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Immigrant Education


The social and cultural effects of immigration have been in the forefront of policy debate a number of times in U.S. history (and in that of Canada and of Australia) but it is a largely unfamiliar and thus all the more difficult question in Europe. As the late Willem Fase noted, "Western Europe quickly moves in the direction of immigration countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia" but there is "cross national variation in social and educational provisions for ethnic minority groups" (p. 7). The focus here will be upon the members of the European Union and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Ethnicity and its consequences are among the most difficult and potentially destabilizing political issues in most of the Western democracies, as well as in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the developing nations. In recent years, commentators in Germany, France, Australia, and elsewhere have ranked immigration as the leading "hot button" topic in political discourse. The education of the children of immigrants is a challenge that professionals in the United States have faced for many years, but it is a relatively recent concern in Europe.

Certain countries, such as Australia, Canada, the United States, and South Africa, have long welcomed immigrants, though often with restrictions based upon origin, race, or skills. Migrant workers have been moving, and often settling, within Europe for centuries. Since World War II, Western Europe has absorbed millions of "guest workers," immigrants from former colonies who became permanent residents and brought their families; and more recently, millions of migrants from Eastern Europe. Even countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece that were long exporters of their citizens to other countries now find themselves seeking to integrate hundreds of thousands of immigrants from North Africa, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. Most European cities now have areas inhabited mostly by immigrant families.

Exceptional groups aside, the educational outcomes of immigrant children are generally inferior to those of native children. This has led to high rates of grade-retention and to frequent failure of students to obtain qualifications for technical or university education. Immigrant children are also often concentrated in schools that, in some cases, enroll no native pupils at all. Policy responses have included "reception classes" for pupils who are not proficient in the language of the school, supplemental programs to support home language and culture, and the designation of special zones or schools that receive additional funding to permit a more favorable pupil—teacher ratio and other supports. In a few cases that have not been widely copied, authorities have provided bilingual education or made efforts to desegregate schools.

Reception Classes

Typically, children of immigrant parents who are older than primary school age when they arrive are placed in reception classes for a year, where they are given an intensive program in the language of the school as well as orientation to life in the host society. In France, for example, it is assumed that young immigrant children should be treated like and integrated with French children of the same age; should learn numbers, colors, and reading in French; and should receive supplemental help only as individually needed, just as a child from a French-speaking home would. Special reception programs are regarded as an essential transitional measure only for pupils who start French schools at ages when their classmates would already be well advanced in their studies.

Some classes have a teacher who speaks the language of most of the children, as well as a native teacher. The role of the former is to assist with explanations and not to instruct in academic subjects through the home language; the goal is to prepare pupils as quickly as possible for participation in a regular class.

Supplemental Home Language and Culture Programs

In the countries under consideration some arrangement has been made to enable immigrant children to continue to develop their home language and to gain some knowledge of the culture of the country from which their parents came. Some of these programs are funded by the governments of the sending countries or by ethnic organizations, but many are supported by the educational system of the host society. Typically, pupils attend these classes on a voluntary basis for several hours per week, so arranged as not to conflict with regular academic instruction.

Supplemental language programs should not be confused with "bilingual education" (BE) as it is practiced in the United States. The intent is not, as in BE, to develop initial literacy in the home language or to teach the academic subjects through that language, but rather to enable immigrant children to retain some link with the homeland and the culture of their families.

Extra Resources for Immigrant Pupils

A number of efforts have been made to increase the effectiveness of the schooling provided to children from immigrant families by devoting additional resources to their schools. France has a system of "priority educational zones" (ZEPs) that receive additional support and attention.

Bilingual Education

Although instruction provided in two languages is common in some areas with linguistically mixed native populations, such as Catalonia in Spain, Fries-land in the Netherlands, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, and Wales, bilingual education has seldom been provided for the children of immigrants. The exceptions include some programs for Finnish immigrants in Sweden and experimental classes in other countries. The results have not been sufficiently positive to encourage wide-scale adoption of this approach.

School Desegregation

Only a few scattered attempts have been made in Western Europe to ensure that ethnic minority children are not concentrated in certain schools. It has frequently been pointed out that the growing tendency toward segregation of the children of immigrants has a negative effect upon their opportunities to learn the language of the school and reduces the motivation of foreign pupils and their parents to take seriously schooling in which no native pupils participate.

One German community that made a determined and comprehensive effort to promote ethnic integration is Krefeld in North Rhine/Westphalia. While the "Krefeld Model" was most notable for its stress upon pedagogical integration, it also included an element of deliberate assignment of pupils to create the preconditions for successful integration. Similar efforts have been made in Gouda and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and in a number of cities of Flanders in Belgium.


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