Countries respond to large numbers and poor outcomes of immigrant pupils with many new, but weak targeted education policies, which are not always well implemented or effective in practice.
How many pupils have immigrant parents?
Foreign-born children make up 10-17% of all pupils in AU/CA/NZ and between 5-7% in IT and most Northern European countries. Figures are higher in LU (17%) and in major new destinations like IE & ES (around 8.5%), but much lower in DK, DE, NL (3%). Traditional countries of immigration AU/CA/NZ have large numbers of both first and second generation pupils, totalling between 20-30% of all pupils. Northwest European countries have relatively small numbers of first generation pupils and mostly second generation pupils (around 6-10% of all pupils, rising to 17.5% in CH and 29% in LU), the first and second generation now make up the majority of all pupils in a few major capitals and cities in Northern Europe.
Is the education system responsive to the needs of the children of immigrants?
Education emerges as the greatest weakness in integration policies in most countries. Most migrant pupils have little extra support to find the right school and class, catch up if they're behind, quickly learn the language and, if they're lucky, learn some of the rules of the language that they use at home. Teachers and other pupils are lucky if they learn anything about diversity or immigrants. Most countries leave it up to the general education system to fix (or exacerbate) any problems.
Education policies are generally more targeted in countries with large numbers of pupils with an immigrant background. The Nordic countries take an individualised needs-based approach for all pupils. AU, CA, NZ developed strong targeted education policies through multiculturalism, while the US requires a general focus on vulnerable racial and social groups. In contrast, the education systems in DE-speaking countries, FR, LU seem less responsive to their relatively large number of immigrant pupils. New destination countries with small immigrant communities usually offer only ad hoc projects for a few groups and schools (e.g. JP, LV/LT, MT, Central and Southeast Europe). In the major new destinations such as GR, IE, IT and ES, weak targeted education policies have not caught up with the now relatively large numbers of immigrant pupils. More developed policies in CZ, EE, FI, KR, PT better serve these countries' relatively small number of immigrant pupils.
Policies are very slow to adapt to target the needs of immigrant pupils, with 25 countries making no major changes since 2010. 8 countries made minor improvements, opening the system to all legal migrants (RO) or to undocumented migrants (CH, SE), setting basic standards for language support (CZ, FR), opening to non-European languages (BE, and promoting diversity in school or society (AT, DK). A few leading countries lost some of their political will and resources to promote diversity (NL, ES), target migrant pupils' specific needs (NL, UK), enforce their policies for schools in practice (US), although education actors who mobilise in support of these targeted policies can have an impact (UK).
- Few school systems make professional assessments of what newcomer children learned abroad (see FR, LU)
- Migrant pupils rarely receive additional support to access pre-primary, vocational and higher education or to prevent them from dropping out (see ad hoc support in traditional countries of immigration, Nordics, AT, EE, KR, PT)
- Undocumented pupils can access some level of higher education in 16 MIPEX countries (all in EE, FR, GR, KR, NL, ES)
- Schools have wide discretion and few resources to address the specific needs of migrant pupils, their teachers and parents (see instead strong policies in traditional countries of immigration, Nordics, EE)
- Additional financial resources for schools in IS,NL, technical support/resources in 10 MIPEX countries, and 12 with both
- Teachers not required to be trained on migrants' needs or intercultural approach in 23 countries
- Strong orientation policies with intercultural mediators/interpreters in 11 countries
- Migrants are entitled to support to learn the language (weak in 6 countries), but frequently it is not held to the same standard as the rest of the curriculum (only in 12)
- Limited attention to specific needs beyond basic language learning for newcomers in Central Europe, FR, GR, MT, TU
- Few countries, such as AU, CA, SE, are seizing the opportunities and skills that migrant pupils bring to the classroom; mostly limited to immigrant languages (e.g. FR, GR, LU, ES, UK) but often nothing at all (e.g. new immigration countries, IT, NL, US)
- Most countries teach immigrant languages and cultures though often only to migrant pupils, either at school (e.g. foreign language offer or teaching assistants) or through extra-curricular courses (see more accessible & flexible courses in AT, AU, CA, Nordics, CH)
- Hardly any have specific solutions to remedy 'white flight' from immigrant schools, communication difficulties with parents and the lack of preparation and diversity in the teaching force (a few promising initiatives in AU/CA/NZ, Nordics, BE/NL, DE/CH)
- Schools in most countries are not required or supported to teach all pupils how to live and learn together in a diverse society, especially in DK, FR and most new countries of immigration
- Appreciation of cultural diversity is mostly just a cross-curricular priority, a subject for voluntary teaching trainings and a government budget line for ad hoc projects
- Countries such as AU, BE, CA, LU, NO, NL, NZ, PT, UK are changing and monitoring the curriculum so that pupils can learn about cultural diversity throughout their day and also in specific subjects, such as citizenship education (e.g. see courses in BE, CA, IS, IT, NL, SE, UK, but no longer ES)
Best Case & Worst Case
This is a composition of national policies found in 2014 in at least one of the 38 countries
Any child living in the country can go from kindergarten to university and achieve the best she can. She benefits from the same general measures as classmates with the same socio-economic background. If she has different needs because of her or her families’ immigration experience, she benefits from additional support. Her teachers are trained to recognise those needs and set equally high expectations for her. She is entitled to extra courses and teaching to catch up and master their language. Her parents play an active role in her education because the school specifically involves them at every step of the way. She and her parents also bring new opportunities to her school. All students can enrol in classes about her families’ language and culture. Her school uses an intercultural approach in its curriculum, textbooks, schedule and hiring practices. She, along with all students and staff, learn how to live and learn in a diverse society.
