Sunday 18 March 2018

Calls for more school supports as survey shows migrant children lag behind in reading

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Migrant students in Ireland lag behind in reading proficiency and the gap is largest for East Europeans, a seminar heard today.

Differences in achievement in maths between Irish and migrant children are not as great, although African students have slightly lower scores.

The findings are based on evidence  of the performance of nine-year-olds from the Growing Up in Ireland survey and bolster calls for moves to counter the disadvantages experienced by immigrant children.

Professor Frances McGinnity of the Economic and Social  Research Institute (ESRI), said that the survey showed that, overall, migrant children in Ireland had positive attitudes to school and their parents had very high aspirations for them.

But, she told the annual Maynooth University Education Forum that the findings highlighted the need for proper English language provision for immigrants.

She said the monitoring of both spending on English language provision and the effectiveness of such provision were important elements to facilitate the integration of migrant children in Irish schools.

“Monitoring the proportion of migrant students in schools and their performance in state exams is also important to detect potential problems and areas of concern,” she said.

The seminar also heard that migrant children can be at a disadvantage because of socio-economic inequality and teacher expectations.

Professor Irena Kogan of the University of Mannheim, Germany said across the OECD - countries in the developed world - first generation migrants perform on average 10pc worse than students without a migrant background when it comes to reading performance, and they are also typically outperformed by non-migrant students in science.

Ireland is slightly ahead in this respect, with data for science performance showing there is little difference between students from migrant and non-migrant backgrounds.

However, a significant gap can be observed between the native and migrant  groups when it comes to reading performance.

Professor Kogan said there were many factors that contribute to the performance gaps between migrants and their peers.

“Language proficiency is obviously an important one, but parental socio-economic status is also an important factor. By virtue of their often less advantageous economic positions, students with migrant backgrounds are less likely to have access to tutoring and learning supervision.

“Migrants are also effected by ethnic and socio-economic segregation, which often concentrates large numbers of them in poorer quality schools.”

She also pointed to how differing expectations from teachers played a role in determining the performance of migrant students. According to a 2016 study in Germany, teachers expect lower performances from their Turkish students in German and maths and students from better off backgrounds are typically expected to perform better.

Professor Kogan said: “There might be an element of self-fulfilling prophesy in this situation.  Students often perform in accordance with their teachers’ expectations.  Positive expectations lead to better academic performance. Education is a two-sided process, and teachers need to be wary of pre-empting student competence and capabilities.”

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