Chapter 1. Introduction

This chapter reviews the resilience framework adopted in the context of the Strength through Diversity project and how education systems can use it to develop holistic policy approaches to support the integration of immigrants and refugees. The chapter identifies the following policy principles: supporting the acquisition of skills and competences among immigrant communities; promoting the overall social and emotional well-being of immigrants; recognising differences in migration-related experiences and building the skills that are necessary to deal with psychological and behavioural challenges induced by acculturation (among both immigrants and natives).


Scope of the Synthesis Report

Migration has been at the centre of policy debate across the OECD in recent years, largely because of the refugee crisis. Policy responses aimed at supporting and facilitating the integration of immigrants have been deeply polarising in many countries. Since 2014 a wealth of evidence has been produced on integrating immigrant communities. Policy makers, civil society organisations, schools and concerned citizens in OECD countries all contribute to support newcomers. However, lack of coordination between different actors and lack of knowledge on what strategies work reduces the effectiveness, reach and suitability of policies aimed at supporting immigrant and refugee students in education systems.

This Synthesis Report identifies eight pillars of policy-making that the Strength through Diversity project deemed crucial for education systems and various actors to effectively support newcomers. For each pillar, the report details a set of principles driving the design and implementation of system-level policies and school-level practices.

The eight pillars ask policymakers to:

  1. 1. consider the heterogeneity of immigrant populations

  2. 2. develop approaches to promote the overall well-being of immigrants

  3. 3. address the unique needs of refugee students

  4. 4. ensure that motivation translates as a key asset for immigrant communities

  5. 5. provide comprehensive language support

  6. 6. organise resources to reduce the influence of socio-economic status on the outcomes of immigrants

  7. 7. build the capacity of teachers to deal with diversity

  8. 8. break down barriers to social cohesion while ensuring effective service delivery.

Background to the Synthesis Report

An estimated 4.8 million immigrants arrived in OECD countries during 2015, an increase of about 10% from the previous year, with family reunification and free movement across borders each accounting for about a third of these entries. The recent wave of migration has reinforced a long and steady upward trend in the share of immigrants in OECD countries, which has grown by more than 30% since 2000 and has become increasingly diverse (OECD, 2018[1]). Over this period, several OECD countries that had previously been the country of origin of many immigrants, including Ireland, Italy and Spain, became destination countries. Before the global economic crisis of 2008, immigration rates in these countries were sometimes as high as those of traditional OECD immigration countries (OECD, 2015[2]).

Children represent a significant portion of global migration flows, especially within refugee populations. According to a 2016 UNICEF report, 1 in 8 immigrants worldwide is a child, as is more than one in two refugees – a proportion that has doubled between 2005 and 2015 (UNICEF, 2016[3]). Accommodating the unprecedented inflows of immigrant children into education systems is one of the key challenges facing host countries today. At the same time, given the high likelihood that a large number of new arrivals will settle permanently in their country of destination and the fact that foreign-born adults differ widely in skills and attitudes, it is crucial that education and training systems provide learning opportunities to support the labour market and social integration of immigrant children and adults.

While migration flows can create challenges for host communities, they also represent an opportunity for countries that face ageing native-born populations to overcome the associated threat of labour and skills shortages (Boeri, 2012[4]; Cerna, 2016[5]; EMN, 2011[6]; OECD/EU, 2014[7]). To integrate immigrants successfully into society and unlock the potential benefits of migration, countries must implement effective education and social policies. Education and training systems have a unique role to play if new arrivals are to be able to develop and use their skills, participate in the labour markets of host countries, contribute to welfare arrangements, and feel a sense of belonging in their communities.

Education and training systems can play a key role in promoting long-term integration processes because they enable immigrants to acquire skills necessary for entering the labour market. Furthermore, these systems can help immigrants understand the culture and traditions of the country of destination. Similarly, education can play an important role in shaping the attitudes that native populations hold towards immigrants. Migration in fact requires both immigrants and natives to undergo a process of acculturation. Acculturation has been defined as “culture change that results from continuous, first-hand contact between two distinct cultural groups” (Redfield, Linton and Herskovits, 1936[8]). In other words, acculturation refers to the process affecting individuals who move from one culture to another and how these individuals’ self-identities change to accommodate information about and experiences with a new culture (Ryder, Alden and Paulhus, 2000[9]).

