Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Self-Identity Issues of South Asian Young People in Australian Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Self-Identity Issues of South Asian Young People in Australian Schools

Article excerpt

The aim of this study is to ascertain the perceptions of South Asian parents and young people with regard to a range of identity-related issues and education. To obtain a comprehensive and balanced picture, a number of white teachers is also included in the research. A representative sample of students was drawn from three high schools; two located in a city area and the third in a rural area of New South Wales. Eighteen parents and thirty students and sixteen teachers were interviewed to discover their attitudes and perceptions towards: bilingualism and the teaching of community languages, religious orientation, gender issues, identity, prejudice and racism, and acculturation. In addition, seventy-five boys and girls completed an established Acculturation Scale. The responses of the non-manual group are compared with that of the manual group and the implications for the education of South Asian young people are drawn.


This research project is part of an ongoing exploration into the identity-related_ issues (dual identity, religion, mother-tongue teaching, family values), acculturation and educational progress of adolescents of South Asian origin in Britain, Canada and the United States. The South Asian young people of the second and third generation in Australia and other western countries face unique problems of social adjustment at school because most of their home values tend to conflict with those of the school. South Asian homes, for instance, tend to emphasise family and kinship solidarity and collectivity, religious outlook and gender role differentiation. Schools in the west, on the other hand, stress the development of `individuality' (autonomy and independence; see Dewey, 1964; Hirst & Peters, 1970), secular outlook and gender equality. Additionally, young people have to face the racial prejudice of their white peers, and even of some teachers, at schools and later when seeking employment and other civic amenities in society at large. Such a situation is likely to make their lives more challenging and problematic compared with those of their white counterparts (Rotheram & Phinney, 1987).

Researchers (Anwar, 1998; Drury, 1991; Ghuman, 1991, 1995; Gibson, 1988; Stopes-Roe & Cochrane, 1990) have found that the young people of South Asian ancestry, with few exceptions, are achieving as well as their white counterparts academically, that they tend to be bilingual (at a spoken level, at any rate), that they describe their personal identities in a `hyphenated way' and respect the core values and traditions of their families. At the same time, the majority of them have acquired the knowledge, language and skills of their respective host societies to make a functional adaptation. However, a small minority of young people, especially girls (Bryant-Waugh & Lask, 1991; Dolan, 1991; Merrill & Owens, 1986), find adolescence a particularly stressful period because of the conflict of values between the South Asian family and school, being in addition to those faced by their white peers (Ghuman, 1999). There has been no published research reported on South Asian young people in Australia. This project, therefore, was devised, first, to find out the perceptions and attitudes of South Asian young people, teachers and parents towards: bilingualism, mother-tongue teaching, religious orientation, gender inequality, personal identities and acculturation, and racism and prejudice.


Semi-structured interview

The two main methods employed for the collection of data were a semi-structured interview and an established Acculturation Scale (Ghuman, 1975). The interview method helps the researcher to explore the issues in depth in an atmosphere of confidence and trust. This technique has been found useful by researchers (Bhachu, 1985a, 1985b; Ghuman, 1991; Rex & Tomlinson, 1979; Verma & Ashworth, 1986) to explore the attitudes and perceptions of South Asian parents, young people and teachers to a variety of issues. …

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