This paper is addressed to the European Commission. This policy brief will discuss options for improving education policies for immigrant children at the European Union level. Children from third EU countries have failed to meet the European Commission’s Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020) goals due to language barriers and socio-economic factors. Furthermore, the ET2020 does not provide room for multilingual school systems at the EU level. Often, children with migrant background are discriminated against in schools, have a tendency to receive a lower standard of education and experience early dropouts. In order to tackle those problems, the European Commission should initiate new legislation that focuses on multilingual school systems and promotes public confidence and fundamental changes in the school system at the European Union level.
Definition of Migrant Children and the Population
The term of migrant child is defined as above. However, the definition varies across European Union member states. Some countries (e.g. the Netherlands) define migrant children by their birth and/or the nationality of their parents and grandparents. For instance, the term “Allochtoon” refers to children who were born in the Netherlands but who have one parent from countries outside the Netherlands. Inconsistencies in the definition of “migrant children” across different member states have prompted both public and policy discussions on the subject, also stimulating analysis regarding the impact of different immigrants on the host society and migration as a whole.
Migrant children in Europe
According to Eurostat 2017 data (See figure 1) migrant children constitute approximately 5% of the total population (data from Germany is missing). However, this percentage varies considerably among European Union member States. For instance, the highest percentage of migrant children under fifteen is found in Luxembourg (20%), followed by Ireland (12%), Cyprus (8.8%), Sweden (8.5%), Austria (8.1%), Malta (7.5%), Belgium (7.3%) and the United Kingdom (6%) (See figure 1).
The proportion of immigrant children in European classrooms is also an important factor that policy makers should acknowledge as the migrant population increases every year in most of member states. According to Eurostat 2017 data, foreign-born EU migrants in Luxembourg comprise twenty percent of the total population compared to the total native population, which is one fifth of the total Luxembourgian population. Without factoring migrant children into educational reform, the European policy on education for immigrant children would prove nearsighted and fail to achieve its ultimate goals of promoting broader education, skills and competitive goals for Europe as a whole (See figure 1).
“In today’s context of increasing globalisation and demographic change, the successful inclusion of migrants into society remains a precondition for Europe’s economic competitiveness and for social stability and cohesion…. Education has a key role to play not only in ensuring that children with a migrant background can fulfill their potential to become well-integrated and successful citizens, but also in creating a society which is equitable, inclusive and respectful of diversity”
ET2020 and its main objectives
In May 2009, the Commission engaged in discussion regarding the concept of European cooperation in education as the basis for implementing collaborative exchanges of policies as launched in 2001 under the Lisbon Strategy for Employment and Growth. The framework of policy cooperation, known as Education Training in 2020, aims to deliver a message of education policy to the European Union 2020 strategy, driving policies to promote efficiency, sustainability and socially inclusive growth. In this way, Member States and committees provide information and guidance on evidence-based policy establishment, and monitor progress towards education and training strategy objectives that have been agreed on at the EU and national level.
The European Commission has developed a series of goals in the Education and Training Strategy (ET 2020) to help Member States reduce early school dropouts and increase numbers of the population who pursue tertiary education completion. In 2009, ET 2020 has set out three common goals to tackle the challenges of education by the year 2020. These common goals are: 1) constructing a sustainable education system, 2) increasing mobility to improve the quality and 3) efficiency of education, and training to promote equality, social cohesion and innovation, including entrepreneurship.
The European Union benchmarks for 2020 for education follow:
At least 95% of children (from 4 to compulsory school age) should participate in early childhood education
Less than 15% of 15-year-old adolescents should be under-skilled in reading, mathematics and science
the rate of early leavers from education and training aged 18-24 should be below 10%
at least 40% of people aged 30-34 should have completed some form of higher education
at least 15% of adults should participate in lifelong learning
at least 20% of higher education graduates and 6% of 18-34 year-olds with an initial vocational qualification should have spent some time studying or training abroad
the share of employed graduates (aged 20-34 with at least upper secondary education attainment and having left education 1-3 years ago) should be at least 82%
Factors preventing migrant children from integrating into the host state
Lack of socio-economic resources. creates this disadvantageous position among immigrant children. Some of the problems that immigrant children face are: low socioeconomic status, lack of knowledge of local languages, psychological barriers, potential low expectations from parents and teachers, and too little support from families and communities in the host states.There are several reasons why young children with migrant backgrounds are left behind, but two factors are particularly important. First, the language taught at schools might not be familiar to children who speak other languages at home. Secondly, immigrant children represent a larger proportion of lower socio-economic groups than their native peers across Europe.
Language Barriers for migrant children
“Languages are a basic element for Europeans who wish to work, study and live together”
While many countries in European Union member states have high quality and well established education systems, disadvantaged communities across the continent suffer from lack of access and low quality education. Children from these impoverished communities, including children with immigrant backgrounds – who are immigrants or have immigrant parents – have a tendency to underperform in the classroom in comparison to native students.
With regard to migrant children, some member states distinguish first, native languages from the host country’s official language(s). For example, in the United Kingdom, children whose native language is not English are defined as “additional mother tongues”.
Language policy has a positive social impact, however it is not always fully accepted among European Union member states. Now, all European Union institutions propose common membership in the EU and seek to promote support for linguistic diversity. However, this raises several concerns with regards to inclusion of migrant children and alleviation of language barriers. This can be explained by a low number of dominant languages, which may weaken multilingualism. One of the major challenges the EU faces is how to improve effectiveness and efficiency of the education policy, which would potentially protect migrant children and spread linguistic diversity. This can be addressed by balancing multilingualism with the dominant official languages of the host countries. With regards to this, the notion of non-discriminatory principle should be applied in the language policy. EU level language policy thus far lacks competence and is based on the official state of language in member countries. At the EU level, all official languages of member states are specified in the treaty defining them as such, giving them the right to be used in all EU procedures.This rigid approach to language hinders the inclusion of migrant children in the member states.
