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Challenges facing immigrant students

Migration flows are profoundly changing the composition of classrooms in Europe. In 2015, almost one in four 15-year-old students were either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. A new report published on Tuesday (19 March) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and mandated by the European Commission, confirms the need to promote inclusive education and common values.

The report’s main findings highlight that immigrant students are struggling to integrate in schools in many Member States, often due to lower socio-economic status and language barriers. For example, in the EU overall, 72% of native students achieve baseline academic proficiency, while this is only the case for 54% of immigrant students.

Moreover, the report provides new evidence that students with an immigrant background often lack a sense of belonging to their school community and are more likely to be affected by schoolwork-related anxiety. At the same time, however, they tend to show higher aspirations to succeed than native students.

The report includes a chapter on language barriers and the importance of speaking the language of instruction at home. PISA studies show that it is strongly associated with overall academic performance and the sense of belonging reported by students with an immigrant background.

However, there is nothing in the report on the right of students to learn their mother tongue. Asked by The Brussels Times about this, a spokesperson for the Commission referred to another report by Eurydice on “Key Data on Language Learning in Europe” published in 2017.

According to this report, in some countries members of national minorities have a right to be educated in their own language, but there is no overview of legislation in EU member states and the right to learning one’s mother language.

Education systems, schools and teachers can play a role in helping immigrant students integrate into their communities. Immigrant students also have a right to preserve their mother language and develop bilingualism. In some countries, for example Sweden, immigrant students are offered lessons in the language spoken at home.

The Brussels Times

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