender upon their choices is considered, and the strategies the women use to personalise the market are mapped. The authors conclude that despite their relatively advantaged position as consumers, the women's control of the market-based relations that develop remains imperfect and incomplete as they negotiate the tensions between work and domestic responsibilities.
Article
British Chinese identities remain under-theorized within sociology and the sociology of education – and yet they offer a potentially interesting angle to debates around the (re)production of privileges/inequalities given the growing phenomenon of Chinese educational ‘success’. British Chinese pupils’ educational success is especially interesting given the ‘working-class’ positionings of many Chinese families in Britain. In this article we explore the utility of Bourdieuian-influenced theories of social class as a lens through which to examine the identities, educational experiences and achievement of British Chinese pupils. In so doing, we aim to extend existing class theories through a more detailed consideration of the racialized context of class. We suggest that British Chinese families can be read as employing particular forms of family capital (cultural, social and economic), together with a diasporic discourse of ‘Chinese valuing of education’, to promote educational achievement. However, structural inequalities/injustices remain key concerns.
Article
Abstract This research project explored the responsesof Chinese pupils in Greater Manchester schools,to the ,education ,that they received in a ,variety of school ,settings - Independent, Grant Maintained and Comprehensive. The research was conducted through case studies of five Chinese families, questionnaire responses from 150 Chinese and ,British-Chinese pupils and 200 British-European pupils ,and interviews with 65 Chinese and ,British-Chinese pupils and ,35 British-European ,pupils. A companion enquiry (Verma et al., 1999) provided some additional comparative data from Hong ,Kong. The overwhelming conclusion ,from this research is the extent to which British-Chinese pupils remain conditioned by traditional Chinese behavioural rules even ,though ,they were ,largely born and ,educated ,in England. The ,two fundamental rules of ‘respect for superiors’ and ,‘loyalty and ,filial piety’’ provide ,a framework ,within which they create ,expectations and attitudes with regard to their education. The questionnaire enquired into the learning preferences of pupils of Chinese origin, in
Article
This article examines the social exclusion experienced by Chinese people in Britain. It challenges the view that the problem is caused by the cultural characteristics of the Chinese community. It shows that the main cause lies in their way of seeking social integration through market participation. The necessity for many Chinese families to secure their market position not only keeps them at a distance from mainstream society but also from their own ethnic community. While they are not outsiders in either of these groups, they only have one foot in each of them.
Article
Remarkably, little academic attention has been given to the phenomenon of Chinese language schools in the UK. This paper aims to address this important gap in knowledge through the development of a detailed mapping of the population and practise of Chinese complementary schooling in England. The paper draws on ethnographically informed observations and interviews with 60 pupils, 21 teachers and 24 parents conducted in six Chinese schools as part of an Economic and Social Research Council (UK) funded study. The mapping is presented in terms of three core questions: what are Chinese schools like? (how they are funded, resourced and organised); who attends? (characteristics of the pupils’ population); and what is taught there? Analyses highlight the social political implications arising and raise issues for education policy and practice.
Article
This article describes the outcomes of five case studies of Chinese families, looking particularly at the way in which behavioural rules imposed by family life govern the attitudes and lives of the children. What emerges is an intensely introspective family life which produces a ‘cocoon’ in which children's lives are lived out. There is remarkably little impact from the surrounding British culture, with parents often developing little English language despite living many years in England. The two major premises of Chinese behaviour — ‘filial piety’ and ‘respect for elders’ — dominate the children's actions and these case studies, and other associated data, confirm the view of the Chinese as a self‐contained subculture within the host society. Unlike other minority groups there is limited interaction of a formal kind within the Chinese community so that there are few community leaders able to take responsibility for negotiating concerns with ‘authority’. Speaking Chinese within the family, a measure taken in part to protect the traditions, reinforces the isolation and the sense that the family and traditional rules are paramount. The rule of ‘obedience’ leads to limited discussion with parents and to an absence of negotiation within the family. The lack of ambiguity within family life is comforting but it gives little impetus to growth and change. In a parallel questionnaire study the dominant behavioural rules learned within the family by these Chinese pupils were found to dominate children's attitudes to learning and to schooling compared to their white peers. The distinctive separation of the Chinese families may in the long run lead to educational and economic disadvantage, and hence disenchantment, for Chinese youth, and means need to be found to respond to this situation.
