Education is an increasing priority for integration but education systems are slow to respond.
Are education systems responsive to the needs of immigrant children?
Education is the greatest weakness in the integration policies of most countries. Most immigrant pupils receive little support in finding the right school or class, or in ‘catching up’ with their peers. Most countries leave it to the general education system to fix (or exacerbate) cultural problems.
Education policies are generally better targeted in countries with a large number of immigrant pupils. The Nordic countries, for example, take an individualised, needs-based approach. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have developed strong targeted education policies through multiculturalism, while the US focuses additional support on vulnerable racial and social groups. In contrast, the education systems of Austria, France, Germany and Luxembourg are less responsive to the needs of their relatively large number of immigrant pupils. New destination countries with small immigrant communities offer inconsistent targeted support (e.g. Japan and Central Europe). In the new destination countries with big immigrant communities (such as Greece and Ireland), weak targeted education policies have not caught up with the now sizeable number of immigrant pupils. Czechia, Finland and Korea have better developed policies and smaller numbers of immigrant pupils.
35 countries have made no major changes to education since 2014. 16 countries made improvements by opening education to all legal migrants (e.g. Bulgaria), setting basic standards for language support (e.g. Serbia and Turkey), and promoting diversity within schools (e.g. Czechia, Ireland and Korea). Immigrants also benefitted from major reforms in Malta and Turkey facilitating access to education, targeted measures and the promotion of diversity in schools. In contrast, more restrictive policies in Argentina limited access to education for different migrant groups.
- Despite a few improvements, immigrant pupils receive limited support with accessing or completing pre-school, vocational and higher education.
- Undocumented immigrants have a legal right to access to compulsory and non-compulsory education in 20 MIPEX countries.
- Immigrants face particularly significant obstacles when accessing higher education. In the majority of countries (37/52), they do not receive any tailored support. Support aimed at increasing their access to and successful participation in higher education is available only in Australia, Finland and the US.
- Only 13 countries provide systematic academic guidance and financial resources to schools with immigrant pupils.
- Teachers are trained in intercultural education and cultural diversity in only eight countries.
- Immigrants are entitled to language support up until academic fluency in 16 countries, but these courses are frequently not held to the same standard as the rest of the curriculum.
New opportunities and Intercultural education
- Schools in most countries (35/52) encourage the appreciation of cultural diversity, either as a stand-alone subject or throughout the curriculum. Only seven countries provide both options at the same time, while ten countries provide neither (Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Hungary, India, Indonesia, and Poland).
- The large majority of MIPEX countries (41/52) do not have any measures in place to bring immigrants into the teacher workforce. Only Australia, Canada, China, Finland, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey have adopted measures to do so.
- Teacher training covers intercultural education and diversity in only eight countries (Belgium, Korea, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland). In 20 countries diversity training is offered but not formally required. In the remaining 24 countries surveyed by MIPEX, these policies are still missing or only provided on an ad-hoc basis.
Policies and integration outcomes: What do we learn from robust studies?
The weak targeted education policies in most MIPEX countries may explain not only why achievement gaps persist for vulnerable learners, but also why not all students feel safe and at home in their school. Students with immigrant backgrounds benefit from more inclusive general education systems, just like students without immigrant backgrounds. The specific role played by migrant education policies has been studied by relatively few international researchers. Around 20 independent scientific studies have tried to link MIPEX’s education policies and outcomes.
Well-developed targeted policies not only help academically, for vulnerable groups on different education tracks, leading to higher education from one generation to the next. These policies have various positive academic effects on the children in need who are eligible to benefit. But also targeted policies help out socially, for all students, with or without immigrant backgrounds, to all feel safe and at home at school. Under more developed policies, immigrant pupils develop a similar sense of pride, safety and belonging at school as their non-immigrant peers.