The school does not function as a motor for the integration of immigrant pupils. Many children living in the country do not even have the right to a full education. Only a few schools or ad hoc projects deal with integration. Most of the time, a migrant child is treated just like everyone else of his age. Worse, teachers may see him just as a problem. They have no way to reach out to parents like his, with different languages and backgrounds. He never properly learns the languages of his family or the host society, because language support is poor or absent. He ends up with other immigrant students in under-performing schools. Teachers and staff members are not diverse themselves and cannot handle diversity in their school. All students do not learn to respect and work together with people of diverse backgrounds.
Are pupils with limited literacy getting remedial courses?
Low-literacy immigrant pupils are more likely to benefit from extra out-of-school literacy courses in countries where these courses are generally available for all pupils and where their targeted education policies are strong for migrants. The numbers for foreign-born low-literacy pupils are slightly higher (50%) but broadly similar to the other low-literacy pupils in the country. The majority of low-literacy pupils, whatever their background, benefit from extra literacy courses in DK, FI, SE, IT, PT, US. The majority of foreign-born low-literacy pupils also benefit in AU/CA/NZ/UK, DE, GR, IE, IT, NO. Around half are taking these courses in BE,FR,LU,NL,CH, while the numbers drop to around 1/3 in AT & ES.
What other factors explain whether the children of immigrants excel at school?
- >2/3 of 1st/2nd generation speak the official language at home in AU, KR, PT, Baltics, Central Europe, with minorities in AT, CZ, IT, LU, Nordics
- >50% of immigrant pupils with low-educated mothers are concentrated in disadvantaged schools in most Western European countries and AU/CA/US, GR, with widest gaps in BE/FR/LU, DK/SE, DE, US
- >25% of foreign-born pupils arrive after age 12 in BE, FR, HU, SK, SI, English-speaking countries (except US)
- % of GDP spent on education highest in Northwest Europe, CY, MT, NZ and lowest in Central/Southeast Europe, IT, JP
- Student-teacher ratios relatively low in Nordics, Baltics, AT, BE, GR, IT, LU, IT, PL, PT and relatively high in English-speaking countries, DE, KR, NL, TU
How well are the children of immigrants achieving at school?
Comparing foreign-born and non-immigrant pupils with low-educated mothers, the foreign-born are slightly more likely to be low-achievers on PISA math tests. Parity was achieved for this first generation only in countries with many low-achievers among the native-born (e.g. GR, HR, LV, US). The numbers of low-achievers among immigrants with low-educated mothers were comparatively low (20-40%) and similar to the numbers for non-immigrants in AU, CA, FR, IE, IS, NL and UK. Numbers were high (50-70%) and much higher than for native-born (>2 times higher) in BE/LU, DK/FI/SE, DE, ES/PT. By the second-generation, the number of low-achievers is the same as for non-immigrants or fewer in AU/CA/NZ/US, HR, IE. The other countries coming closest to parity were SE, FR, SI, UK. Most countries made significant progress from the first to second generation, closing the gap with the native-born by one-third, with the exceptions of AT, GR, NO, NL. Still large gaps remain in DK/FI/NO, AT/DE/CH, BE/LU/NL, and GR/IT/ES/PT. No systematic link emerges between targeted education policies and outcomes. The reasons are hard to know for certain, since experimentation and robust evaluations are usually missing on migrant education. Targeted education policies may be too new, too weak, too late or too general for most migrant pupils to benefit from them across the country and education system. Moreover, the general quality and structure of the education system probably have a greater impact on the outcomes of migrant and other disadvantaged pupils.
What do we learn from robust studies?
The most significant factors determining the educational attainment of migrant pupils are their parents' educational background, their language skills, the composition of their school and the general structure and quality of the country's education system (Bilgili et al. 2015). Migrant pupils and other vulnerable groups appear to do better with an early and long duration of compulsory education, limited school choice, late ability tracking, less differentiated school systems and more teaching hours (SIRIUS 2012, EC 2013). What matters most for the outcomes of immigrant and non-immigrant pupils is whether the school and education system fights or reproduces inequality. Although targeted immigrant education policies adopted at national level do not display consistent results across countries in terms of pupils’ tests scores, most studies conclude that inclusive schools and education systems are more successful when they also target the specific needs of immigrant pupils.