School, youngsters, parents and neighbourhood: partners in the creation of an optimal school career. The case of youngsters with an immigrant background in the second grade of secondary education in Flanders (Antwerp, Ghent, Genk) with a special focus on Moroccan, Turkish, Polish and Chinese youngsters.
After consultation with significant stakeholders and social partners a consensus was found that the educational status and career of youngsters with an immigrant background in Flanders needs all our attention. Research shows these youngsters perform much worse than their Flemish counterparts. From kindergarten there is a clear difference and this gap only widens throughout primary and secondary education (Groenez, et al., 2003; Duquet, et al., 2006). The Flemish educational system is not able to counter the negative starting positions of many migrant youth. In close cooperation with relevant stakeholders we propose to focus on students in the second grade of secondary education.
This project proposal is driven by seven central aims. (1) to give an overview of the educational situation of migrant youth in Flanders, especially in Antwerp, Ghent and Genk; (2) to give an overview of the school career of all pupils of the second grade of secondary education in the selected cities (Antwerp, Ghent and Genk); (3) to study the impact of the individual socio-psychological factors on the school career; (4) to study the impact of the proximal processes in the family, the school, the peer groups and the neighbourhood on the school career; (5) to study the impact of the distant processes in the broader socio-cultural, political and economic context on the school career; (6) to contribute to the development of a better informed and balanced educational policy; (7) to contribute to local capacity building in the concerned schools and organisations
We opt for a theoretical framework that transcends the traditional agency/structure binary: individuals do construct their own lives, but they do this under certain conditions that are not always malleable to their own needs. Therefore, starting from the integrated embedded approaches as developed by Rumbaut & Portes (2001) and Epstein (1987) we try to understand and explain the school career of students taking into account the different institutional context students live in. We link micro level factors (pupils’ features, motivations and aspiration) to meso level factors (features of the family, the school, the peer groups and the neighbourhood) and to macro level factors (socio-cultural context, legal system and economy). This flexible theoretical and interdisciplinary framework guides the different stages of the research.
In this proposal we focus on four ethnic communities: two of the largest traditional migrant communities – the Turkish and Moroccan community – and two more recently established migrant communities – the Polish and Chinese community. Furthermore we conduct our research in three cities with an ethnic diverse population: Antwerp, Genk and Ghent. In each city we select three schools with a divers profile to encompass the existing diversity. Linked to each school a relevant neighbourhood is selected in which at least two of the ethnic communities under study are represented.
For our data collection we rely upon different resources and techniques which will be carried out by specific research teams (the Survey Team, the School Team and the Community Team). A literature review is the foundation of this research. In a second stage relevant existing quantitative databases will be analysed. New quantitative data will be gathered by a population survey of all students in the second grade of secondary education in the three selected cities which will be carried out by the Survey Team. Topics of interest are the current situation in the schools, the differences and similarities between the school career and school performance of migrant and Flemish youth, the composition of the schools and the motivations and aspirations of the students. For the qualitative data collection we use a variety of research techniques: autobiographical interviews, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation. Moreover, we apply two perspectives: (1) the School Team will focus upon the school as a key area of interest. In each school we interview pupils, schools personnel and other key figures from relevant organisations, we organize focus group discussions with pupils, pedagogic personnel and practitioners and conduct participant observation in the school; (2) the Community Team will focus on the community perspective by interviewing parents and community leaders, by organizing focus group discussions with peer groups and by conducting participant observation in youth organizations in each of the four selected communities (Chinese, Moroccan, Polish and Turkish).
The qualitative and quantitative data will be both analysed on a descriptive and on a interpretative level in order to explain the diversity in the school career and school performances of youth with an immigrant background. The interpretative analysis allow for the testing and by consequence refinement of the initial theoretical framework.
Flanders has a high quality educational system and offers a lot of opportunities to pupils and students. But not everyone participates in an equal way. The ‘democratization’ process of the educational system in Flanders, the goal of which was to increase access to all levels of education to all classes and groups in society, has only partially succeeded. Research shows there is a big gap between migrant youth and Flemish youth. Educational delay and school drop out is much higher for migrant youth. Many of them leave the educational system without a diploma. Flanders is faced with a major social problem.
Many stakeholders are affected by these problems and the pitfalls characterizing the school careers and school performances of migrant youth. To find solutions and to translate our research findings into applicable policy recommendations responsibles from the educational system, social and migrant organizations and policy makers need to be involved in our project. Therefore the first step we took was establishing a preliminary Action Platform composed of: responsibles of the educational system (educational networks, governing bodies of schools and school communities, pedagogical guidance institutions), social & migrant organizations, trade unions and policy makers. At this stage, it is their task to critically review the preparation of the research proposal, to offer feedback and to indicate which areas or problems need to be addressed most urgently.
