Inspiring results from a refugee from Afghanistan

At a time when all we get in the news is sadness, it is wonderful to read about the success of an Afghani refugee who came to Australia five years ago. Shaheen Hasmat spoke only a few words in English when he arrived in Melbourne and yet he has achieved brilliant results of 99.8% in the VCE. He will now accept a scholarship to study Medicine at Monash University.

By the way, his older brother was also the dux of their high-school the previous year. There’s no question that this is an admirable family and yet I am not surprised by their scholastic achievement.

When I looked at the results of the top students in Victoria, it was clear that many of them are Asian or from other foreign backgrounds. This is what I have observed in my own teaching career. In Sydney, the newly-arrived Asian girls would win many prizes including the prize for English. Some of the teachers would resent that but deep inside I felt great pride for the Asian girls because I knew what it felt like to be a newcomer.

It would be wrong, however, to claim that genetically the foreign students are smarter. I am convinced that their devotion to studying has to do with being an immigrant. People who have had a hard life in their old country want their children to have a better life in the new one. That is why they encourage educational achievement in their children. And it is a reality also, that in some cultures, educational achievement is more respected than in others.

I remember my parents always telling me when we arrived in Australia, ”they can take everything away from you but they can’t take your education. You will always have that.”

As migrants feel more and more at home in a society and less of a new kid on the block, they seem to be less ambitious in academia. This is a generalisation, of course, and there is always the exception to the rule.

While their immigrant parents were hungry for acceptance and urged their children to take education seriously, the pressure decreased on the next generation. That’s the way of the world. We all know what they say about the third generation of newcomers.

As time went on and the newcomers became more accepted in their adopted country the need to excel in education was replaced by other ambitions like quality of lifestyle, interest in sport etc. It was inevitable that the hunger would diminish. Many of these poor immigrants had to do well to win a scholarship to university or they would not be able to attend. That was no longer the case with the children and grandchildren.

What I am really saying is that when things come easily to you, you don’t appreciate them, but when you have to struggle, then the struggle often leads to more success. I believe that the school of hard knocks is the best kindergarten for life. Just ask the Afghani family who will not only have a good life here but will also benefit other Australians.

I offer my hearty congratulations to Shaheen and his family.

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