Parents on in areas with many immigrants have little reason to fear that a high proportion of immigrant pupils in schools in itself hampers student performance, according to new research.
Dropout percentage in Oslo schools is high and political parties disagree about solutions. A study at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the UNiversity of Oslo now provides new knowledge about how the immigrant proportion of schools affects the dropout rate.
"If you attend a school with many immigrant children, it is true that you have a lower chance of completing high school. But this seems to be related to things other than the proportion of immigrant pupils in itself," says Are Skeie Hermansen.
In the study "The Impact of Immigrant Classmates on Educational Outcomes," published in the journal Social Forces, Hermansen and coauthor Gunn Elisabeth Birkelund found that ethnic Norwegian children's likelihood in completing high school was unchanged even as the proportion of immigrants in the class increased. For immigrant children the increase had a slightly positive effect.
Compared graduating classes, not schools
In the study, researchers compared different years of graduation within schools and saw how the proportion of immigrants within each year influenced the likelihood of completing high school. By comparing years within schools, rather than between schools, they adjusted for other factors that may influence academic performance.
"With this approach we could eliminate such factors as school quality, teaching resources and the social status of the parents," says Hermansen.
The main conclusion from the study was that the negative correlation between the proportion of immigrants in a class and the likelihood of completing high school, disappeared.
"For pupils with ethnic Norwegian parents we do not see any affect at all due to the proportion of immigrants in the class. For students of immigrant parents the effect appears to be slightly positive. These students have a slightly higher probability of completing high if the proportion of immigrants in a class increases," says Hermansen, who used data from secondary schools across the country.
"We know from other studies that immigrant students are often highly motivated at school. One possible explanation for our findings is that high motivation and willingness to learn is spreads among minority students at these schools."
Possible differences between schools
Thus it is probably not a high immigrant proportion that inhibits student performance, but rather that a high ratio of immigrants often correlates with other factors that are influenctial.
"This may be differences between schools that do not change much over time, such as the quality of teaching staff. One can imagine that some schools find it difficult to recruit and retain good teachers, and that this has implications for how students perform."
These findings correspond well with recent research from England, the Netherlands and the US, which also conclude that the proportion of immigrant pupils have little or no bearing on how children are doing at school.
Outperform their parents in the labour market
The study is part of a doctorate that uses statistical analysis of registry data to examine various aspects of the integration of immigrant children in Norway. The main aim of the doctorate has been to investigate how children of immigrants fare in education and employment.
Another important finding from the doctorate is that children of immigrants, or children who came to Norway at a young age, experience upward mobility compared with their parents. They have a somewhat lower level of employment than the majority population, but they do as well or better than their ethnic Norwegian peers from families with similar socioeconomic resources.
Immigrant children are now taking higher education to a greater extent than the rest of the population, and they qualify for secure and well-paid jobs. And the younger they are when they come to Norway, the better they manage.
"One sees now an education revolution among the descendants of immigrants that can be compared with what we saw in Norway when Lånekassen (the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund) was created in 1947 and it suddenly became possible for many young Norwegians to pursue higher education. It is not skills, but opportunities, that have prevented many immigrant parents from getting an education and a good job. Norwegian-born children of immigrants have very different prospects than their parents had," says Hermansen.
Towards a new Norwegian middle class?
On the whole, Hermansen's dissertation paints an optimistic but nuanced picture of the integration of children of immigrants. His findings point towards the emergence of a new, ethnically diverse Norwegian middle class, which by its entry into a growing number of arenas in society, gives multicultural Norway a new face.
Hermansen believes it is important to monitor how the distribution of the immigrant population is related to student composition and educational achievement across schools. These processes are largely controlled by family finances, and many parents have only limited options.
"To raise the level of achievement in immigrant dense areas targeted measures in primary school or even pre-school institutions can be important, such as the expanded use of free core hours in kindergarten. This has been shown to have positive effects in Oslo," he says.
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