Immigrant Students Need More Help to Succeed in School: Report

Many students with immigrant background tend to underperform in school, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.


Socio-economic disadvantage and language barriers are the biggest obstacles faced by students with an immigrant background to succeed at school and in society, according to a report by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that was released on March 19.

The report, titled “The Resilience of Students with an Immigration Background: Factors that Shape Well-Being,” says that almost one in four 15-year-old students in OECD and European Union countries was either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. The percentage of students with an immigrant background has grown over the past decade.

Many of these students tend to underperform at school, particularly the first-generation immigrant students — foreign-born students of foreign-born parents, the study said. “On average across OECD countries, around one in two first-generation immigrant students failed to reach baseline academic proficiency in reading, mathematics and science, compared to around one in four students without an immigrant background,” it said.

OECD countries include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, France, Greece, United Kingdom, United States, Turkey, and Switzerland, among others. The study has drawn data from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey as well as European Social Survey (ESS). The PISA study had 15-year-olds as subjects from 35 countries and economies and it looked at the difference between native students and immigrant students with at least one native-born parent in the probability of attaining baseline levels of performance in the core.

“It is alarming that, if you compare a sample of 100 European students with an immigrant background with a similar group of native students, 15 more students in the immigrant group will fail to attain baseline levels of proficiency in science, reading and maths,” Gabriela Ramos, the OECD chief of staff, said.

This will have long-lasting effects on both integration and broader social cohesion, Ramos added. Countries need to do more to provide these kids with the means, instruments and support to succeed in school. “We need targeted policies that give everyone the opportunity to fulfill their full potential,” she added.

The report found that immigrant students felt a lower sense of belonging at school than non-immigrant students, reported less life satisfaction and higher schoolwork-related anxiety. However, many also expressed high levels of motivation to achieve their best in school and beyond.

“For first-generation immigrant students from Germany, India, Pakistan and Poland, the United Kingdom is the destination country where they have the highest likelihood of being academically resilient,” said the study.

Academic underperformance among students with an immigrant background is particularly high in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. In these countries, immigrant students are more than twice as likely as students without an immigrant background to fail to achieve baseline academic proficiency. On the other hand, immigrant students in Australia, Canada and Hungary were as likely as native students to fail to achieve baseline academic proficiency

According to the study, the country students migrated from, and the country in which they settled, influence the likelihood that these students will be academically, socially and emotionally resilient.

The study recommended that in order to help non-native students succeed, introducing early assessment of language and other skills is important. “Students with an immigrant background should be offered targeted language training. Screening for language proficiency not only informs teachers about individual students’ needs, but also local or regional education authorities, and can be used to help target which schools should receive additional funding, training and support,” it said.

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