Lucie Cerna | OECD, Directorate for Education and Skills
OECD countries have witnessed increasing and more diverse migration flows over the last decade. Immigration can pose challenges for countries, but also has the potential to generate significant opportunities for host countries, especially in times of ageing populations and increasing labour and skills shortages. Immigrant children and youth represent a particularly important source of future talent. Their young age increases their chances to learn the host country language fluently, become accustomed to the host country’s culture and social norms, and earn qualifications that employers recognise and need.
A high quality education system is essential for the successful integration of immigrant youth. Unfortunately, in many OECD countries, immigrant students fare worse than native students in terms of their success in developing basic cognitive skills as well as exhibiting social and emotional well-being. The recent OECD report “The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Well-being” draws on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 analysis of 15-year-old students to better understand these differences and their causes, as well as to illuminate school policies and practices that work to facilitate the successful integration of immigrant youth into society and the labour market.
In most countries, immigrant students expressed greater motivation to achieve, but were often not able to capitalise on their motivation to achieve success in school. The report finds that academic underperformance among students with an immigrant background is particularly pronounced in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. In these countries, immigrant students (students, native- or foreign-born, who have two foreign-born parents) are more than twice as likely as students without an immigrant background to fail to achieve baseline academic proficiency.
But even in some countries where academic underperformance among immigrant students is not as marked, the analysis also shows that students with an immigrant background exhibit comparatively poor outcomes on other measures of well-being. In the Slovak Republic and Spain, for example, immigrant students were considerably less likely than native students to report a strong sense of belonging at school. In France, Iceland, Spain and the United Kingdom, immigrant students were considerably less likely to report being satisfied with their life. In Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and Switzerland, they were considerably more likely than native students to report high levels of schoolwork-related anxiety.
Despite these challenges, schools remain a critical locus for linking young immigrants to their host societies. This report and the policy forum series of the Strength through Diversity project reveal that there are many examples of good practices and policies across education communities that can help immigrant students to overcome the multiple sources of disadvantage they often face and to reach their full potential. Good practices include:
- Providing access to education for all children with an immigrant background
- Promoting early assessment of language and other skills
- Re-considering ability grouping, grade repetition and early tracking
- Offering targeted language training
- Promoting a supportive climate at school
- Providing additional support to students and schools
- Offering extracurricular activities
- Promoting greater parent engagement
- Training and developing diversity-aware teachers
- Offering mentoring schemes
- Creating positive relationships between schools and the wider community
While schools can play a role in promoting the integration of immigrant students, they can only be successful when their efforts are co-ordinated with the broader the education, health, social and welfare systems. Consequently, strengthening partnerships among different policy sectors and with stakeholders is essential for unlocking the potential for schools to foster the talent potential of immigrant students and, thereby, helping to build better societies and economies for all.