Article
Pupils' experiences of complementary education are neglected in the research literature, yet they are highly important in terms of understanding complementary schools and their impact on pupils' educational and social identities. This article explores British‐Chinese pupils' discursive constructions of the purposes and benefits of Chinese complementary schools, drawing on data from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)‐funded study of six Chinese schools in England, including interviews with 60 of their British‐Chinese pupils. Findings demonstrate that British‐Chinese pupils overwhelmingly see the purpose of these schools as perpetuating the mother tongue. They produced a variety of explanations for the benefit of this perpetuation, and we analyse how these fall under two themes: instrumental benefits, and identity. In elaborating these themes we focus particularly on the ways in which language was constructed as identity, and draw out some theoretical implications for thinking around identity and ‘culture’.
Article
This paper examines the ways in which British Chinese pupils are positioned and represented within the popular/dominant discourse of teachers working in London schools. Drawing on individual interviews from a study conducted with 30 teachers, 80 British Chinese pupils and 30Chinese parents, we explore some of the racialised, gendered and classed assumptions upon which dominant discourses around British Chinese boys and girls are based. Consideration is given, for example, to teachers’ dichotomous constructions of British Chinese masculinity, in which British Chinese boys were regarded as ‘naturally’ ‘good’ and ‘not laddish’, compared with a minority of ‘bad’ British Chinese boys, whose laddishness was attributed to membership of a multiethnic peer group. We also explore teachers’ constructions of British Chinese femininity, which centred around remarkably homogenised representations of British Chinese girls as ‘passive’ and quiet, ‘repressed’, hard‐working pupils. The paper discusses a range of alternative readings that challenge popular monolithic and homogenising accounts of British Chinese masculinity and femininity in order to open up more critical ways of representing and engaging with British Chinese educational ‘achievement’.
Article
The present study is concerned with the problems in communication which arise between British teachers and Chinese parents in discussions of children's performance in British schools. A discussion of the importance of an understanding of cultural differences for the educational outcomes of ethnic minority children will form the backdrop for an analysis of four parent–teacher meetings and interview data gathered before and after the meetings. It is argued that Chinese parents pay attention to micro aspects of the learning situation, emphasizing accuracy and perfect scores. British teachers, in contrast, consider error as a normal part of the learning process and are more concerned with macro-aspects of learning such as problem-solving. Chinese parents have very high expectations of their children and are prepared to spend a great deal of time and effort in identifying areas where they need support. However, parental efforts to support their children are often perceived as unnecessarily harsh and undermining of children's confidence by British teachers who tend to stress the positive aspects of children's achievements. Considerable importance is attached to the need for dialogue which will increase the awareness of both parents and teachers to differences between Chinese and British expectations of education.
Article
`Whiteness' is di(s)-sected and dis(s)-closed to reveal its privileged position within psychological texts. This allows me to discuss the three ways in which `whiteness' has surfaced. First, `whiteness' is absent. Second, `whiteness' is displaced by synonyms that shift its anxieties on the `other'. And third, `whiteness' is discussed as the predominant epistemological backdrop of psychological texts that e-race, make invisible and token the presence of racial minorities. I will use two instances of psychological practice-e-racing theory and the porno-raced method-to discuss how `whiteness' has manipulated racial minorities to inform, test and construct its own meanings.
Article
Chinese participation in the catering industry is conspicuous in Britain, but there also appears to be an emergence of young Chinese adults diversifying into other occupations and sectors in the British labour market. This paper seeks to gain an understanding of where young Chinese adults are positioned in the occupational structure, why they are situated there, and their attitudes towards their current jobs. The findings indicate that as a result of the interaction between structure and culture there is an emerging bimodal distribution of young Chinese adults in the British labour market with a tendency for young Chinese adults either to work in the professions and other white collar jobs or conversely to be employed in the service sector (that is, the Chinese catering industry).