6. Prevent school drop-out and establish second-chance programmes

The first step for successful labour market integration is to ensure everyone leaves school with the necessary skills to succeed, including a qualifying diploma. However, migrants who arrived as young children are over-represented among the 15-24 year-olds who leave school prematurely in most OECD countries. School drop-outs lack minimum credentials for both successful labour market entry and for further education and training opportunities. Not surprisingly, therefore, they face a high risk of becoming inactive or unemployed and are prone to long-term social and economic disadvantage. In all OECD countries – with the exceptions of the settlement countries, Israel, Italy, Latvia and the United Kingdom – children of immigrants are more likely to be not in employment, education or training (NEET) than their peers with native-born parents (OECD/EU, 2018[1]).

Where prevention and early intervention fail to avoid early school leaving, second-chance programmes allow youth to obtain a basic qualification and find a way into the labour market. Such programmes offer alternative pathways. These can lead back into mainstream education, or prepare early school leavers to integrate into vocational education and training (VET) to obtain a professional qualification.

OECD- and EU-wide, drop-out levels of immigrant offspring are similar to those of young people of native-born parentage at 7% and 9% respectively. In contrast, 11% of foreign-born youth who arrived as children in the OECD leave school early, and the share of drop-outs is 15% in the EU. Moreover, the native-born children of immigrants are more likely than their peers with no migrant parents to drop out in the majority of European countries, while the reverse is the case in the settlement countries (OECD/EU, 2018[1]).

Second chance programmes generally target early school-leavers who lack basic qualifications or those with a basic certificate who struggle to enter VET or find a job. Such measures rarely target youth with migrant parents specifically, but cater youth in need more generally. However, youth with migrant parents are often overrepresented among the target group.

Policy efforts to ensuring that youth with migrant parents leave the education system with a qualifying diploma broadly cluster into two approaches:

  • preventing early school dropout and tackling early school leaving at the systematic and individual level

  • establishing comprehensive second chance programmes including alternative educational routes to higher education and improving high-quality apprenticeship opportunities

Preventing early school dropout and tackling early school leaving involves addressing its causes at the systemic level of the education system as well as targeting specific high-risk groups at the individual level. Measures at the systematic level typically include expanding and promoting the use of high-quality early childhood education and care, postponing educational tracking, limiting the use of grade repetition and raising the minimum official school leaving age for compulsory education (Lyche, 2010[59]; De Witte et al., 2013[60]; Nouwen, Clycq and Uličná, 2015[61]; European Commission, 2013[62]).

In Europe, the European Union encourages member countries to address common risk factors for early school leaving. The goal is to lower the average dropout rate to less than 10% by 2020 at different levels of the education circle. Typically, these measures focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including – but only rarely specifically targeting – youth with migrant parents.

Among the few countries to have set up schemes that specifically target students with migrant parents is Denmark. Since 2003, the country has been running the “We Need All Youngsters” campaign to support 13-20 year-old youth to complete their education. The initiative initially focused on youth with migrant parents exclusively, but has been expanded to help struggling youth regardless of their background by enhancing their professional, social and personal skills through homework assistance; role model groups; internships; and fairs informing about available VET opportunities. The campaign also promotes parent involvement in educational choices. Since 2011, ‘We need all Youngsters’ has focused on boys.

Another example of a dedicated programme to tackle school drop-out among youth with migrant parents is the Austrian programme ‘Integration Ambassadors`. As part of the broader “Together Austria” initiative, the scheme encourages successful young migrants to become ambassadors of integration and pay visits to schools and associations to motivate other youth with migrant parents to see education as an opportunity and to make use of existing career options.

In Portugal, the ‘Choices Programme’ (Programa Escolhas) promotes the integration of 6 to 24 years old from disadvantaged social backgrounds, many of whom are immigrant descendants. The programme involves local authorities and civil society organisations. It includes several strategic areas of intervention, including combatting early school drop-out through the creation of new educational tools; the development of personal, social and cognitive skills through formal and non-formal education; and the promotion of family co-responsibility in the parental surveillance process. The current seventh round (2019-20) aims to benefit about 50 000 youth.

Measures to retain youth in schools at the individual level involve targeted interventions to support at-risk students and institutions. Approaches typically include case-by-case mentoring, tutoring and initiatives to engage parents in their children’s education. Such a personalised approach is expensive and not easy to deliver, but the costs that would arise if these youth fail to complete education and do not integrate into the labour market are much higher.

Where preventive intervention comes too late, second-chance programmes provide school drop-outs and other youth with an opportunity to catch up. Some programmes enable participants to obtain an occupational qualification. Others focus on preparing youth to reintegrate into mainstream education and training programmes. Successful second-chance programmes display several characteristics that distinguish them from mainstream education. These include a focus on individualised teaching methods; flexible and needs-based curricula; holistic assessment approaches; small classes with low student-teacher ratios; multi-professional teams supporting learners, welcoming learning environments; and partnerships with mainstream education institutions, local communities and employers (UNICEF, 2017[63]). Youth with migrant parents often benefit more from mainstreamed support tools for all underachieving students than from targeted migration -history-specific approaches, found a review of second-chance programmes in the EU (European Commission, 2014[64]). However, these have to be adapted, notably with respect language training where needed.

In Slovenia, the PUM-O programme helps young people ready themselves for re-entering formal education or finding a job. Length of participation is adjustable to individual needs. The programme operates with small groups of 15-20 youth with an average age of 19-20 supported by three mentors. While not specifically targeted to them, shares of youth with migrant parents are growing (OECD, 2017[65]). In Germany, the Joblinge programme trains, mentors and connects young people with the labour market. Participants who have on average been out of school for two years before joining the programme, are mostly between 16 and 25 years of age and over two-thirds have migrant parents. Based on a close collaboration with regional employers, individual mentorship and skills training the programme supports youth to find their own vocational training place or job. Since 2016, the programme runs a specific stream for refugees, which offers additional language classes and job trial periods for young refugees (Joblinge Foundation, 2018[66]). In Flanders, second-chance education (Tweedekansonderwijs) is part of the formal adult education system and is provided by the Centres for Adult Education. It offers early school leavers the opportunity to obtain a degree of secondary education based on a modular structure and evening courses. It also allows young adult learners to set out their individual learning path. As a financial incentive, graduates are paid back their tuition fees when obtaining a diploma (OECD, 2019[67]). While available to all youth, by the nature of the programme youth with migrant parents are a key group among those eligible.

Many school dropouts prefer low-paying, unstable and often informal work over schooling; especially for those with parents from countries where labour market entry at a young age is common. Second-chance programmes can combine studies with work experience and labour market measures to address the incentives faced by youth with migrant parents to privilege work over education. Sweden, for example, has introduced an education contract in 2015 to encourage unemployed youth between the ages of 20 and 24 to return to adult education to gain an upper-secondary qualification. The agreement increases the financial aid available while offering increased flexibility to combine studies with work and labour market initiatives. The initiative does not explicitly target youth with migrant parents. Still, they are likely to be among the primary beneficiaries given their overrepresentation among those who do not qualify for upper-secondary education (OECD, 2016[68]).

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