LINDA Huang arrived in Australia from China with her parents and younger brother a decade ago unable to speak a word of English. Last month, the 17-year-old received a mark of 100 per cent in her final English examination and she has just won a sought-after place studying medicine at the University of Melbourne.
Linda did not attend an expensive private school and her parents had little education. Yet she is typical of many Asian students who, through hard work and native intelligence, surpass their Australian counterparts.
A new report of a nationwide study of more than 13,000 secondary students says those from Asian backgrounds outperform all other groups in their final school exams. Asian students - most of whom are Chinese - had an average university entrance score of almost 79 per cent - 10 percentage points above those whose fathers were born in Australia.
That contrasts with an average score of 72 per cent for students with parents from northern Europe, 69 per cent from Africa and 67 per cent from the Middle East. The average for students from English-speaking homes was 68.8 per cent.
The study by the Australian Council for Educational Research followed students from Year 9 in 1995 to their final year at school in 1998. It looked at factors contributing to student performance such as type of school, ethnicity, gender and family background.
The report says the strongest influences on students' achievement in Year 12 are their levels of literacy and numeracy in Year 9, how well-off their families are, and whether they attend a government, Catholic or private school.
Linda Huang attributes much of her success to her teachers at Glen Waverley secondary college - a big government school in Melbourne where she became equal top pupil with an Australian boy last December. Although 45 per cent of the students are children of immigrants - 35 per cent are ethnic Chinese - Ms Huang said it was the supportive environment, innovative teaching and the willingness of teachers to help students after hours that contributed to her high scores.
"It wasn't just hard work, but smart work, that was encouraged. Teachers used different approaches, different ways of learning such as mind maps and all the faculties of the brain," she said.
But why do Asian students do so well? Glen Waverley principal Darrell Fraser said many Chinese parents place a high value on education. They believe it is the greatest gift one generation can bestow on the next.
"I think it's the work ethic," Ms Huang said. "And parents are a major factor - my parents had a difficult life and they came here to build a better one for their children. That motivated me a lot. They didn't push me but I did not want to disappoint them - I wanted them to know it was worth it to work so hard for their children."