Highs & lows of immigrant education

New study suggests Canadian immigrant children underperforming in math and science

Shaljan Areepattamannil, Faculty of Education PhD candidate, says he thinks the public school system should cater to the needs of immigrant students.
Shaljan Areepattamannil, Faculty of Education PhD candidate, says he thinks the public school system should cater to the needs of immigrant students.
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A new Queen’s study finds that first-generation immigrant children perform well below average in math and science.

The study, completed by Faculty of Education PhD candidate Shaljan Areepattamannil, examined the academic results of 2,636 13-year-old, first-generation immigrant students from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Areepattamannil said the results show first-generation immigrant students may be struggling within Canadian school systems.

The students who participated in the study were primarily from countries in Asia, such as India and China, where instruction is often based on rote memorization unlike in Canada, he said.

“They aren’t properly integrated into schools,” he said. “They’re new to Canada and there are problems with their English language proficiency.” Areepattamannil said he thinks the large number of immigrant students in Canadian schools makes it crucial for educators to learn about this trend and do everything they can to change it.

“Three out of five kids are immigrants in Canadian [elementary and high] schools,” he said, adding that he thinks the public school system should cater to the needs of immigrant students.

“First and foremost, there should be a complete overhaul of the curriculum … to take into consideration the importance of culturally-responsive instruction,” he said.

Students who participated in the study come from more than 190 countries, speaking a total of more than 90 different languages, Areepattamannil said.

The study’s results contradict those obtained by a similar study run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2003.

The OECD study, called Where Immigrant Students Succeed: A Comparative Review of Performance and Engagement in PISA 2003, said first-generation immigrant students and first-generation Canadians in the country were performing well in school based on their scores for the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

In the OECD study, students’ performance on math assessments averaged more than 500 points.

Areepattamannil analysed the results of immigrant students who took part in the 2007 TIMSS.

The data showed that those students’ science and mathematics results were substantially below the TIMSS 500 point average.

The TIMSS assessment in 2007 was only administered in three Canadian provinces, he said.

He’s submitted a proposal to conduct a postdoctoral study about the academic motivations and achievement of immigrant adolescents.

Pending review with the Canadian Journal of School of Psychology, Areepattamannil said he plans to extend his study across Canada.

Areepattamannil said he had personal motivations for conducting the study.

“I, myself, am a landed immigrant from India,” he said, adding that he came to Canada in 2004. “I have a son who is a first-generation immigrant student in Grade 8, so I’ve always been wondering what would be happening to students who are newcomers to Canada.”

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