However, it is important to note that acculturation also affects individuals who do not move, but live in communities into which people move. These individuals also undergo a potential change in self-identity to accommodate information about and experiences with the cultures of the newcomers. This is significant, in particular when the size of the immigrant group is large, when there is a high degree of heterogeneity in immigrant populations (Berry, 1997[10]) and when economic, demographic and social dynamics induce either a real or a perceived competition between individuals and social groups over resources and influence. If education and training systems are not mobilised to ensure that natives are well-equipped to deal with the challenges that diversity entails and are ready to reap the benefits that diversity brings, there is a risk that natives, particularly those who experience lack of economic, political or social inclusion, may respond to increased diversity by expressing feelings of racial intolerance and prejudice and by feeling threatened by new arrivals (Dustmann and Preston, 2001[11]). Such prejudice may stem from perceived competition in the labour market (Scheve and Slaughter, 2001[12]); (Mayda, 2006[13]), fear that immigrants will reduce the availability of welfare services (Dustmann and Preston, 2007[14]) and/or that immigrant children will lower educational standards (OECD, 2015[15]).

A holistic approach

The OECD’s Strength through Diversity: The integration of immigrants and refugees in school and training systems project developed a holistic approach to examine if and how education and training systems can ensure that societies are well-equipped to deal with the challenges- and reap the full benefits- that arise from international migration flows.

The term diversity in the context of this report is used to refer to one specific aspect of the diversity that is present in countries and in education systems: diversity arising from international migration. Although the report discusses challenges and opportunities related to the linguistic profile of individuals, linguistic profiles are only considered when discussing individuals with a migration background rather than, for example, linguistic minorities within countries. The report recognises that diversity of country of birth is just one aspect of diversity: diversity in culture, religion, language, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, gender, physical health, mental health and learning potential (encompassing giftedness as well as specific learning disabilities and impairments) all contribute to the uniqueness of the student body teachers experience on a daily basis and of social dynamics within countries.

The project adopted a resilience framework to analyse different ways education and training systems can promote positive change to achieve broad individual and social well-being for all. In the psychological literature, resilience refers to the capacity of individuals to overcome adversity and display positive adjustment (Daniel and Wassell, 2002[16]; Howard, Dryden and Johnson, 1999[17]). The term “adversity” in the literature on resilience refers to the challenges and difficulties that individuals experience in life, which could stem from underlying familial, societal or environmental factors or conditions, or from onset events or circumstances (e.g. change in life status or situation). Adversity in this report is used to indicate the difficulties that individuals experience because of migration, by the very nature that migration means a change in the individual’s physical and social environment from the one that they were originally familiar. The degree of adversity differs greatly across individuals, depending on their migration experience and personal circumstances. It can range from the small challenge related to understanding how an education system is organised and the procedures that need to be fulfilled to benefit from educational services to trauma, legal issues and disruption in family bonds and social networks. In fact, even individuals in receiving communities may face a degree of adversity (as understood in psychological literature) because the arrival of new individuals in a community can change the physical and social environment they are used to, a change that requires adaptation on the part of everyone.

Resilience research indicates that even when exposed to the same challenges and difficulties, individuals can reach a wide range of outcomes, from the very positive, to the highly negative. How individuals fare given exposure to challenges depends on the specific assets and vulnerabilities they have when exposed to such challenges, but also on the unique combination of risk, protective factors and circumstances that accompany the experience of challenging events. The resilience framework depicted in Figure 1.1 implies that those who experience challenging circumstances are not equally susceptible to challenging circumstances and, as a result, display different degrees of adjustment.

