Listen to their stories – Chinese families sharing their lived experiences in Australia and their children’s mathematics learning

Year: 2013

Author: Mok, Angel

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The purpose of this paper is to challenge the prevailing understanding of homogenous Chineseness in the context of children’s mathematics learning in Sydney. Internationally, Chinese students outperform their western counterparts in international tests such as PISA and TIMSS. Locally, schools with high Chinese populations lead NAPLAN scores in numeracy, as well as results in Science and Mathematics in the Higher School Certificate in NSW. Recent research which examines the influence of culture on student’s mathematics performance tends to see Chinese as one homogenous group. Research data collected from six Chinese families living in Sydney, however, suggests a contradictory view on Chineseness. Through the use of narrative inquiry as storytelling of lived experiences, it was found that families have different interpretations of meaning of Chineseness and hence, different representations of their identities. Their hybrid identities shift over time and in different social situations. As well, mathematics learning is not measured but in relation to their experiences and expectations, explained and shared by the participants. While they see mathematics as important for their children’s future, there does not seem to be clear links between their perceptions of identities and their children’s mathematics learning in Australia.
This paper also aims to provide some insights into how the researcher’s own narrative can provide a special lens in the interpretation of that of the participants’ in an ethnographic study. The researcher’s own narrative is a reflexive ethnographic writing, its purpose is to illuminate the data under study and contextualize interpretation. Participants’ narratives are interpreted, initially by the researcher and subsequently by the readers who are invited to live the lives of the participants for a while. Narratives are windows for readers to see, feel and interpret how these lived experiences challenge the often taken-for-granted, stereotypical understanding of Chineseness.
Data gathered in the interviews with the six families were first analysed with themes derived from the literature on identity and Chinese students’ performance in mathematics before they were written in the form of narratives. Interpreting data with different analysis crystalises the experiences of the participants and their views on mathematics learning. The process of writing the narratives also allowed the researcher to zoom in and out the research data and connect the personal to the social. Each narrative provided a lens for the readers to read other narratives.