Immigrants in European school lag behind

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The European Union has been asked to look into the issue of the educational disadvantages face by many migrant children.

4 July 2008

BRUSSELS - Immigrants in European schools lag one to two years on average behind their native-born peers, and in some countries their children fall even further behind, the European Commission said Thursday as it called for debate on the issue.

"The evidence proves that many migrant children have educational disadvantages," and figures show that the difference can be as much as "one to two academic years on average ... in achievements," EU Education Commissioner Jan Figel said.

According to a paper released by the commission, which is the EU's executive, on Thursday, children from migrant families consistently under-perform compared to their local peers in schools across the EU.

In Germany and Austria, second-generation migrants even under-perform first-generation arrivals, the paper said.

The differences cut across social and economic boundaries, with both poor and wealthy migrant families tending to under-perform in school. However, the problem is particularly acute among the poorest families, the paper said.

Language, a lack of role models, early segregation and views of education in the migrant group all play a role, the paper said.

The question of the impact of migration on education systems has shot up the European agenda in recent years, and especially since the EU enlarged to take in 12 more countries in 2004 and 2007.

Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that the proportion of migrant pupils in Ireland, Italy and Spain has at least trebled since 2000, while the number of foreign pupils joining British schools has gone up by 50 percent in the last two years alone.

Half the school population in Rotterdam, Birmingham and Brussels now has an immigrant background, while the number of migrant pupils in Madrid has increased ten-fold since 1991.

The explosive change has had equally dramatic results. Across Europe, debate has grown up over how to integrate the foreign pupils and how to prevent their arrival overwhelming schooling systems which are not used to such influxes.

While schools policy is the preserve of EU member states, the commission is therefore calling for a debate on how best to handle the issue and urging its members to share their ideas.

"The fact that some countries succeeded better than others in reducing the gap between migrant and native pupils shows that policies significantly influence school performance," Figel said.

"If we don't care or don't act properly, we see gaps growing, clashes, problems. If we care, we see inclusion and the strengthening of bonds in local communities," he said.

[dpa / Expatica]

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