To what extent do home background and cultural factors explain ethnic differences in educational achievement?
Indian and Chinese families have higher levels of Parental control and expectation
Strand’s (2007)’s analysis of data from the 2004 Longitudinal Study of Young People found that Indian students are the ethnic group most likely to complete homework five evenings a week and the group where parents are most likely to say they always know where their child is when they are out. Francis and Archer (2005) – High value is placed on education by parents, coupled with a strong cultural tradition of respect for one’s elders – high educational aspiration transmits from parents to children, and students derive positive self-esteem from constructing themselves as good students.
African Caribbean families have a higher proportion of single parent households
The New Right argues that the high proportion of lone parents fail to ‘provide a home environment conducive to learning’. There have also been concerns about the development of ‘gangsta’ culture with the absence of positive Black male role models at home as well as in schools (Abbott, 2002)
The culture of anti-school black masculinity
Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed,
Acting white and acting black
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
Trust in the system and Language barriers
Crozier (2004) found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi parents ‘kept their distance’ from their children’s schools because they trusted the professionals to do their jobs; they lacked confidence in use of English and there were no translators.
White children have lower educational aspirations than most ethnic minorities.
Professor Simon Burgess and Dr Deborah Wilson (2008) found that among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African families, over 90 per cent of parents want their child to stay on at school at age 16, compared with 77 per cent of white families – which correlates with lower numbers at uni.
South Asian women go to university despite cultural pressures
Bagguley and Hussain (2007) found that aspirations to higher education for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were often complicated by cultural pressures. Many had to negotiate decisions around marriage and the expectations of their parents.
Many Muslim students consequently studied at a local university in order to placate their parents’ concerns about morality, being in the company of men and their family honour or ‘izzat’. In contrast, Indian students currently at university appeared to have had the option of leaving home. Indian women often spoke of a natural progression into higher education that was assumed by both their parents and their schools
Evaluation of the role of cultural factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity
- Family background helps explain Indian performance in education because this makes up for the greater level of poverty experienced compared to whites.
- Parental aspiration seems to be especially important
- Cultural barriers to SE Asian women are greater than for boys
- Cultural barriers for AC boys are greater than for AC girls.
- Strand argues that it is relative poverty of Bangladeshi and Pakistanis that explains their underachievement at GCSE rather than cultural factors
- Cultural barriers can’t explain everything as all groups except Bangladeshi women are more likely to go to university than whites.
- Strand argues that even if we take into account material and cultural barriers institutional racism leads to lack of opportunity for young black students and holds them back.
This post has primarily been written for students studying the education module as part of A-level sociology.
Related posts on the topic of ethnicity and education include:
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