Hideously diverse Britain: School success – the Chinese way
A new study reveals that British Chinese people aged 16 and over are four times as likely to be full-time students as the wider population
I'm with Christine Yau, of the Chinese Community Centre in London's Chinatown, and we are discussing extraordinary phenomena. She is also trying to show me how to eat chicken wings with chopsticks. Only one of those things is going well.
So I focus on the other delicacies and we continue our talk about schooling. There is, if the latest research is to be believed, something incredible being achieved by the Chinese. The study, conducted by the Black Training & Enterprise Group using government figures, notes that British Chinese people aged 16 and over are four times as likely to be full-time students as the wider population. But here's the thing. The national average for pupils in 2009 who were eligible for free school meals and achieved five or more A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths was 26.6%. British Chinese pupils in the same category achieved 70.8%. In other groups, there was a wide attainment gap between the poorest and the most socially advantaged pupils. The rates for poorer and better-off Chinese pupils differed by just 2%. So they do better, and social deprivation doesn't seem to hold them back. Why is that?
Because for them, says Yau, education isn't just desirable; it's an obsession. Parents don't just want their children to do well; they assume a ferocious duty to make it happen. "Young children know they have to study hard not to disappoint parents. The children have their own incentives too. A lot grow up in restaurants and don't want that themselves. They work 10 times as hard. You see the front of a restaurant. What you don't see is the child doing its homework, watched by its parent, on a little table out the back."
It's what they do, and what they don't, she says. Strict controls on down-market TV; heavy curbs on social networking and computer games. School in the week, cultural and language tuition at the weekend. "We try to take the best of this society," she says, "and not to absorb the rest."
Hardly a fun upbringing, I say; but she says there is fun, and ultimately there are doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants. Not modern parenting as we know it. But look at those figures again.