Integration of youth:
Challenges and opportunities
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.
Multilingualism and Integration –
International Experience from the Field of Education
Barbara Herzog-Punzenberger | Cultural Anthropologist and Educator, Johannes Kepler University Linz
During the Second Republic, Austria experienced an impressive expansion in education. Much that was considered impossible and perhaps undesirable in 1950, such as higher education for most young women, is a reality today. A few decades earlier, it was even argued that the female brain was less suitable for abstract thinking than the male one.
The prejudices against multilingualism seem similarly deep-rooted. Multilingual children were ascribed low intelligence, until it turned out that the scientific studies, on which this assessment was based, did not take into account the socio-economic background of the children studied (Olechowski in Furch, 2009). Therefore, these inferences were subject to systematic bias. Likewise, it is known today that stereotypes – solidified, schematic notions about particular groups of people – restricts the performance of students who fear being affected and in this way diminishes the well-being of this person (Inzlicht and Schmader, 2012). Furthermore, knowledge about the real-life situation of students and their families, who come from a different social milieu – with or without a migrant background – is surprisingly low in many cases.
The socio-cultural and linguistic diversity of today’s student body is a fact that forms – together with many other socially relevant distinctions – the starting point for future social development. Multilingualism must therefore be used as productively as possible in the interests of a democratic development. This does not put into question that German is the official and common language. However, how best to learn, teach and develop in the context of a multilingual society is not a question of “simple” solutions based on everyday understandings but needs some complex answers.
One component is linguistically responsive subject teaching. Interestingly enough, this approach facilitates learning not only for multilingual students, but also for those native students whose variant of German is not as close to the “academic” language of the school. The “academic” variant of a language, utilised in schools and other educational settings, obeys other usage laws than the spoken everyday language. It is similar to written language, which is more abstract, decontextualized and more complicated, and which uses different words, grammar and syntax. The general understanding in the German-speaking countries was that children should either get these skills at home or, if they are exceptionally gifted, they would succeed in school anyway. However, a democratic society should strive to make those skills available to all children, irrespective of whether they were already acquired from their parents or simply lucky to be naturally endowed with particularly high academic intelligence.
Change is not only possible, but takes place all the time, also in deep-rooted ideas, deemed basic. Not so long ago, the clear classification and restriction of the gender roles was seen as an important component of the Austrian culture by conservative parts of the Austrian society. Contrary to this, today gender equality, and the associated freedom of choice, are used as a marker in symbolic border-drawings against fellow citizens from other cultures. Similarly, the self-understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity in a society is constantly changing. If evaluated positively, this multilingualism could become incorporated as part of 21st Austrianness, i.e. how the Austrian society perceives itself in the 21st century. The prerequisite for this, however, is a competent way of dealing with it, especially in educational institutions. For these upcoming developments, a broad alliance between all actors must be created. Data and research should assist in this process (Herzog-Punzenberger et al., 2017).