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Education of children from migrant backgrounds

These conclusions build on the 2008 public consultation on the education of children from migrant backgrounds, taking stock of the challenges and possible responses to these challenges raised therein.

ACT

Council Conclusions of 26 November 2009 on the education of children with a migrant background [Official Journal C 301 of 11.12.2009].

SUMMARY

These conclusions follow on from the 2008 Commission consultation on the education of children from migrant backgrounds. The consultation raised a number of issues relating to education policy challenges and responses for children with a migrant background. The conclusions take stock of these challenges and responses, calling on EU countries and the Commission to act accordingly.

Challenges

With increased globalisation and changing demographics, if Europe wants to remain economically competitive and socially stable, it will need to successfully integrate migrants into its society. Education can play an important role in this integration process. However, children with a migrant background still do not perform as well as their peers and are faced with racial and ethnic discrimination as well as social exclusion. The large number of such children in the European educational systems therefore creates challenges, but also opportunities.

Most children coming from migrant backgrounds have significantly lower levels of educational attainment, often resulting in their early-school leaving, low qualifications levels and lack of participation in higher education. Children who not only face linguistic and cultural barriers, but who also suffer from poor socio-economic circumstance are at a particular disadvantage. Furthermore, differences in the accessibility of school systems and the quality of schools may result in the clustering of large numbers of children with a migrant background in underperforming schools. Providing these children with a better chance to succeed in education could reduce their marginalisation, exclusion and alienation.

The integration process requires collective efforts and should involve the migrants themselves, different sectors of the society, government departments, educational and housing authorities, social, healthcare, and asylum and immigration services, as well as civil society. At the same time, as these challenges are widely shared among EU countries, further support, research and cooperation is necessary at the European level.

Responses

Education throughout all levels of lifelong learning is considered to play a vital role in facilitating the integration of migrants. Targeted support measures must be coordinated with other relevant policy fields to cater for the needs of children with a migrant background. In addition, educational systems must actively strive for a high level of equity and quality. Such systems will more effectively improve the educational performance of these children, while fostering social cohesion. Europe’s schools should also promote intercultural education in order to build mutual respect and combat prejudice. Anti-discrimination mechanisms, accessible pathways within educational systems and personalised learning and support can help children with a migrant background to improve their achievement levels as well as combat segregation.

In order to adapt to the diverse educational setting, school authorities and leaders, teachers and administrative staff must be given specialised training on linguistic and cultural diversity as well as help in developing their intercultural competences. At the same time, changes might need to be made to teaching methods, materials and curricula to cater to all pupils. Educational disadvantage and insufficient levels of integration may be counterbalanced through targeted support, such as additional teaching resources to schools, personalised instruction to pupils and guidance to parents.

Educational success and integration into European societies necessarily requires knowledge of the host country’s official language(s). To this end, specific provisions must be developed. Acquiring or maintaining proficiency in the heritage language is also beneficial in personal and professional terms for children with a migrant background. Integration may also be greatly facilitated by ensuring early childhood education for these children as well as through partnerships between educational institutions and local communities.

Role of EU countries and the Commission

EU countries should develop an integrated policy approach at local, regional and national levels to respond to the above challenges, which may include:

  • setting up or strengthening anti-discrimination mechanisms, with the aim of promoting social integration and active citizenship;
  • increasing the permeability of education pathways and removing barriers within school systems;
  • improving the quality of provision in schools and reducing differences between them, including through efforts to attract and keep the best teachers and to strengthen the leadership function in underperforming schools;
  • increasing access to high quality early childhood education and care;
  • offering more personalised learning and individual support, particularly for the children of migrants who have low educational attainment levels;
  • providing school leaders, teachers and administrative staff specialised training in managing linguistic and cultural diversity, as well as in intercultural competences;
  • developing adequate policies for teaching the host country language, as well as considering possibilities for pupils with a migrant background to maintain and develop their mother tongue;
  • ensuring that curricula are of high quality and relevant to all pupils, irrespective of their origins, and taking into account the needs of children with a migrant background in teaching methods and materials;
  • developing partnerships with migrant communities and stepping up efforts aimed at improving communication with parents with a migrant background;
  • providing targeted support for pupils with a migrant background who also have special needs;
  • collecting and analysing data in this area, with a view to informing policy-making.

To this end, mutual learning on best practices should be developed, in particular through the open method of cooperation (OMC) within the ET2020 strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training. EU countries should also establish projects on intercultural education and the education of children with a migrant background under relevant EU financing programmes and funds.

The Commission should facilitate and support EU countries’ cooperation in this field. It should also monitor the educational achievement gap between native children and children with a migrant background. Furthermore, the Commission should evaluate the objectives of Directive 77/486/EEC on the education of the children of migrant workers against the current migration trends. Issues relating to migration should be appropriately included into EU financing programmes and initiatives on education as well as reflected in social protection and inclusion policies. In addition, closer cooperation should be developed with international organisations working in the field of education and migration.

Last updated: 18.06.2010
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