The most important input of the Action Platform related to the research focus: the study of pupils from the second grade in secondary education. This appears to be a crucial period in the school career of many (migrant) youth, but academic knowledge on this area is scarce. A further concern of the stakeholders is the fragmentation and small scale of current projects aimed at ameliorating the school performance of migrant youth. A more coherent and substantiated approach is needed.
Therefore, in this research we expect to: (1) increase knowledge in an area of Western Europe’s changing demographical, socio-economic and cultural landscape, more specifically how youth with a migrant background – who increasingly become part of our society – integrates in, benefits from and shapes the educational system and becomes a crucial player in the construction of our future society; (2) identify the relative importance and interrelatedness of the impact of several institutions on a meso and a macro level in interaction with the agency of the subject on the school career of migrant youth; (3) increase knowledge on how migrant youth and their environment perceive their school career as it relates to broader society, their neighbourhood, their peers, family and the school; (4) construct a knowledge base to inform, analyze and evaluate the policy and governance implications of education policies in particular and labour market, welfare, migration and integration policies in general; (5) counter fragmentation of interventions; (6) identify future research topics.
Two concrete proposals concern the development of a school career monitoring system and a coaching manual.
(1) The school career monitoring system will provide an answer to the question: how do we identify risks for a problematic school career? The following tools will be developed and tested on their utility.
- The development of an individual school career form.
- The identification of indicators for a successful or problematic school career
- The creation of a risk prevention tool (RPT).
(2) A coaching manual for the guidance of individual pupils. The manual will
- map those factors that have a protecting influence as well as risk factors for a successful school career
- give a profile description of the pupil.
- set up a flow chart (or other methods) with possible study trajectories for secondary school (and further education) that fit in the situation and aspirations of the pupil.
- set up a procedure for an individual school trajectory with objectives in the near and more distant future.
The project uses several strategies for valorisation and transfer of knowledge.
Firstly, the most palpable are the series of concrete deliverables that are realised and disseminated during the lifetime of the project. In order to maximise the impact of the research findings, the dissemination strategy will use several instruments, targeted to several audiences: we construct a website, deliver a series of project Working Papers, organize expert seminars in regional and local settings, deliver policy oriented contributions, deliver feedback materials to institutions who were involved in the project, write popular publications, organize a round-up conference, and edit a conference book.
Secondly, we integrate two strategic bodies in our management structure, namely the Action Platform and the Policy and Scientific Committee that will, on the one hand, guarantee a permanent monitoring of the ongoing research by representative stakeholders in the subject under study, namely the educational situation of migrant youth, and, on the other hand, give immediate access to all relevant beneficiaries of this project through the networks of the stakeholders involved. The project has several assets to guarantee a successful strategy of valorisation: 1) we use an integrated multidisciplinary approach well embedded in societal networks; 2) we are kept informed of other national or international research activities, in particular by the establishment of the Policy & Scientific Committee in which renowned scholars are represented, 3) knowledge management is secured by the construction of a information database, our project website and close communication with the IWT, and 4) our goal to widely share the research findings and conclusions.
The strategy of valorisation wants to serve scholars, policymakers, stakeholders and practitioners in the field of the education of migrant youth, in its broadest sense, aimed ultimately at informing and influencing these audiences in order to approach or deal with the phenomenon of the precarious educational situation and future of migrant youth more adequately.
Duquet, N., I. Glorieux, I. Laurijssen & Van Dorsselaer, Y. (2006). Wit krijt schrijft beter. Schoolloopbanen van allochtone jongeren in beeld. Garant: Antwerpen-Apeldoorn.
Epstein, J.L. (1987). Toward a theory of family-school connections: Teacher practices and parent involvement. In K. Hurrelmann, F. Kaufmann & F. Losel (Eds.), Social intervention: Potential and constraints (pp. 121-136). New York: DeGruyter
Groenez S., Nicaise I. & Van den Brande I. (2003) Cijferboek sociale ongelijkheid in het Vlaams onderwijs. Een verkennend onderzoek op de Panelstudie van Belgische Huishoudens. Leuven: Steunpunt Loopbanen doorheen het onderwijs en in de overgang van school naar werk.
Rumbaut, RG and A Portes (2001): Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.