Language is the most common barrier to integration and education. Lack of comprehension can make them feel stressed, anxious, and bored in the classroom. It can ultimately lead to behavioural problems and failures in school, which in turn can result in early dropouts. To mitigate such risks, schools should provide sufficient support to help young students learn and master the language of the host country and educate teachers on their linguistic needs as much as possible.
Many research papers point out that the first generation of immigrants in the European Union often possess lower quality jobs and have a high unemployment rate even though one third of them possess a tertiary education diploma. Having a diploma allegedly makes it easier for people to find job offers, yet those highly educated immigrants struggle to be in a workforce compared to native born citizens. Nearly half of immigrants who have a diploma from a country outside of European member states have jobs which only have low education requirements. Due to a high unemployment rate and lack of economic resources, second generation immigrants suffer from socio-economic inequalities in the hosting states.
Supporting this phenomenon is evidence provided by Eurostat and European Commission: their data shows that there has been declining social capital and social cohesion over past decades. This tendency produces similar types of social inequalities amongst European Union member states. Children who have migrant backgrounds or who are born in third countries, are more likely to leave school early and have a tendency to not acquire basic skills like mathematics and science.
Inequality is commonly regarded as a threat to social cohesion and long-term prosperity in society and there has been intensive public debate regarding this. The ET 2020 aims to reduce the population in poverty by twenty million. It firmly acknowledges that socio-economic status affects children’s performance across various fields of schools, jobs, income, and health. Education plays a crucial role in distributing fairness within society by providing equal opportunities for everyone to pursue learning opportunities regardless of their socio-economic background. However, contrary to their expectations, the European Commission’s reportshowed that socio-economic inequality has increased. This phenomenon occured due to the Economic Crisis in Europe, during which there has been a significant decline of public spending over member states . For example, Ireland was obliged to cut off its public funding due to severe economic deficit, which ultimately encumbered public school funding. The most vulnerable target group is migrant children and their families who often lack sufficient income to pay tuition fees. This heavily correlates to early school drop outs for migrant children.
Ryan and Sales (2011)also stressed that the age of compulsory education for children may vary among European Union member states. Migrant parents may not fully acknowledge the compulsory school age for their children with there being a possibility of their children never attending school. Additionally, migrant parents might find it difficult to navigate the language barrier and as such would be less involved in their child’s education and schooling. On the other hand, recent studies by the European Union have explored the impact of existing education systems on educational achievement and subsequent technological advancements. A larger negative effect of early tracking has been identified in first-generation immigrants, with studies suggesting that they show lower signs of integration and are less skilled in test languages. Lack of standardisation of curriculum and evaluation systems promotes inequality as schools promote diversity according to the social and capacity composition of schools, constituting an education system that disproportionately values certain skills and attributes, thereby promoting fundamental changes in school systems in 2015. This further reflects the lack of consistency regarding quality, with some schools offering a much higher standard of education than others. Finally, localised funding from the state’s school sector exacerbates inequalities regarding access to education because children from affluent backgrounds can spend more money on education than those from impoverished areas. Similarly, comparative studies of various European education systems have shown that separation of dwellings plays an important role in shaping educational opportunities in 2014, as well as the timing of school and kindergarten admissions .
The core areas that comprise quality of life hinge on educational achievement, including personal skills, income levels, socioeconomic status, health and overall quality of life. Educational achievement is very closely related to both literacy and technical problem solving abilities before and after considering the effects of other social demographic characteristics. Level of education has also been shown to directly affect an individual’s income and socioeconomic status in recent years. Europeans with lower education levels are almost three times as likely to experience poverty or social exclusion as other Europeans with a third education. Similarly, there is a strong association between higher education levels, higher self-assessed health rates, lower mortality, and better use of health care. In addition, the average life expectancy of third – educated Europeans is 5.5 years longer than the level of primary, primary and secondary education Finally, the upward social mobility of an educational foundation at the social level is recognised as one of the main prerequisites for dealing with political extremism, social integration, and improving civic engagement
This policy brief looked at the educational performance of immigrant children. There is a clear difference in educational performance between immigrants and natives: according to the European Commission’s data, children with immigrant backgrounds generally perform worse compared to their native peers. Immigrant adolescents are generally less likely to receive education, employment, or training, and are more likely to be exposed to the dangers of poverty and exclusion than native children in the EU member states. Such complex immigration situations are expected to occur more frequently in the future. Therefore the degree to which integration can be achieved depends on cooperation between the EU institutions and Member States. The new structure and work style of the European Commission is the first step in resolving the challenges that the European Union faces in 2018. Achieving successful integration of immigrants and their children is dependent on the Commission’s proactivity in alleviating social inequalities of immigrants. On the other hand, new national education instruments are needed to fill up the socio-economic gap between host country nationals and immigrants. For language education and learning to be more effective across Europe, multidisciplinary education (for example, native tongue and additional two other languages) should be provided and accepted as the norm, and content-based language training should be introduced more widely and informally outside the classroom. By improving the education system at the EU level, the second immigrant generation can contribute to the EU economy in the long run. Therefore, the European Commission needs to initiate new legislation which incorporates the following:
Establish multilingual school structures at the EU level
Improve the quality of school teachers
Invest more funding into education
Establish an official framework to assist immigrant children in the classrooms
However, all these suggested recommendations cannot be achieved in the short run. In order to promote further integration in the EU, shared common membership is needed. The European Commission should initiate new legislation addressing education of migrant children to tackle fundamental problems such as language barriers and socio-economic inequalities at the European Union level in order to stimulate the economy and achieve a higher quality of life across Europe.