HomeCampusIndian Americans begin new winning streak in U.S. spelling bee

Indian Americans begin new winning streak in U.S. spelling bee

14-year-old Dev Shah of Largo, FL is the latest winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

According to Scripps, he had family from India watching as well as relatives in New Jersey.

He’s the second Indian American in a row to win the competition. Harina Logan, then an eighth grader from Texas, won the 2022 championship.

“It’s surreal,” said Shah on stage after receiving his trophy. “I didn’t even let it settle in. I don’t know. My legs are still shaking.”

According to Quint, Indian American students had won the Scripps Spelling Bee for 12 straight years until Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American to ever win the competition in 2021.

The first Indian American to win the spelling bee is Balu Natarajan in 1985. That inspired many Indian American families and launched many spelling bee competitions in that community. Research has even conducted studies about this trend.

“The parents of these high-achieving youngsters are highly educated and value education,” said Sanjoy Chakravorty of Temple University. “There are suggestions that they are particularly adept at rote learning and memorization. They work in clusters and use ethnic and family networks to dominate a few professions. These properties are strikingly similar to what works for their children in the spelling and geography bees.”

A Times of India article quoted by Quint reported the tradition of rote learning goes back to the importance of oral tradition in Indian culture. Many Indian families, due to the U.S. immigration system that prioritizes highly educated and skilled families, also have the financial means to give their children a quality education.

“Parents invest a lot of their time with their kids…They prioritize education and have the economic means to have a parent stay at home. It’s much more a socio-economic factor than a gene,” said, Shalini Shankar, a professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University, to CNN.

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