Monday, January 06, 2003

It is an unfortunate fact that the use of statistics sometimes makes it very easy to reach broad conclusions supposedly based in fact.

Paul Sheehan Top marks so far to this cultural effect (SMH 30 December) has used some statistics on the place of birth of HSC candidates or their parents and the merit lists of those scoring over 90 to attempt to reach some conclusions about certain ethnic groupings.

Suffice to say the high proportion of Asian lineage leads Sheehan to conclude that these students and their families are somehow different and "neglect a comprehensive education". He also tries to compare this generation of migrants with those in the sixties, which he characterises as from Mediterranean (and Catholic?) tribes.

There are three relevant additional pieces of information. The first is that many of the migrants of earlier waves showed just as much
determination to "over achieve" as have many more recent arrivals - the case of the children of middle Eurpoean migrants of the sixties should not be forgotten.

Secondly, the criteria placed on intended migrants now is vastly different from the sixties. Now we expect education and economic
security. then we sought unskilled labourers. That their children might place a different emphasis on education would not be surpriseful.

And finally, the image of these new migrants as a group of swots who only study (or are coached) is easily overplayed. Go visit any of the schools mentioned - they are still the ones with the most vibrant array of extra-curricular activities and students engaged in sporting and cultural pursuits.

To suggest "you would have to be obtuse not to see the impact that the Chinese diaspora is going to have on this country" is a generalisation entirely unsupported by anything in the article. Even his own "statistics" include many non-Chinese nationalities. The only conclusion one can reach is that Australia is going to continue to benefit from the great cultural diversity that it, along with the US, has historically benefitted from - European, Chinese, Indian and African - Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist.

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