The School Adjustment of South Asian Immigrant Children in the United States

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ABSTRACT

This study examined the school adjustment process among South Asian children who had immigrated to the United States with their parents, and who had below-average grades. Both risk and protective factors for dropping out of school were explored in the context of the traditions, familial values, and social norms of South Asians. Data were collected from 75 parents and 75 children in separate semistructured interviews. Content analysis revealed three major themes: congruence of the parents' and school's views on the value of education, congruence of the parents' and children's beliefs that education is the tool to achieve goals, and determination of the children to achieve goals. The low level of proficiency in English was found to be a critical factor in low achievement and school failure. It was concluded that parental encouragement to succeed, in conjunction with teachers' efforts, can be used to facilitate children's school adjustment. Strategies for assisting immigrant children are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Poor school achievement or failure has been found to be a precursor of dropping out among children of all ethnic groups (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Oetting, 1992). Dropping out, in turn, has been linked to bonding with deviant peers, which has been associated with drug use and other problem behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity (Annis & Watson, 1975; Fagan & Pabon, 1990; Kandel, 1975; Swaim, Beauvais, Chavez, & Oetting, 1997). Children who have recently immigrated to the United States from non-English-speaking countries experience several barriers to academic achievement, including lack of language proficiency (Graham, 1995).

The present study examined the school adjustment process of children who had recently emigrated from three South Asian countries--Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Specifically, it explored the risk/protective factors for dropping out of school in the context of familial values, cultural traditions, and social norms.

The identification of risk factors for poor academic achievement can aid in the development of strategies to improve the school performance of low achievers. Similarly, strengthening protective factors may make the school adjustment process easier and faster. Thus, early intervention may not only promote educational success, enhance life skills, and reduce the likelihood of dropping out, but also lower the prevalence of substance abuse and other problem behaviors. These aims were supported in the National Education Goals Report, which targeted a high school completion rate of at least 90% by the year 2000 (Kett, 1995).

Theoretical Background

Acculturation. Because school adjustment was understood in the context of acculturation in this study, it is important to define the model of acculturation that was used. Acculturation has been described as an accumulative social learning process that involves assimilation of the new culture by individuals who also retain the values of their culture of origin (Padilla, 1980; Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1980). Even before arriving in the new country, perceptions of cultural similarities and differences affect later adaptation (Recio Adrados, 1993). Difficulty with a new language is only one of several stressors that may be experienced during the acculturation process.

School adjustment. Previous research has identified three factors that protect vulnerable children from dropping out of school (Caplin, Choy, & Whitmore, 1992; Fernandez & Velez, 1989; Oettings, 1992; Ueda, 1995). The first factor is a strong link between children's two primary socialization agents--parents and teachers. The convergence of their missions and values helps ensure that they communicate the same message--the importance of education--clearly and explicitly to children, which facilitates adjustment to school.

The second factor is parental communication of ideals and behavioral expectations. …