Average GCSE Results Bring Shame To Many British Asian Families

24/08/2016 16:19 | Updated 24 August 2016
Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The weight of academic expectation on British Asian students is immense.

The cultural fixation with high achievement and failure to acknowledge the damaging consequences which such an unhealthy obsession yields for children, is a damning indictment of parenting in sections of the British Asian community.

There is no denying that British Asians are among the most accomplished students in the country, but there is a flipside which many silent voices will painfully identify with come their date with destiny tomorrow. For many desi students, this will not be GCSE results day in the conventional sense, but a sub-continental rite of passage, where many will bear the brunt of vexed tiger parents, unwilling to come to terms with their children's underachievement.

Of course, parents have a benchmark for progress which they would naturally encourage their child to work towards. However, collectively shaming your child for underachieving-as is common practice in South Asian households- is a cultural illness that needs uprooting. In many ways, tiger parents are a mirror-reflection of Ofsted's micro-management of teachers, in so far as their guidance on education is depressingly similar to the educational watchdog: either meet a standardised criterion for targets and performance indicators, or be 'downgraded'.

Having taught in a school with a majority South Asian student population, parents' evenings were the clearest example of the psychological cost of such punitive wisdom. I remember a father reacting with shock horror when learning his child was performing just below the national average. He felt it was appropriate for me as a 'fellow Bengali' to remind the emotionally distraught boy of the shame he was inviting on his family's status, simply for scraping a C on a GCSE mock exam. Another parent was totally impervious to her son's autism spectrum disorder, insisting the quality of his written communication improve by the end of the term, unless he was content with being the black sheep of the family.

It would be criminal to brush this off as some kind of desi idiosyncrasy, which fosters an academically competitive spirit. On several occasions, I was obliged to blur the boundaries between teaching and counselling because these cases were hardly normal reactions that could be expected from disappointed parents, and such public dressing downs were far too frequent and culturally pervasive to be deemed an exception to the rule. Under no circumstances should a child be taught that passing or failing an exam would reflect on their humanity.

Too often, I found myself consoling students who shuddered at the prospect of undermining their family reputation and their demoralisation was testament to the adverse effects of coercive values on a child's mental health. These parents had already consigned their children to the hall of shame for not meeting their end of year targets, lagging behind their more 'desirable' siblings or some ridiculously unattainable goal which could only be imposed in the first place due to a warped understanding of discipline.

I doubt any other minority experiences the anxieties borne of distinct cultural pressures to exceed expectations, as do Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis. There is far too much attention on how Asians are outperforming their counterparts, but little on the extrinsic motivations which explain the price they pay for not reaching the top of the heap. The culture I grew up in forces the practice of academic brilliance par excellence, until children internalise the feelings of guilt, shame and whatever ignominy is generated for not living up to the standard of such emotionally estranged parenting.

Regrettably, the stigma attached to underachievement in large swathes of the British Asian community is symptomatic of an Indo-Pak reverence to hierarchy, where delusions of grandeur and unattainable expectations trump realism.

In her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Yale Law Professor Amy Chua revealed she wouldn't think twice before publicly labelling her children as 'garbage.' Sadly, many desi parents also share this perverted sense of nurture.