Summary and Keywords
Mass migration has transformed the education systems of many Western nations. Schools are more culturally diverse than ever before. The relationship between race, ethnicity, and education is being increasingly scrutinized. Some ethnic minority students face continued educational disadvantages as seen in their overrepresentation in disadvantaged schools and lower ability classes, below-average performances in standardized tests, and lower rates of high school completion and university admission. In contrast, other minority students, notably many children of Asian migrants, enjoy disproportionately high educational success and are viewed as a “model minority.” The education outcomes of ethnic minority students are therefore sharply polarized and largely reflect their levels of socioeconomic advantage. While high-achieving Asian students are often children of highly educated middle-class migrants, underperforming groups are typically from less-developed countries or disadvantaged social backgrounds.
While educational disadvantage among ethnic minorities has been well documented for many decades, the phenomenon of educational success among minority groups is comparatively less well researched. The debates and evidence relating to Asian migrant students’ educational success need to be examined to provide a more holistic understanding of the role of race, ethnicity, and social class in shaping outcomes. As the fastest growing minority group in many anglophone countries, Asian migrants are reshaping many education systems, offering a new educational “success story” that urgently needs to be more fully understood.
While some commentators attribute Asian success to cultural values, such as Confucianism, these kinds of cultural explanations are often simplistic and essentialist. The superior performance of many Asian migrant students reflects a complex array of both cultural and social factors. In particular, their parents, typically skilled migrants with strong educational capital, bring with them norms and practices honed during their own experiences with fiercely competitive education systems in Asia. This makes them well equipped to succeed in the increasingly competitive and hierarchical educational systems of the West. Their aspirations and anxieties reflect their migrant status in our unequal societies. Therefore, cultural values are often mediated by structural factors including national policies relating to immigration and education, students’ social class background and migrant status, and prevailing race relations and structures of opportunity in migrant-receiving societies in the West, all of which contribute to the polarized education outcomes of ethnic minority students.
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