Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Gary Partington

Second Supervisor

Dr Chris Griffin


Although minority status has been associated with low academic achievement, the “high Asian achieving syndrome" remains as one of the unresolved sociological puzzles. Consistent evidence suggests that regardless of the family status, children from the Asian migrant families, settled in the industrialised countries, tend to perform academically better than their counterparts from the dominant group. This disparity is attributed to a number of factors, which taken separately, do not address this complex issue. In Australia little research has been done to compare the home environment and school experiences of children coming from Chinese-Australian and Anglo-Australian families even though the number of children from the Southeast Asian region has steadily increased. This thesis investigates the influence of home and school on the academic performance of high school students coming from Chinese-Australian and Anglo-Australian families who resided in a predominantly middle class suburb and their children attended one particular state school in Perth, Western Australia. By studying children in their homes and classrooms I have attempted in this ethnographic study to construct some theoretically coherent explanations to understand the disparity in academic performance of Chinese-Australian and Anglo-Australian high school students. In order to capture what teachers, parents, and children say and do as a product of how they interpret the complexity of their world this study explores how macro and micro processes are linked to children's academic performance. As this study aims to understand social events from each individual's point of view it assumes that human behaviour is the result of indispensable and continuous interactions between persons and the situations they encounter. The findings of this study, with no claim to generalise beyond these families, suggest that the reason why Chinese-Australian and Anglo-Australian children have different educational outcomes is that these families socialise their children differently. From this study emerge two different models: and academic oriented Chinese-Australian model and a sports oriented Anglo-Australian model. At the start of high school there was no marked difference in ability and performance based on ethnicity. By the time they completed lower secondary school all Chinese-Australian students had improved in English and enrolled in a normal stream in English. Except for one student, they had selected TEE subjects with a university education as their main goal. At this stage, Anglo-Australians, with the exception of two students (who had selected TEE subjects), had decided to study either a mixture of TEE and TAFE subjects or easier TEE subjects. At the end of Year 12 all Chinese-Australian, except for one, had qualified to study at university. From Anglo-Australian group, only two students had qualified to study at university. This pattern of performance is consistent with the high Asian achieving syndrome and lack lustre performance of Anglo-Australian students. However, this study serves some sober reminder about the narrow focus by Chinese-Australians and lack of effort by Anglo-Australian students.