Life Wellbeing Migrant children top the class in Australia, OECD report finds

Migrant children top the class in Australia, OECD report finds

Migrant school children
A global report found some migrant children are doing better than others at school.jpg Photo: ABC
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The children of Indian, Philippine and Chinese immigrants are outperforming their Australian-born classmates by significant margins, according to a global education report.

But kids whose families migrated from England, New Zealand, Scotland and Vietnam performed worse in school than the children of native-born parents.

That’s according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that looked at the literacy, numeracy, and science performance of students in 72 countries.

It ranked Australia seventh in the world for the academic performance of migrant students behind Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, Canada, Ireland and Estonia.

NAPLAN results last year revealed children who grew up speaking a language other than English were outperforming native English speakers in spelling in some states.

The OECD report goes further, showing how well specific migrants groups perform at school.

Associate Professor Ken Cruickshank, who is an education lecturer at Sydney University, said when you look at why people came to Australia, it was often for their kids.

“I think it’s part of being a migrant that it’s the chance to succeed perhaps where the parents didn’t, and it’s the importance of that success for the family, and that idea that success in life comes through education.”

Certain migrant groups do better than others

The OECD report found the likelihood that migrant children would be academically, socially and emotionally resilient depended on the nation they came from, and the country in which they settled.

For example, for families from China, Australia is one of the best places in the world to settle.

And, even though Indian migrant children outperform native-born children in Australia, they are likely to do even better at school if their parents had emigrated to the UK.

Migrants from South Africa are more than twice as likely to achieve baseline levels of proficiency in their education in Australia than if they went to school in New Zealand.

Dr Cruickshank said the report’s findings reflected Australia’s highly selective migration program, as well as excellent literacy instruction in Australian schools for children who spoke a first language other than English.

“The research seems to show it doesn’t matter what age they come at, it’s really the amount of education in the first language that counts,” he said.

“But what the overall statistics hide is the fact that students from refugee backgrounds, students who have missed out on education, score much lower than average.

“It’s a real hidden tale of low achievement. It’s these students that need the help, and often they could even be born in Australia.”

The OECD report also reveals an overall decline in academic performance of Australian students by world standards.

It found baseline levels of proficiency declining for all Australian students between 2006 and 2015.

‘Get a good education and work hard’

St Felix’s Catholic Primary School, in Bankstown, south-west Sydney, educates a very high proportion of migrant kids.

Despite 30 per cent speaking limited English in kindergarten, by year three they are performing among the best in the country in NAPLAN tests.

Sisters Mary Moussa and Antoinette Hanna have five children between them at St Felix’s.

Their parents came from Lebanon in the 1970s during the civil war.

“Our parents told us everything they’d been through, how hard it was,” Ms Moussa said. “They’d seen the worst. And I guess when you do see the worst, you appreciate life a bit more.

“And it just makes you work towards a better life and a better future for your children.”

Ms Hanna said the children in her family all understood implicitly that education was the path to a better life.

“I’m forever repeating myself,” Ms Moussa said. “I say, ‘Do you want a good life? Get a good education and you must work very hard’.”

The OECD report, entitled The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Wellbeing, was published on Tuesday.