Asian/Australian perceptions of Asian success in mathematics

Year: 1994

Author: Ayres, Paul L.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the last 15 years many studies have been completed which have compared students in the USA with similar students in Asia on various mathematical tasks. In most cases the Americans have performed poorly compared with their Asian counterparts (notably Japanese and Chinese). Several theories have been forwarded to explain these international differences. Many focus on differences in cultural values towards education. The following study explores this cultural theme further by looking at Australian/Asian perceptions about Asian success in mathematics.

Three groups of students were interviewed: 59 Australian-born girls in Year 12 attending a private Sydney school, 20 Asian-born (mainly ethnic-Chinese) girls in Years 10-12 attending a private Sydney school, and 32 trainee teachers (both sexes) at the University of Western Sydney, Nepean. Subjects were asked to rank particular attributes to explain why Asians might excel in mathematics. These included ability, age, effort, pressure from parents, teaching at school, rewards for success, and luck.

Both groups of Australian-born subjects agreed on the two main attributes: hard work and pressure from parents, which suggests that these beliefs may be widespread. However, Asian-born students ranked hard work and the quality of teaching as their main two attributes. Pressure from parents was ranked much lower. Although it is of no surprise to hear that the work ethic is perceived as important for Asian success in mathematics, a more significant result may be that Asians have different values about teaching.