People on the move: growing mobility, increasing diversity

by Marc Fuster
Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills

In August 2015, a newspaper published a story about Sam Cookney’s commute to work. Pretty boring, one would think, as long commutes are nothing new for most of us. However, Sam’s story is not so common. He works in London and commutes, several times per month, from Barcelona!

International human mobility is on the rise. Increasing numbers of people are regularly coming and going across borders, and societies are growing increasingly diverse as a result. This raises some important questions. How can we ensure public services are accessible to a more diverse population? How can we ensure that respectful communication across languages and cultures is supported in society? A new Trends Shaping Education Spotlight discusses how education can be harnessed to tackle these questions and other implications of increasing mobility and diversity.

We know that students thrive in learning environments that are supportive of their needs regardless of their linguistic, cultural and ethnic background. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has consistently shown that on average students from migrant backgrounds tend to have lower levels of educational achievement in reading, maths and science. Data from PISA 2015 illustrates the achievement gap in science is above 50 score points on average across OECD countries, although in some countries, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, no substantial differences are observed.  As argued by the OECD elsewhere, proficiency in the language of instruction at school is crucial for migrant students’ academic performance and social integration.

In addition to academic outcomes, attributes such as tolerance, global-mindedness, and skills in collaborative problem solving and communication are of growing importance for individuals to live and work effectively in multicultural settings. All students need opportunities to develop and practice global competence, which refers to the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of global and intercultural issues; the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds; and the attitudes and values that support respectful interactions with others.

Therefore, improving the capacity of teachers to work effectively in diverse classrooms is necessary to respond to student’s needs and facilitate the development of global competence. Teachers need to be able to assess students’ prior knowledge and skills, master different instructional approaches, and increase their knowledge of second language development to better support the learning of all pupils. There is a need for professional development in this area: about 13% of participants in the 2013 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reported a high level of need for professional development in teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings.

Beyond the classroom, schools can contribute to building an environment that reflects and celebrates diversity by adapting certain cultural and organisational elements. Ensuring equal opportunities for participation in school activities for all students is central to building a culture of non-discrimination. Another approach is to ensure diversity in the schools’ staff composition.

Furthermore, many families need support in navigating education system structures to find and harness opportunities to support the development of their children. They may want their children to access mother tongue education programmes, for example, which are available in different forms across many OECD countries. Parents may even directly contribute to these initiatives by undertaking teaching or learning support roles. Actively involving them and the wider community can make a difference.

Finally, education systems need to be flexible to adapt to multiple migration processes and circumstances. This includes voluntary, more temporary migration of workers and students, but also forced mobility resulting from political and environmental conflicts. Education systems need to be responsive and equipped to address the needs of children arriving later than the academic year starts, young adults changing countries in various stages of their education, or those that have left their countries under the most adverse conditions, such as natural disasters, war or persecution.

Perhaps, not many people will voluntarily commute 1200 km as Sam does. Nevertheless, mobility- and diversity-proofing our education systems should be one of our top priorities if we want to give our children an equal opportunity to reach their full potential in our new diverse world.

Trends Shaping Education 2016
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) 
Immigrant Students at School: Easing the Journey towards Integration
Language in a Better World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding
Educating Teachers for Diversity: Meeting the Challenge

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