Where immigrants go to school is more important than where they came from | The Economist

More on the OECD PISA results focussing on immigrant children:

IF YOU think starting a new school is scary stuff—try doing it in a new country. Migrants can face a twin disadvantage. They are often concentrated in struggling schools. And, at least at first, they may suffer from having to toggle between languages at home and in class. Two-thirds of pupils born outside their host country use another tongue at home. Nearly one in two second-generation immigrants does so.

It is little wonder that many migrants struggle on the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. The children of foreign-born parents are on average about a year behind their peers, even after accounting for parental income.

This finding hides a lot of variation (see chart). In Australia and Canada pupils whose parents were born abroad do better on science tests than similar teenagers with native-born parents.

Meanwhile immigrants in European countries are often far behind. In Germany first-generation and second-generation migrants are respectively about 2.5 and 1.5 years behind teenagers with German-born parents, even after accounting for their different economic backgrounds. There are similar results in Finland, a country often lauded for its record of equality in education.

For sure, migrants’ origins matter a lot. Second-generation East Asian pupils in Australia are roughly 2.5 years ahead of those with native-born parents. They do even better than pupils in Singapore, the highest-performing country in PISA, even as results in Australia as a whole have fallen.

Yet the country in which the immigrant attends school is more important than the one he comes from, says the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. Turkish-born pupils in Germany are nearly two years behind in science tests compared with those in the Netherlands, after adjusting for different economic backgrounds.

Policy makes a difference. Attending nursery or extra language tuition helps migrants catch up. Limiting selection by academic ability gives them more time to make up ground. Not making them repeat a year has the same effect.

Admissions policies matter, too. Avoiding high concentrations of migrants in particular schools would help their academic achievement. It would probably also help poorer native children.

The task of educating migrants better is urgent, especially in Europe. The share of children of foreign-born parents in the OECD that took PISA increased from 9.4% in 2006 to 12.5% in 2015. It could rise further in light of the numbers of migrants settling in Europe in 2015 and 2016.

A survey last year by the OECD found that about 80% of second-generation immigrants feel at home at school. But outliers should cause concern. In France, for example, just 40% of second-generation immigrants say they feel as if they belong in school. That is a figure to make everyone in the country sit up straight.

Source: Where immigrants go to school is more important than where they came from | The Economist

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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