National Spelling Bee: Indian Whiz kids All the Way

Hurrah!! They did it again!! For eight times in a row, children of South Asian/ Indian parentage have emerged champions at the prestigious National Spelling Bee, held in the USA every summer. Surprisingly, the last three years have witnessed joint champions and all six of them are PIO (People of Indian Origin) or Asians

The National Spelling Bee began way back in 1925, managed and conducted by Louisville based publication, The Courier-Journal. It has been an annual feature ever since, barring the WWII years1943-1945.  Students in or below eighth grade, aged below 15 are eligible.  It is alos mandatory that they must not be previous winners of the event. The objective of this event is to help school children master the art of spelling, improve vocabulary, and enhance the knowledge of English. The organizers are E.W. Scripps Company along with 288 sponsors in various countries worldwide. Did you know the event’s logo is a bee, though the two are not really connected? Actually  “Bee” refers to a gathering”, where people take part in an activity.

This year’s champions are Jairam Hathwar from Corning New York and Nihar Janga from Houston Tcxas. The duo received $40,000 in cash and other prizes. Incidentally Jairam’s brother, Sriram Hathwar was co-champion in 2014. The big brother had advised junior to stay calm while encountering a word he didn’t know. This year’s contest saw the youngest ever participant,  6  year old,  1st grader Akash Vukoti from Texas, whose cherubic and intelligent face charmed the onlookers.  Year 2015’s joint winners were teenagers Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, both again of Indian descent.  The winning spree of Indian American children in Spelling Bee has left the Americans in general bewildered.. “It’s hard to say it’s a coincidence,” says Shalini Shankar, an anthropology professor at Northwestern University, who keenly follows countrywide spelling competitions. She opines, immigrants from India, who are the parents and grandparents of today’s spellers, are typically well-educated professionals and driven to succeed.  Bee watchers have often asked her if  a “spelling gene” might be  the cause of Indian American dominance

She adds “You don’t see lots of spelling bee winners who are the children of assembly line workers or cabdrivers, even if they’re South Asian…..you see children of doctors, engineers,”  Shedding  light on  the inherent cultural difference, Shankar says, “Their parents really emphasize education and certain types of extracurricular activities. Also, they seem to have a real love of words and language and their parents foster that. The parents spend their time and resources, taking their kids to participate in brain sports.  So rather that going to travel baseball or travel soccer, they’re traveling this academic competition loop.” Recently, Paige Kimble, the Bee’s longtime director, and a champion herself, acknowledged before media that the difference for Indian Americans may be a commitment to pursue the spelling championship over many years.   “How hard a child works is a very individual factor, but what might be happening is that there might be perseverance for the National Spelling Bee goal over a longer period of time.”

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