Over-achieving or disengaged? Understanding the immigrant educational experience in Australian secondary schools

Year: 2015

Author: Childs, Alison, Watson, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

International education analyses indicate that in Australia, the average educational achievement among immigrants at age 15 is equivalent to or slightly higher than students of long standing Australian heritage. Yet Australian media commentators often describe immigrant teenagers in negative and threatening terms, suggesting they are disengaged from education and more likely to engage in criminal acts. There is a growing trend in government policy to establish funds, taskforces and strategies focusing on marginalised young people from immigrant families, with the aim of deterring them from engaging in violent activities, including acts of terrorism. This contrasts with an alternate portrayal of immigrant families as being overly focused on educational achievement. When immigrant children outperform their school peers and win places in prestigious university courses, commentators regularly conclude that such a focus on educational achievement is unhealthy and the product of misplaced aspirations inflicted on hapless students by tyrannical ‘Tiger Mothers’. The portrayal of immigrant students as either overly engaged in education or dangerously disengaged serves to reinforce negative perceptions about the threat immigrants pose to the status quo, while offering few insights into immigrants’ educational experiences in Australia’s multi-cultural and multi-generational immigrant society.
This paper reviews literature on the nature of immigrants’ educational experiences in Australian secondary schools, with a focus on analyses of educational outcomes and transitions to employment or further education. The purpose of the paper is to examine the extent to which existing research adequately captures the complexity of immigrants’ educational experiences and any differences in educational outcomes between sub-populations and cultural groups. Research on the Australian youth immigrant settlement experience compared to other countries is included in the analysis. Finally, the authors explore the usefulness of various data sources for investigating immigrants’ educational experiences in Australia and discuss the implications of their findings for policy and further research.