Figure 1.1. A multilevel resilience framework
Figure 1.1. A multilevel resilience framework

In a broad sense, native populations and institutions such as schools, workplaces also experience potential challenges as a result of international migration: just as immigrants have to adjust to a new country, individuals who live in host countries and the institutions they create have to adjust to new arrivals. Acculturation is a process that affects all individuals within a country, and refers to the changes individuals make in their habits, behaviours and beliefs as a result of the encounter with others. Therefore, migration shapes the learning and training needs not only of those individuals who have a recent and direct family experience of migration (i.e. they are foreign-born or are the children of foreign-born parents) but also of individuals who have an indirect experience with migration, such as those who attend school or live in communities with sizable numbers of individuals with an immigrant background.

Migration often determines diversity, and for this diversity to become a source of richness school professionals and policy makers need to adjust policy and practice in several ways. For example, teachers who operate in multicultural and multilingual classrooms cannot take for granted the understanding of all the pupils in their classrooms. They need to be well attuned to their students in order to ensure their progress. At the same time, they need to develop strategies to ensure that all students have the cognitive, social and emotional skills that are needed to interact with others. While this is important in general, it becomes crucial in multilingual and multicultural classrooms, which is more common in the presence of many students with an immigrant background. In some countries, current and aspiring new teachers are already receiving the support they need to be able to and feel comfortable with teaching in diverse settings with a student body reflecting a wide range of backgrounds and needs. In other countries, particularly countries where immigration is a new phenomenon, teachers are older and development opportunities are not available, building teacher capacity is an important priority. The positive outcomes experienced by students with an immigrant background in some countries illustrate what is possible to achieve in this respect (OECD/EU, 2018[18]).

In order for countries to benefit from migration it is crucial that policies and practices implemented by education and training systems will:

  1. 1. support the acquisition of skills and competences among immigrant communities

  2. 2. promote the overall social and emotional well-being of immigrants

  3. 3. recognise differences in migration-related experiences

  4. 4. build the skills that are necessary to deal with psychological and behavioural challenges induced by acculturation (among both immigrant and natives).

This holistic policy approach recognises that the long-term integration of immigrants is important to support social cohesion. This depends crucially on the capacity of both immigrants and natives to have the skill sets needed to fully integrate in the labour market but also to play an active and positive role in the social life of their communities. Given the ultimate goal of broad social cohesion and long-term integration of immigrant communities in OECD countries, Figure 1.2 illustrates the different objectives of policy design and service delivery by education and training systems identified in the project.

Figure 1.2. A holistic policy approach to education and economic integration in times of greater international migration
Figure 1.2. A holistic policy approach to education and economic integration in times of greater international migration

By adopting a mixed-methods approach, the Strength through Diversity: The integration of immigrants and refugees in school and training systems project combined information gleaned from in-depth data analysis, policy discussions with stakeholders and reviews of policy documents to identify the specific components that promote resilience. The project did so by identifying the specific assets and vulnerabilities that accompany individuals, institutions and societies experiencing diversity, in addition to identifying how actors at different levels can be mobilised in coherent and goal-directed ways to promote integration and social cohesion.

This Synthesis Report summarises the project’s evidence generated between 2017 and 2018 and integrates emerging insights from across the different work-streams (data analysis and indicator development, thematic policy reviews and country spotlight reports). A list of the project’s publications, policy fora and events that collectively form the knowledge base used for this report can be found in Annex 1.A, while Figure 1.3 illustrates the three key work-streams around which the project was structured.

Figure 1.3. Strength through Diversity work streams
Figure 1.3. Strength through Diversity work streams
Annex 1.A



Spotlight Reports

  • Cerna, L.; H. Andersson,; M. Bannon, and F. Borgonovi (2019) Spotlight Report for Sweden, OECD Education Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris,

  • OECD (2019) Spotlight Report for Chile (Forthcoming), OECD Education Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Working Papers

  • Bilgili, Ö. (2017), "The “CHARM” Policy Analysis Framework: Evaluation of Policies to Promote Immigrant Students’ Resilience", OECD Education Working Papers, No. 158, OECD Publishing, Paris,

