A four-country study suggests the need for a closer look at how school systems are meeting the needs of immigrant students.
Photograph by: PAT MCGRATH , THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
OTTAWA — Children of immigrants are as well-prepared for the start of schooling as the children of native-born Canadians in almost all areas except for reading, a new four-country study has found.
The researchers behind the study, including a labour economist at the University of Ottawa, say the results are a contrast with the later achievement results of immigrant teenagers, and suggest the need for a closer look at how school systems are meeting the needs of immigrant students.
The study, titled The Development of Young Children of Immigrants in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, used existing longitudinal data sets in each country to assess the reading, math and behaviour scores of four- and five-year-old children born to immigrant parents, and compared them to the children of native-born parents.
“All these countries are more or less anglophone and have a liberal democracy with labour markets functioning in much the same way, but their immigrant selection rules are very different,” said Miles Corak, a University of Ottawa labour economist, one of the lead authors of the study. However, because Canada and Australia tend to select immigrants with more education and higher levels of skill, “we thought we’d see big differences in the outcomes of the children as a result, in their starting points.”
Instead, the study found that immigrant children in all four countries performed about the same as their native-born counterparts.
“In spite of different immigration policies, and the different educational backgrounds and source countries of their parents, these kids were doing just fine. They started off at the age of entering school just as well as the other kids, except in one domain — reading.”
That finding is in contrast to earlier research on older immigrant children. A long-term, worldwide study of teenagers by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found “noticeable differences in the outcomes of immigrant teens,” said Corak. “Only in Canada do teens of an immigrant background actually do better than their native counterparts, and to a certain extent in Australia. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the outcomes for these immigrant teens are very much inferior to the national average.”
As a result, Corak and the other researchers are now turning their focus to education systems.
“The bottom line of the paper is that the immigrant selection rules don’t really matter for the human and social capital in their early years, so if we’re observing differences in the outcomes of teens, it has less to do with their starting point in school than in what happens to them once they are in school,” said Corak, adding that the team is already working on a longitudinal study to compare academic performance of the children of immigrants as they move through school.
“Immigrant families do the best they can to prepare their kids and they do a good job,” said Corak. “Obviously there’s one domain where they are a bit behind and that’s language development,” which is not surprising since many immigrants don’t speak English or French as a first language.
“But kids at that age are so robust and fast at language development they overcome that,” said Corak. “What it says to me is that in the long run, if you’re really concerned about how immigrant families do, you don’t have to fret too much about the selection rules.”
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Article posted in Immigration