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Immigrant Students’ Poor Sense of Belonging (How to help).

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Immigrant students face significant intersectional challenges in education (Janta & Harte, 2016). How school systems respond to migration has an enormous economic and social impact on their communities’ members. Therefore, educational institutions have the challenging task of integrating many immigrants and asylum seekers who are trying to escape social-economic issues and injustices that hinder their opportunity for a decent lifestyle (OECD, 2015a). Countries’ success in integrating immigrant children into society depends mainly on the efficacy of social policy in general and education policy in particular (Cattaneo & Wolter, 2012).

Notwithstanding governments’ and researchers’ interest in students’ academic performance (OECD 2012), there has been a growing interest in students’ well-being and overall development. According to research, high levels of well-being among learners are associated with positive life experiences and better school performance. Thus, the continuous exploration and analysis of the well-being of 15-year-old learners are fundamental. Undeniably, pupils at this age are going through physical and emotional changes, which may have long-term consequences (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016).

A revealing fact is that immigrant students’ performances and their perceived well-being differ widely across countries. These persist even after considering students’ socioeconomic status and the previously mentioned factors. The latter suggests that integration policies and school systems play an important role in narrowing performance differences. Additionally, these improve learners’ well-being (OECD, 2016). To further understand these dissimilarities, it is necessary to analyze the complex relationship between host countries’ policies and school systems and the progress or hindrance of immigrant students’ academic performance and well-being.

Policies related to immigrant students in Host Countries.

PISA results show a strong correlation between immigrant learning outcomes and the characteristics of host countries’ education systems and policies. For instance, first and second-generation immigrant students with similar socio-economic status perform differently in science in several host countries even after accounting for the socio-economic composition. These results suggest that school systems and policies affect immigrant learners with similar cultural and socio-economic backgrounds (OECD, 2016). The cause of such disparities may range from residential segregation, and tracking to the concentration of immigrants in disadvantaged schools. Undoubtedly, migrant children and their families face fundamental challenges. In conclusion, how countries support them through public social and educational expenditure is vital for their general well-being (IOM, 2017).

Immigrant Students’ Well-Being.

Well-being is described as “a dynamic state characterized by students experiencing the ability and opportunity to fulfill their personal and social goals. Thus, it encompasses multiple dimensions of students’ lives, including: cognitive, psychological, physical, social and material.” (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016, p. 8). PISA’s five dimensions (see Figure 1) can be measured through different subjective and objective indicators. For example, competencies, perceptions, expectations, and living conditions tend to be strongly dependent on home and school contextual factors. These dimensions contribute to determining students’ overall functioning, satisfaction, and evaluation of their quality of life (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016).

A graphic organiser about well-being dimensions.

Students’ Social Well-Being.

The social dimension of students’ well-being includes sociological perspectives such as family, peers, and teacher relationships, the availability of emotional and practical support, and interpersonal skills (Pollard and Lee, 2003). PISA 2015 measures five social well-being areas (see Figure 2): belongingness at school; social learning experiences; relationship with their teachers, their peers, and their parents. Each dimension is analyzed through a set of instruments and measures within the student survey (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016). In similarity to the learner outcomes, dimensions within the students’ social well-being also differ across countries. Hence, these studies suggest that immigrant social well-being might also be affected by school systems and educational policies (OECD, 2015a).

A graphic organiser

Students’ Sense of Belonging.

Sense of belonging refers to the feelings of being accepted by teachers, peers, and any other individuals at school (Wilmms, 2013). It has a strong association with educational success and well-being and a direct positive relationship with self-esteem and motivation (De Bortolli, 2018).  PISA 2015 results suggest that students’ perception of negative relationships with their teachers is one of the major threats to students’ sense of belonging. Hence, this same data supports that happier students tend to report positive relations with their teachers. Furthermore, these results also imply that students’ perceptions of their parents’ support are related to their attitudes towards education. Similarly, PISA 2015 data confirm that bullying is associated with students’ difficulties finding their place at school (OECD, 2017b).

What to do? 

There is a growing interest in the well-being of immigrant students and their integration process. However, subjective well-being and research on what social policies work are scarce (Bradshaw, 2014). Furthermore, there is a lack of cross-country studies using large-scale survey data. Additionally, there is no conclusive evidence regarding the possible causes of second-generation immigrant students’ educational performance and life satisfaction (Dustman, Frattini, & Lanzara, 2011; Tang, 2018). Thus, governments, institutions, and scholars must develop research to contribute to a dialogue that addresses a possible international reconciliation with the immigrant population. Secondary analyses using PISA, TIMMS, and PIRLS data could help understand how to help immigrants cope with such an overwhelming scenario.

Further reading on raising global citizens.