Untapped Skills

Realising the Potential of Immigrant Students

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This report reviews recent trends in international migration, describing the size of current foreign-born populations across countries and analysing factors associated to the size and nature of these populations, reviews a set of important differences and similarities across educational systems and gives a brief description of population sizes across countries.

It also provides an overview of the evidence emerging from PISA 2009 on the performance and socio-economic background of children of immigrants. Who are the children of immigrants? What do they know and what can they do? How do they differ from other students? Do they approach school and learning in a different way? It examines more closely the issue of assessment language proficiency among immigrant students and its possible impact on cognitive outcomes in PISA. It explores the effect of age at arrival on the performance of immigrant students in the PISA tests of literacy.

Selective migration policies of certain countries and the attractiveness of these countries generally to highly educated migrants is also explored.

It also discusses the future educational and professional career of the children of immigrant related to their performance in PISA. Does the skill and knowledge disadvantage at age 15 translate into a disadvantage in later educational outcomes? For example, are those children of immigrants less likely to access a post-secondary educational institution?



Executive Summary

The best way to measure how well immigrants are integrated into a society is arguably not by how their outcomes compare with those of their native-born peers, but rather by their children’s outcomes. There are always reasons to explain why adult immigrants do not do as well as native-born individuals in the labour market. For example, they may not speak the language of their new country fluently, or their qualifications or work experience obtained abroad may not be recognised, or equivalent to domestic qualifications, or adapted to what is required in the destination country. However, one would not necessarily expect such reasons to apply to immigrants’ children who were born in the country or who arrived when they were quite young and were fully, or almost fully, educated in the country of residence. This would particularly be the case if immigrant parents had the same educational attainment or, more generally, a similar socio-economic background as non-immigrant parents, on average.


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