Migrant children face significant intersectional challenges in education (Janta & Harte, 2016). The manner in which school systems respond to migration has an enormous economic and social impact on the members of its communities. Therefore, educational institutions have the challenging task of integrating a vast amount of immigrant population and asylum seekers who are trying to escape social-economic issues and injustices that hinder their opportunity of 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 their 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 as 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 and 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 and improving learners’ well-being (OECD, 2016). To further understand these dissimilarities, it is necessary to analyse the complex relationship between the policies and school systems of host countries and the progress or hindrance of immigrant students’ academic performance and their well-being.
Policies in Host Countries.
PISA results show a strong correlation between immigrant learning outcomes and the characteristics of the education systems and policies in host countries. For instance, first and second generation immigrant students with similar socioeconomic 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). Policies such as residential segregation, tracking, the concentration of immigrants in disadvantaged schools, and stratification might be the cause of such disparities. Undoubtedly, migrant children and their families face essential challenges, and how countries support them through public social and educational expenditure is vital for their general well-being (IOM, 2017).
Well-being is described as “a dynamic state characterised by students experiencing the ability and opportunity to fulfil their personal and social goals. It encompasses multiple dimensions of students’ lives, including: cognitive, psychological, physical, social and material.” (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016, p. 8). These five dimensions identified in PISA (see Figure 1) can be measured through different subjective and objective indicators such as competencies, perceptions, expectations and living conditions which are strongly dependent on home and school contextual factors. These dimensions contribute to determining students’ overall functioning, satisfaction, and an evaluation of the quality of their lives (Borgonovi & Pál, 2016).
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 areas of social well-being (see Figure 2): belongingness at school; social learning experiences; relationship with their teachers, their peers, and their parents. Each dimension is analysed 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, suggesting that immigrant social well-being might also be affected by schools systems and educational policies (OECD, 2015a).
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 as well as 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 at school. This same data supports that happier students tend to report positive relations with their teachers. These results also imply that students’ perceptions of their parents’ support are related to their attitudes towards education. Similarly, PISA 2015 data confirm the idea that bullying is associated with students’ difficulties finding their place at school (OECD, 2017b).
What to do?
Despite the growing interest in the well-being of immigrant students and their integration process, 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 and no conclusive evidence regarding the possible causes of the educational performance and life satisfaction of second-generation immigrant students (Dustman, Frattini, & Lanzara, 2011; Tang, 2018). Thus, governments, institutions, and scholars must develop research aimed at contributing to a dialogue which addresses a possible international reconciliation with the immigrant population. Secondary analyses using data from PISA, TIMMS, and PIRLS could aid in understanding how to help immigrants cope with such an overwhelming scenario.