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Education and


Key message

Global migration today is marked by complex trajectories between and within countries, whether for work, a better future, or a legitimate fear for survival.

Education is often a key motivation driving migration: whether it is parents migrating and leaving their children behind in the hope that their remittances will help the child’s future, or whether it is the family migrating and placing their hopes that the higher-quality education will lead to social mobility. Investment into the education of students from migrant backgrounds can bring substantial social benefits through increasing diversity, social integration, and community resilience.
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Key challenges
  • Children are on the move more today than ever before. In 2020, 36 million children in the world were international migrants, in addition to another 20.4 million children who were internally displaced.
    (UNICEF, 2021)  (UNICEF, 2021)
  • Being on the move is a significant disruption to a child’s education. In a global survey of 4,000 migrants and refugees aged 14-24, 33% said they had lost one to three years of education, while 25% had lost more than four years of education.
    (UNICEF, 2018)
  • The number of stateless children is increasing daily, placing new demands on education system responses. More than one-third of the world’s children are stateless, with one stateless child born every 10 minutes in five countries alone. Data from OECD countries in 2015 shows that almost one in four students aged 15 years are immigrants or have immigrant backgrounds.
    (UNHCR, 2014)  (OECD, 2018)
  • Legal barriers still exist in many places that prevent migrant children from accessing school. In federal countries, like Germany, legal provisions on access to education for newly arrived refugee and migrant children may greatly vary from one region to another. Often there are no legal provisions on how children's education levels should be assessed and assigned to school grades.
    (UNHCR, 2019)
  • Anti-immigrant policies can impact on a young person’s ability to learn in school. A survey of 730 schools in 12 US states found that two-thirds of the respondents reported a negative impact of immigration enforcement and the constant threat of deportation on their teaching and learning. 90% of administrators observed behavioural or emotional problems among their immigrant students, and 70% reported observing academic decline.
    (Gándara & Ee, 2018)
  • Teachers need more support to teach effectively in a multicultural or multilingual setting. From the TALIS 2018 survey of teachers from 49 education systems around the world, more than half reported not feeling prepared to teach in a multicultural or multilingual setting.
    (OECD, 2019)
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Make the case
  • Education can be a key motivator to migrate. 40% of youth on the move listed education as their number one priority, the top ranked category.
    (UNICEF, 2021)
  • Education of immigrants provides immense benefits to the host communities. Migrants, in particular those with a university degree, contribute to regional exports. Those with higher educational attainment can transfer knowledge better. Highly skilled migrants might also bring new and different skills to their host region. Regions that observe a 10% increase in the number of migrants with a university education or above, experience a rise in their regional exports by 2.1%
    (OECD, 2022)
  • When immigrants are educated, they help drive innovation and entrepreneurship. Research on one million inventors applying for a patent in the US from 1976 to 2012 shows that immigrants make up 16% of the inventor population and 22% of total patents.
    (Bernstein et al., 2019)
  • People with a higher level of education tend to be more accepting of immigrants. In Europe, better educated individuals express lower opposition to migration than the poorly educated. This shows that what happens in the classroom can play a positive role in strengthening social cohesion in the presence of migrants by equipping individuals with skills and cultural awareness.
    (Borgonovi et al, 2019)
  • Education shapes attitudes about migrant communities. Data from the European Social Survey shows that an extra year of school correlates with an eight to 10 percentage point increase in pro-immigrant attitudes.
    (d’Hombres & Nunziata, 2016)
  • School is a key site to build a sense of belonging to their new community. The integration of migrant children plays a key role in their social inclusion and that of their families, which in turn has a positive impact on educational experiences.
    (IOM, 2021)
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Key opinion
Audrey Azoulay
Audrey Azoulay
Director-General, UNESCO
Ignoring the education of migrants squanders a great deal of human potential. Sometimes simple paperwork, lack of data or bureaucratic and uncoordinated systems mean many people fall through administrative cracks. Yet investing in the education of the highly talented and driven migrants and refugees can boost development and economic growth not only in host countries but also countries of origin.
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Key talking points
  • Global migration is higher than ever before.
  • Many young people migrate for educational opportunities and hopes of social mobility.
  • Migrant children have to overcome significant barriers in schools: the language gap, a lack of familiarity with the curriculum and pedagogy, socioeconomic disadvantage, navigating a new culture, discrimination etc.
  • Migrant students are also not a monolithic group; despite cultural stereotypes, academic and social wellbeing is highly determined by socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, the migration pathway, and the educational background in home countries.
  • Nurturing migrant communities with culturally responsive teaching can help young people become exceptional contributors to their new societies.
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