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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)
  • Policy barriers still exist in many places that prevent migrant children from accessing school. A study of 28 countries found that 40% of the developed countries and over 50% of developing countries did not allow children with irregular status entry into education.
    (Klugman & Pereira, 2009)
  • 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
  • In the US, virtually all growth in the labour force over the next 40 years is predicted to come from immigrants and their children. It is essential that this group is provided with a high-quality education to maintain economic growth.
    (Passel, 2011)
  • 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. Educated refugees with good qualifications have a better chance of finding work and contributing to the economy of their host country, contributing to stability at a local, national, and regional level.
    (UNHCR, 2016)
  • 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. which means increased social cohesion in the community. A meta-review of 100 studies found that education is one of the most powerful predictors of pro-immigration attitudes.
    (Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014)
  • 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)
  • For first-generation immigrant students, school is a key site to build a sense of belonging to their new community. When culturally-responsive pedagogies are in place, students generally have a higher sense of belonging, safety, and support which has been linked to increased school attendance and performance.
    (Dee & Penner, 2016)
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Key talking points
  • Global migration is higher than ever before.
  • Many young people migrate for educational opportunity 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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