The new meritocracy or over-schooled robots? Public attitudes on Asian–Australian education cultures

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2017, 43 (14), pp. 2346 - 2362
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. The academic success of Asian–Australian students has become increasingly visible over the last decade. They are over-represented in high-performing schools, gifted and talented programmes and prestigious university courses. These achievements have generated both admiration and anxiety. Congratulatory voices depict Asian–Australians as a model minority, whose work ethic promises to enhance Australian schooling and propel the nation’s meritocracy forward. Anxious voices worry about the escalation of a competitive culture, symbolised by excessive coaching and the ‘tiger parenting’ of Asian migrants. This paper examines the divided public attitudes on Asian–Australian education cultures through a discourse analysis of several hundred online comments posted in response to newspaper stories on ‘Asian success’ over the last five years. It identifies two competing discourses underlying these opinions: firstly, a pro-meritocratic, neo-liberal discourse, in which Asian–Australians embody the competitive spirit and aspiration required in a globalised economy, and secondly, a discourse of Asian–Australians as inauthentic learners whose excessive focus on schooling threatens the traditionally relaxed Australian approach to childhood and education. While these two discourses differ in their evaluation of Asian–Australian students, both share a culturally essentialist framework that explains educational outcomes in terms of ‘culture’. The paper analyses the racial politics of this cultural essentialism.
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