Asses sociological explanations for ethnic differences in educational achievement Essay

Ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another. That is, ethnicity is a shared cultural heritage. The most common characteristics distinguishing various ethnic groups are ancestry, a sense of history, language and religion. Modern Britain is said to be a multicultural society made up of many different ethnic groups. Achievement within education is very varied across cultures, with some such as Chinese and Indian students performing above the average, and African-Caribbean and Pakistani students performing well below average.

There are many factors which can reduce a child from an ethnic backgrounds attainment. For instance, Material deprivation. Material deprivation focuses on income inequality and the material problems that are associated with it. An example of such a study is J. W. B Douglas, ‘The Home and The School’ (1964). He argued that an interlocking network of inequalities existed which operated against many working class students. This included, differential effects of regional and variations in educational provision and expenditure.

Also, housing and environmental factors.

Which led to chances of access to ‘good’ primary schools. Therefore, hindering the chance of access to top streams. As a result, minority ethnic children are more likely to live in low-income households. This means they face the problems that Douglas highlighted, the material factors, such as poor quality housing, no working space and even possibly bad influence of peers. One other reason for differences in educational achievement between ethnicities is the basic family life. African-Caribbean communities have a high level of lone parenthood.

Actually, it is estimated 50% of African-Caribbean households have a lone-parent . This can mean that many face financial problems, this can lead to lower achievement in school (Douglas’ material factors). Conversely, single mothers can be a positive role model or influence for many young girls, meaning they perform better in education. Another explanation for ethnic differences is Language. For many children of an ethnic minority English is not their primary language. This can be a disadvantage because they may not understand exams as well as others.

Also they might struggle to express themselves with limited English. Finally, some teachers may mistake poor English for a lack of intelligence, when actually this could be completely untrue, meaning that a clever child may be let down by the teacher who might not push the student to their full potential. However, you could argue that Chinese and Indian students first language isn’t English, on the other hand in these two cultures it is the norm to learn English as a strong second language. Therefore, they are not hindered by the second language barrier, as opposed to Bangladeshi’s for example.

Language was such a big issue that Bernstein (1973) categorised students into two groups. Elaborated and restricted. In the case of an elaborated code, the speaker will select from a relatively extensive range of alternatives. However in the case of a restricted code the number of these alternatives is often severely limited. Bernstein’s work was not always praised. For instance, Labov (1974) argued that young blacks in the United States, although using language which certainly seems an example of the restricted code, nevertheless display a clear ability to argue logically.

Their lack of knowledge concerning the subject may reach further than just the exams they have to take. For instance, due to the large amount of failing black Caribbean’s and Bangladeshi’s (a combined total of 41% managed to get 5 A* – C grades), teachers may be subconsciously prejudiced against ethnic minorities. This can lower the students attainments in many ways, one is that the teachers give the student lower grades. Another way is that the teacher negatively labels a student of ethnic minority which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy.

Racism can also lead to conflict between students and teachers, making learning a much harder task. Lastly, racism can lead to low-self esteem among ethnic minorities. A researcher who studies this was Howard Becker (1971). Becker Interviewed 60 Chicago high school teachers. He found that they judged pupils according to how closely they fitted image of “ideal pupil”. Their conduct & appearance influenced judgement. Middle class was closest to ideal, working class furthest away & labelled as badly behaved. As a result you can see, if teachers labelled students on how they look, you can imagine how they would label a whole ethnic race.

Another factor for ethnic differences in educational achievement is the ethnocentric curriculum. There are several reasons why ethnic minorities may struggle due to this curriculum. One is that the subjects often focus on British culture; naturally White British students will have grown up with this culture, so they might have a greater understanding of the content than students who grew up in a different culture. Another reason is that the content of the curriculum could lower ethnic minorities self-esteem, this is because often the white character is seen as “good” and superior whilst the ethnic minorities are seen as “not as academic”.

However, it is crucial not to forget that every ethnic minority underachieves at this level. In fact, in the UK, Chinese and Indian pupils score better grades than the “White” ethnic race. One of the main reasons for this is the support of the parents. Research has shown that some parents of ethnic minority, such as Chinese and Indian, take more interest in their child’s education, they also encourage their child more than other in other cultures. This obviously leads to higher achievement for the child.

Not only the parents play a part. Some teachers may stereotype some ethnic minorities to be intelligent and hard-working. This encouragement and sort of support can aid a student in raising their grades. To conclude, there are many sociological explanations for the ethnic differences in educational achievement, from language barriers to family life at home. However, it is important to remember not all ethnic minorities to underachieve. Rafi Kentafi – Lindill 12P.

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