Why Indian-Americans are so good at Spelling Bee

Rote memorisation with emphasis on high grades contribute in a big way to the success of NRIs at the contest.

 |  3-minute read |   09-06-2015
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Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Thrice is...? Excelling at Spelling Bee.

You win the first time, the second time, the third time and then, the winning spree continues. What happens? Eyebrows are raised, caustic remarks are made and then begins the backlash on social media. Is it possible? Is the process jinxed? How do the Indian-Americans do it? Ban them from participating!

Mixed reactions and responses to the Indian-American wins at the Spelling Bee contest have raised many a brow and given rise to dispute and debate. What are the causative factors of success?

Ironically, part of the success of the these young Turks can be attributed to the Indian educational system which has come under fire from multiple quarters.

Rote memorisation with emphasis on high grades coupled with perceived limited career options and stiff competition contribute in a big way to the success quotient of the Indians at the Spelling Bee.

Let us visualise the scenario! Parents sternly coaxing wards to study: "If you do not study, what will you do in life?" "Set your goals!" To complicate issues in life, this chiding is followed with a strict study regime of 12 to 15 hours a day.

Habits die hard and a similar approach to academics follows year after year, be it in India or America.

Second and third generation Indians in the US are expected to continue along a similar path as their parents or grandparents. "You have left your native country and in this foreign land you have to achieve."

How? Goals are set and targets laid down with strict monitoring and stringent rules for achieving the same. The question, at this point, is not if these are right or wrong but how do they help achieve success.

A summary glance at the educational culture from where the first generation of Indian-Americans hail is self explanatory. Driven by the desire to succeed in limited professions as either doctors or engineers, these people have slogged through the portals of Indian institutes where they received accolades and the current position in life.

Confident that this is the only measure of success, the same traits are ingrained in the current generation. Competition and competitive spirit considered to be lethal weapons of success are gradually made a part and parcel of the growing child.

Not sure if this is the right approach, but yes, it does get the desired result.

Overall performance of Indians and their success stories add to the motivational factor of attempting to excel. Research posits that to achieve merit in any sphere, grit is a major determinant. As a major psychological factor, grit is the capability to pursue challenging goals with determination, perseverance and passion.

It points to the sustenance and supremacy of hard work over natural capabilities. The success factor or outcome of any endeavour is a combination of cognitive and behavioural traits and grit nurtured and developed in a cultural habitat.

Small wonder then, Indian students still tied to the roots, with culturally developed sensibilites are able to perform and excel at Spelling Bee which requires learning and relearning.

Writer

Asha Kaul Asha Kaul @ashakaul

Asha Kaul is a professor of communications at IIM A.

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