Public Schools, a Rival for Racism and Xenophobia
Some believe that we live in a world that is advanced and effortlessly evolving in so many different ways, yet it is also stuck and old-fashioned in other ways. Paradoxically, the modern world that we live in is still exposed to racial conflicts. Combining different cultures, nationalities or ethnicities still brings anger and discomfort to numberless people. In this sense, I like to believe that such mentalities and lifestyles can be easily changed or adjusted during childhood, including through education and exposure to multicultural activities. Furthermore, I believe children should be constantly facing diversity from a young age.
Immigrant children represent one of the categories of people that deal with this phenomenon and they are also the ones that could improve the future generation. How? By living and experiencing the adventures of the early stage of life surrounded by multiracial groups of people, either children or adults. In this way, wrong perceptions will be avoided and racial mixture would become a normality. And what better place of doing all of these things than public schools?
In the first place, including immigrant children in regular schools not only gives them a different perspective of life, but it also contributes to the personal development of non-immigrant children. Therefore, everybody gets to realize how diverse we are and see the beauty of it considering education is meant to equip them with what they need in order to flourish as the next generation of citizens. Moreover, children must have the chance to get to know and interact with members of other racial groups in order to face the diversity and cultural differences of the world or at least have an idea of them. On the contrary, isolated, special schools may limit opportunities of breaking stereotypes, perceptions and assumptions about people from other cultural, racial groups.
In the second place, the friendships that are formed can expand if non-immigrant children choose to introduce their immigrant friends to other acquaintances. These friendships can turn out to be very powerful because feelings are born and children will eventually start to appreciate other children regardless of their ethnic background. In addition, when people form relationships with people of different races and ethnicities, they are more tolerant and open-minded. Especially if all of these happen at a young age, when children are developing their personality and can still be influenced in how they develop. On the other hand, the segregation that takes place through special schools only amplifies the idea of pushing people away, setting labels and separating them based on the color of their skin, their habits, native tongue, religion etc.
How ambitious are immigrant students?
What influences people to leave their country is the need or desire to make a better, safer life for themselves and, obviously, for their children. Immigrants are determined to make the most of any opportunity that arises in order to compensate for the substantial sacrifices they made by migrating. Indeed, numberless immigrant parents have expectations for their children’s lives that match or even exceed those of non-immigrant families. For instance, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) finds that parents of immigrant students in Belgium, Germany and Hungary are more likely to expect that their children will earn a tertiary degree than the parents of students without an immigrant background. This is remarkable, especially because immigrant students’ families tend to be more socio-economically disadvantaged than non-immigrant students. Immigrant students, themselves, possess ambitions for their own careers. Among the countries that participated in PISA 2006, immigrant students in 14 countries and economies were more likely than non-immigrant students to expect to be working as professionals or managers when they were 30. Furthermore, in 26 countries, immigrant students’ career and higher education expectations were similar to those held by non-immigrant students which emphasizes the interest inclined towards education and development.
Highly motivated students who succeed in overcoming the multiple disadvantages of discrimination, poverty and immigrant background have the potential to make incredible contributions to their host countries. In fact, PISA results show that, despite the considerable challenges and barriers they face, many immigrant students do succeed in school. Moreover, according to PISA, in Australia, Israel and the United States, the share of disadvantaged students who perform among the top quarter of all students who participated in PISA is larger among immigrant students than among non-immigrant students.
Immigrant students’ sense of belonging at school
An indicator of how well immigrant students are integrating into their new community, let alone their performance in school, is whether and to what extent they feel they belong in their new environment – and, for 15-year-olds, one of the most important social environments is school. In 2003 and 2012, PISA asked students whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed that they feel like they belong at school. The results varied widely, not only overall, but also in the extent to which first- and second-generation immigrant students were more or less likely than students without an immigrant background to feel that they belong at school. This highlights the idea that including immigrant children/students in public schools can only bring benefits, especially to their mental health and the overwhelming feeling of being included, being part of something.
Taking into consideration the students’ responses from 2012, the countries involved were divided into three distinct groups. In a first group, which includes the United Kingdom and the United States, first-generation immigrant students manifested a stronger sense of belonging at school than other students, while students without an immigrant background and second-generation immigrant students communicated a similar sense of belonging. In a second group of countries, which includes Argentina, Denmark, France and Mexico, second-generation immigrant students feel most isolated in their schools and have less of a sense of belonging than students without an immigrant background and first-generation immigrant students. In a third group of countries, which includes Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, integration appears to be promising and progressing, with second-generation immigrant students reporting a similar or almost similar sense of belonging at school as students without an immigrant background, and first-generation students reporting less of a sense of belonging.
To sum up, children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences. Moreover, public schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring young people together across racial and ethnic boundaries. Once formed, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors towards other groups are likely to remain constant during a lifetime. These things also guide children to evolve as individuals and prepare them to live, work and communicate cooperatively with others in this huge world, no matter where they originally come from.