Speech of Deputy Secretary-General Aart de Geus at the launch of the OECD Thematic Review on Migrant Education
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Wed Jan 23 15:09:17 UTC 2008
Speech of Deputy Secretary-General Aart de Geus at the launch of
the OECD Thematic Review on Migrant Education
It is a great pleasure to be with you today to launch this important
policy review on migrant education.This is a very timely exercise.
Migration is one of the Organisation's central priorities. Indeed it
is a topic that comes up regularly at Ministerial Council and other
high level meetings and will continue to do so. So you can help us --
your work over the next year or so will help policymakers across the
OECD understand better how to tackle migration challenges effectively
– through education. The patterns of migration differ from country to
country and can change over time – perhaps reflecting shifts in policy
or maybe other factors. However, one thing is clear. No matter which
scenario we take, international migration is here to stay.
Immigrants bring a wealth of human capital and enormous potential. And
if allowed to flourish, they can contribute richly to the economic and
social well being of the host country. Countries like the United
States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been built on
successive waves of immigration. But as the share of immigrants rises,
host countries face increasing challenges to provide appropriate
public services. Stresses and strains emerge. Much of this is related
to language. Last year, the police chief of one county in England
said her officers had to deal with close to 100 different languages.
And schools across a range of countries point to the challenges of
taking in increasing numbers of children who cannot speak the
language. Just a month ago, Scotland's biggest teachers union called
for urgent action "to provide the additional resources, professional
development and the support of sufficient numbers of specialist
English as an Additional Language teachers that our schools
As one English school principal put it last year "These children just
appear from nowhere – they turn up on your doorstep and you have to
make the necessary arrangements". Too often, schools do not succeed in
giving students the language skills they need. In Denmark, only
two-thirds of immigrants who arrived as children speak Danish fluently
as adults. And one in ten second-generation migrants has not mastered
Danish either. We see a similar picture for second-generation adult
Hispanics in the United States -- more than 10% report that they do
not speak English very well. Yet we know that the successful
integration of immigrants is essential to ensure not just economic
growth but also social cohesion. Riots from Oldham in England to
Cronulla in Australia to Clichy-sous-Bois here in France have involved
youths with migrant backgrounds and poor economic prospects. And these
youth are just the most visible sign of a bigger challenge: education
plays a critical role in integration.
Policies that deal with migration are often controversial – especially
during election periods. In virtually every country there are
politicians who try to get mileage from tapping into people's fears
about migrants taking their jobs, or their children's places in
universities, jumping the queue on public housing, adding to hospital
waiting lists or living on welfare. In such a climate, reforms not
only require political commitment but also the right conditions to
implement them successfully. And we can easily think of examples where
certain stakeholders stand in the way of reforms. Now it has to be
admitted, such reforms are costly. But the cost of doing nothing is
much higher still. Because if we don't help immigrant children to
succeed in school, then we impose on them a penalty that will stay
with them for the rest of their lives. They will find it harder to
participate in the economy, face a higher exposure to unemployment,
earn less over their working lives and have lower pensions.
The education of migrants is challenging and complex, not least
because each migrant group has its own distinctive history. And so
does each country, where often, different layers are built up. Let me
cite just a few examples.
Germany has its Turkish guest workers and their descendants but has
also more recent massive inflows of ethnic Germans from Eastern
Ireland has seen a dramatic turnaround. After a long tradition of
emigration, the Celtic Tiger has become a magnet for skilled workers
to asylum seekers. In little more than a decade it has gone from
almost no immigrants to nearly 10 per cent of the population.
Since 2000, Spain has absorbed around 4 million immigrants, many of
them irregular. Some are Spanish speaking, many are not.
And with much freer movement of people within the European Union,
possibly some three-quarters of a million Poles now live in the United
Kingdom, adding to an already rich diversity of ethnic backgrounds.
In contrast, Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries
in the world. But even here, migration is on the rise -- in 2005, more
than one in ten marriages were between a South-Korean and a foreign
bride or groom.
Perhaps all this diversity explains why policy makers in many
countries are grappling with the challenges and finding it difficult
to figure out what can, and should, be done. Fortunately PISA 2003
provides us with some data and insights. PISA tells us that immigrant
students are motivated learners, but they often perform significantly
lower than their native peers. The differences are most pronounced in
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and
What does this mean in practice? Well, in Sweden and in Norway, close
to 50% of first-generation immigrant students do not have the basic
math skills to tackle everyday situations. And in Belgium and
Switzerland, almost 50% can barely read. With such weak skills, these
students will struggle to get jobs and further education and lifelong
learning opportunities will be beyond their reach.
But there's also some good news in PISA. The performance gap is small
in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And Sweden's second-generation
migrants do much better than first generation arrivals. So PISA has
given us a good starting point. Now we need to move to the next step –
to analyse policies and practices, and to identify for governments
some tangible actions and policy recommendations.
We can contribute our analytical expertise and broader policy
experience. And we can help you to grapple with interdisciplinary
issues – drawing on the OECD's unique coverage of a wide range of key
policy areas, including economics, trade, employment and education.
And we know that to deliver results, policies need to be coherent
across society – otherwise we are wasting our time.
You can contribute by helping us to understand your challenges for
migrant education, by sharing your country's priorities for
policy-makers, by telling us about your successes – and your failures.
We need to build up a picture of what works and just as important,
understand why it works. Let's work on this together. Let's dig behind
the statistics and analyse the range of experiences that countries can
offer. I am confident that together we can find policies that work to
give immigrant kids the same chances for success in life as every
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