Monash University
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A cultural–historical study of Hong Kong–Australian children’s learning and development within everyday family practices

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posted on 2017-02-28, 05:07 authored by Wong, Pui Ling
The children of the Hong Kong immigrant community in Australia achieve highly in terms of academic results and become highly skilled professionals in comparison with other immigrant groups and the local population. Despite these outstanding achievements, little research has investigated the processes of development of children in this group. While much of the literature on Chinese heritage students suggests that the parental support for and emphasis on learning has helped secure their success, little is known from the children’s perspectives about how they acquire the competencies and develop a learning motive for academic success. Stereotypes pervade the debate about the possible effects of high parental demands, yet little is known about the real underlying relationship between these children’s achievement and their environmental affordances. This study investigates the ways parental demands and family practices provide conditions and possibilities for children’s learning and development, how children perceive and make sense of these and how they contribute to their own learning and development. Conducted in Melbourne, Australia, the study adopted an in-depth qualitative case study approach following the cultural–historical paradigm and employing dialectical-interactive methodology. Six parents and seven children participated from three Hong Kong–Australian families. The parents had been raised and had their schooling in Hong Kong and had migrated to Australia between 2 and 15 years prior to the study. The children ranged between 0 and 11 years of age; among them one child was born in Hong Kong and the other six children were born in Melbourne, Australia. One family was sending their children to a government school, one to an independent Christian school and one to a prestigious private school. Data were collected for 12 months through video observations of children’s participation in their everyday activities at home and in their communities, interviews with parents and children, field notes, and photographs, video clips and relevant documents provided by participants. Analysis of data was carried out at the common sense, situated practice and thematic levels, yielding rich and comprehensive understandings of the processes and mechanisms of these Hong Kong–Australian children’s learning and development within their everyday family practices. This thesis is structured in the format of a thesis by publication. The important findings are presented with the associated publications (2 to 7). Overall, the study shows that positive mutual responsiveness is central to the Hong Kong–Australian children’s effective learning and development within their family’s valued practices. The importance of mutual responsiveness is evident in the relationship between the cultural, societal, historical conditions and the parents’ life experiences and interpretations (Publication 2), between the families and their children’s schools (Publication 3), between parental demands and practices and the child’s motives and competences (Publication 4), between parental encouragement and the child’s perceptions and personal sense (Publication 5), between cultural and temporal influences and the leading activity for the children’s development (Publication 6) and within and among the individual, the environment and the conditions (Publication 7). In sum, the study shows how children of Hong Kong Chinese heritage learn and develop in everyday family practices through the complex dialectical process of interaction of parental demands and values, cultural values, and children’s desires. They gradually appropriate orientations to learning as they negotiate the parental demands with parental encouragement. This sits in contrast to the picture painted by much of the literature which characterises the learning environment and process of Chinese heritage children as replete with imposition, rigid discipline and uni-directional demands. The study and its publications have not only contributed understandings of the processes of learning and development of the participant children, but also understandings of socio-cultural theory and research approaches. Vygotsky’s ‘abstract’ concept of child development is applied to real life contemporary issues, helping to more fully explicate mechanisms and processes in child development, and to reveal ones not expressed in Vygotsky’s work, of which encouragement is a prominent example. The model presented in the final publication is a development of earlier models and research in the literature. Methodologically, the power of cultural–historical dialectical–interactive methodology using multiple methods has been confirmed in its ability to reveal the details of the processes, mechanisms and interactions between people, institutions and even cultural traditions from various perspectives – including the child’s – in a child’s learning and development. The model developed from this study can serve as a framework for parents, educators, researchers and policy makers to use in shaping effective pedagogies, tools and policies to facilitate children’s optimal development.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Marilyn Fleer

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education