  • Borgonovi, F. and A. Pokropek (2017), "Birthplace diversity, income inequality and education gradients in generalised trust: The relevance of cognitive skills in 29 countries", OECD Education Working Papers, No. 164, OECD Publishing, Paris,

  • Forghani-Arani, N., L. Cerna and M. Bannon (2019), "The lives of teachers in diverse classrooms", OECD Education Working Papers, No. 198, OECD Publishing, Paris,

  • Borgonovi, F. and A. Pokropek (2018), "The role of education in promoting positive attitudes towards migration at times of stress", OECD Education Working Papers, No. 185, OECD Publishing, Paris,

  • Cerna, L. (2019), "Refugee education: Integration models and practices in OECD countries", OECD Education Working Papers, No. 203, OECD Publishing, Paris,


Policy Fora

  • OECD (2017) First Policy Forum, OECD, “Setting the Stage”. 9-10 May 2017 (Paris, France)

  • OECD (2017) Second Policy Forum, OECD, “Teachers in Diverse Societies: Challenges, Opportunities, Policy Responses”. 21-22 September 2017 (Paris, France)

  • OECD (2018) Third Policy Forum, OECD, “Learning from Data”. 12-13 February 2018 (Paris, France)

  • OECD (2018) Fourth Policy Forum, OECD and Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, “Social Emotional Learning to Foster a Sense of Belonging for Immigrant and Refugee Learners”. 31 May – 01 June 2018 (New Brunswick, Canada)

  • OECD (2018) Fifth Policy Forum, OECD and Government of Canary Islands, “The Governance of Integration of Immigrant and Refugee Students in Remote Regions”. 15-16 November 2018 (Tenerife, Canary Islands)


Publications with contributions from Strength through Diversity


[10] Berry, J. (1997), “Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation”, Applied Psychology, Vol. 46/1, pp. 5-34.

[4] Boeri, T. (2012), Brain Gain and Brain Drain: The Global Competition to Attract High- Skilled Migrants, Oxford University Press.

[5] Cerna, L. (2016), Immigration Policies and the Global Competition for Talent, Palgrave Macmillan UK, London,

[16] Daniel, B. and S. Wassell (2002), Adolescence: Assessing and Promoting Resilience in Vulnerable Children 3, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Kingsley, London.

[14] Dustmann, C. and I. Preston (2007), “Racial and economic factors in attitudes to immigration”, The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, Vol. 7, pp. 1-41.

[11] Dustmann, C. and I. Preston (2001), “Attitudes to ethnic minorities, ethnic context and location decisions”, Economic Journal, Vol. 111, pp. 353-373, (accessed on 31 July 2018).

[6] EMN (2011), Satisfying labour demand through migration, EMN Synthesis Report.

[17] Howard, S., J. Dryden and B. Johnson (1999), “Childhood resilience: Review and critique of literature”, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 25, pp. 307-23.

[13] Mayda, A. (2006), “Who is against immigration? A cross-counry investigation of individual attitudes toward immigrants”, The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 88/3, pp. 510-530.

[19] OECD (2018), International Migration Outlook 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2018), The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Well-being, OECD Reviews of Migrant Education, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[15] OECD (2015), Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration, OECD Reviews of Migrant Education, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[2] OECD (2015), International Migration Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[18] OECD/EU (2018), Settling In 2018: Indicators of Immigrant Integration, OECD Publishing, Paris/European Union, Brussels,

[7] OECD/EU (2014), Matching Economic Migration with Labour Market Needs, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8] Redfield, R., R. Linton and M. Herskovits (1936), “Memorandum for the Study of Acculturation”, American Anthropologist, Vol. 38/1, pp. 149-152,

[9] Ryder, A., L. Alden and D. Paulhus (2000), “Is acculturation unidimensional or bidimensional? A head-to-head comparison in the prediction of personality, self-identity, and adjustment.”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 79/1, pp. 49-65,

[12] Scheve, K. and M. Slaughter (2001), “Labor market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy”, Review of Ecomomics and Statistics, Vol. 83/1, pp. 133-145,

[3] UNICEF (2016), Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children, UNICEF.

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