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Helping schools educate migrant kids

4 April 20190 comments

Migrant children around the world are performing worse at school than their non-migrant classmates but new research shows how the gap can be bridged.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says that some of the challenges faced by many migrant students include struggling to speak and write in the language of their host country, as well as struggling to make new friends and adapt to the new school system, which they may be entering at different points in the academic year.

The report, titled ‘Helping immigrant students to succeed at school – and beyond’ found the process can induce anxiety.

But it also outlines ways in which schools and education systems can better meet the needs of migrant students.

High level figures contained in the report show that Australia has among the best performing immigrant students when it comes to problem solving, mathematics and reading.

But there are several factors contributing to this, including whether students speak English, their socio-economic status and the circumstances from which they have come.

Another influencing factor identified in the report is the student’s sense of belonging to their school.

“The results suggest that the psychological wellbeing of immigrant students is affected not only by differences between their country of origin and country of destination but also by how well schools and local communities in their country of destination help them to overcome the myriad obstacles they face in succeeding at school and building a new life,” the report said.

The report said another factor was the concentration of disadvantage.

The report said that migrants often congregated in the same neighbourhoods for mutual support when settling in a new country.

“The concentration of immigrant students in schools does not, in itself, have adverse effects on student performance or on integration… but the concentration of socio-economic disadvantage in a school does hinder student achievement,” the report said.

It recommends providing information to immigrant parents on the schooling options available for their children and helping parents to overcome financial and/or logistical barriers to access the school of their choice.

The report also advocates for a limit to the extent to which advantaged schools can select students based on socio-economic status. This can be done by providing financial incentives for over-subscribed schools to enrol migrant students.

Lack of language and arriving in a new country later in life can have a deleterious effect on students’ performance, the report said.

“For recent immigrants, a lack of familiarity with their new country’s language and institutions, as well as insecure living conditions, can result in lower reading performance,” the report said.

“But age at arrival has its own effect on reading proficiency: learning a second (or third) language is more difficult for older children, and the school curriculum tends to be freighted with many more competing demands as students progress from primary to lower secondary school,” it said.

The report recommends integrating language and subject learning from the earliest grades and helping teachers to identify students who need language training.

“Integrating migrant children into mainstream classes from the beginning of their schooling is associated with better outcomes than enrolling them first in preparatory language classes and delaying entry into mainstream courses,” it says.

“While language training is essential, it should be offered in addition to, not instead of, regular course work,” the report said.

“Some countries systematically assess children of preschool age in their language abilities. Strategies and pedagogies for developing second-language skills should be covered in both initial and in-service training for teachers who work with immigrant students,” it said.

The report also recommends an expansion of access to high-quality early childhood education and care programs.

It advocates for tailoring program to the needs of pre-school migrant children, particularly by offering language-development activities.

Also, it advises reaching out to migrant parents to raise their awareness of the learning programs available for their children and how they can enrol their children in these programs.

See the full report:


Laurie Nowell 
AMES Australia Senior Journalist