Schools survey: Non-German students more likely to ‘sit next to a …

Interesting study:

A study on children’s attitudes toward their classmates resulted in some surprising, and other not so surprising, findings.

Based on surveys of ninth-grade children (aged 14 to 15) in Germany, research led by Zsófia Boda at the University of Essex and Georg Lorenz from Leipzig University has found that classes that are ethnically diverse are more welcoming of refugee students.

That’s the unsurprising part.

What it also revealed, however, was that students who were born in Germany to German-born parents were the most likely to reject their refugee classmates, and the least likely to refer to them as friends.

Would you sit next to a refugee?

The study is based on the results of a national survey of 6,390 children in Germany in 2018, which asked the students who their friends were and who they would not want to sit next to in class. Most of the refugee students involved in the survey came from Syria and Afghanistan — the two main countries of origin of people seeking protection in Germany.

The results, published this week in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, showed that the refugee children had fewer friends and experienced more rejection than their non-refugee peers.

But in a more mixed or ‘high-diversity’ classroom, it was much less likely for a child to say they would not want to share a desk with a refugee or asylum seeker, and more likely that they would name a refugee student as a friend.

The research found that there are two processes at work here: In a classroom with a high proportion of ‘non-German’ children, you are more likely to get people who are accepting of other non-Germans, the researchers explained. But also, ethnic majority (i.e. second-generation German) students are less inclined to reject refugee peers if they are surrounded by diversity.

The study suggests that this finding – that more diversity does not lead to greater rejection by the ethnic majority group – is an important one, because it challenges critical views of multiculturalism.

A large proportion – about half – of refugees and migrants in Germany are under the age of 18.

These young people need more than just access to education. Having positive and supportive relationships with others their own age in turn leads to them achieving better grades at school and results in overall better health and wellbeing for minority students.

The study suggests that if you take these away, the educational success and psychological adjustment of refugee adolescents will likely be put at risk.

Barriers to acceptance

So what is it that is stopping students from accepting their refugee peers?

There are several possible reasons, the researchers behind the study say. One is language, which is often said to be a major barrier to integration. Traumatic experiences can also make it hard for young refugees to adjust.

Other explanations for refugees having lower levels of social integration or acceptance in the classroom include the fact that they are likely to have joined the class later when friendships between other students have already formed. There is also the dynamics of friendship groups, which often grow and develop between people of the same ethnic group.

Moreover, the study also points out that social integration is not a one-sided process: “[T]he attitudes and behaviors of peers [is] crucial,” it notes.

What should policy makers do with these findings which, taken at face value, seem to suggest that refugee students should attend schools that are already ethnically diverse?

If they were to take this approach, it might jeopardize refugee students’ language development, which usually benefits from having a high proportion of majority-ethnic children in the classroom.

Steering refugee children into diverse schools could also lead to segregation instead of integration, and that would not help in promoting positive attitudes between German and non-German students, the study suggests.

There are some concrete steps that could “mitigate the negative consequences of prejudice,” according to the researchers. They recommend that teachers and principals are made aware of the challenges and that they support integration by, among other things, encouraging cooperation and showing support for mixing ethnic groups.

With global forced migration having become a ‘megatrend,’ Boda and Lorenz argue promoting the social integration of refugees, including adolescents, will remain crucially important for the refugees themselves. According to them, it will also reduce negative attitudes and prejudice towards immigrants — a problem which is widespread in Western societies.

Source: Schools survey: Non-German students more likely to ‘sit next to a …

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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