Selective Worries About Selective Schools


Underpinning those articles is, I believe, the absurd idea that due to our ethnicity, our vibrant ‘other’ cultures, we are not fundamentally ‘Australian’. If not, why constantly mention the high number of LBOTE students? If some can’t explicitly identify this ‘ethnicness’ as reason for their distaste, they can instead point out other ‘features’ identified with the general demographic, such as selective schools themselves, academic coaching and the competitive culture.

This attitude is what leads a journalist to write, with surprise, that ‘students appear to be of Chinese…descent, but their accents are broad Aussie and they’re lively…individual’, as if we were just ‘grade chasing automatons’ and haven’t lived here for all or most of our lives.

I’m not a stereotype, so why should others comment on my life and school as if it were one? When I attended school, I was academically challenged, but also involved in sporting exchanges, pursued my interest in music and musicals and participated in volunteering initiatives.

Coming from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, we could also make fun of each other and laugh about our ‘ethnicness’, or lack of, in a manner of acceptance, mutual understanding and self-deprecation. To those outside the school, it may appear to have been centring everything along race lines, but the reality was that it afforded a new freedom where we could speak and not represent our entire race. We could be both Asian and Australian. There were no doubts about anyone else’s belonging or identity, Anglo or otherwise it was just who they were.

For some others, school may have been all about their studies, but it’d be wrong to talk on their behalf, as we all have different experiences and motivations. It’s more worthwhile to talk with those students themselves instead of using preconceived ideas and presumptions to form an opinion.

I attempted to do this by conducting a basic survey among my cohort about their time at the school. I collected responses from just under a quarter of the cohort. Two of the questions asked what was the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ thing about the school, and the results were still surprising although expected. For most, the ‘best thing’ was that they found a group of students who they could relate strongly to, however, that also helped constitute the ‘worst thing’—‘the people’, and the competitiveness that brought. While not ideal, it is rational to believe that if one has similar goals and values, they will feel as if they are ‘competing’ with their peers, causing a sometimes-stressful environment.

Indeed, selective schools should be discussed to continually find new ways of improving and managing stress. But the discussion needs to be fair, and ultimately consider the real experiences of the students who attend them—and not about outdated, uniformed assumptions of entire ethnic groups.

Jeanne Cheong

Author: Jeanne Cheong

Jeanne is (still) completing her undergraduate studies at Monash University. Born and raised in Melbourne, it was while attending a select entry high school that she first became interested in the discussion surrounding the ever-changing concept of Australian identity. She recently spent a semester abroad in Seoul (for the economics and history!) and accidentally came back a fangirl…