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Amid sizeable increases in migrant-background students, New MPI Europe report finds schools in Europe are ill-equipped to handle growing diversity

Press Release
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Amid sizeable increases in migrant-background students, New MPI Europe report finds schools in Europe are ill-equipped to handle growing diversity

BRUSSELS — With predictions that more than one-quarter of the school-aged population in Europe will have a migrant background by the early 2020s, school systems designed for ‘traditional’ learners are fast becoming out of date, a new Migration Policy Institute Europe report finds. Supporting diverse learners requires a structural overhaul of education systems, but most European countries have focused on good practices and small-scale initiatives, not wholesale workforce and systemic change.

Children who are migrants or have immigrant parents face significant educational barriers—a reality that was sharply underscored as the 2015–16 migration crisis brought more than 750,000 such pupils into EU Member State education systems. Beyond lack of proficiency in the language of mainstream instruction, limited or interrupted prior formal education or patchy knowledge about how European schools work, migrant-origin students also present with considerable diversity in academic, psychosocial and other needs. These barriers are met with system failures, including persistent differences in literacy levels and dropout rates between students with migrant backgrounds and their native peers; education systems that inadvertently perpetuate inequalities; and funding constraints.

Looking ahead, children from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds are at greater risk of losing out in a rapidly changing labour market, where automation, the rise of the ‘knowledge economy’, and less traditional forms of work are reshaping the jobs they will compete for when they leave school.

In many countries, efforts to serve diverse learners are part of a broader policy shift to ‘mainstream’ immigrant integration. But this process is uneven and unfinished, as the report, Mainstreaming 2.0: How Europe’s education systems can boost migrant inclusion, finds. In it, the authors argue that it is time for a revolution in education provision—a ‘mainstreaming 2.0’.

Pressing reforms include the need to train all teachers and school staff in methods for supporting linguistically diverse classrooms; expand access to high-quality early childhood and care for diverse and disadvantaged groups; unlock the broader role of schools as integration actors; and build governance structures that can withstand crisis, in part with early warning systems to identify emerging challenges and direct appropriate resources to plug gaps. While the new arrivals of the past few years should be the catalyst for reform, such initiatives would also support other groups that traditional education processes have left behind.

‘European education systems are most likely to succeed in fostering the strengths and addressing the needs of diverse learners if changes are rooted in a structural and strategic rethink of the system as a whole’, write researchers Aliyyah Ahad and Meghan Benton. ‘This means supporting educators, school leaders and support staff as they expand their own repertoire of skills for supporting diverse populations; rigorously auditing and assessing whether education systems are achieving the goal of raising performance and reducing inequalities; and expanding the toolbox available so schools and teachers are able to make full use of the latest innovations’.

The report was produced for MPI Europe’s recently established Integration Futures Working Group. Supported by the Robert Bosch Foundation, the Working Group is seeking to develop a fresh agenda for integration policy in Europe by bringing together senior integration policymakers and experts, civil-society officials and private-sector leaders to create a platform for long-term strategic and creative thinking.

Read the report and earlier ones in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/integration-futures-working-group.