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Kids who don't speak Danish at home 'may find school harder'

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Kids who don't speak Danish at home 'may find school harder'
Socioeconomic status - but also whether Danish is spoken at home - may affect kids' performance at school. Photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Socioeconomic status and whether Danish is spoken at home are both factors when it comes to school performance among students with immigrant backgrounds, the authors of a Danish report have concluded.

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School students with immigrant backgrounds generally perform worse than students with non-immigrant backgrounds but the difference has shrunk, a new Danish report has concluded.

The report which has the title “PISA Etnisk 2022”, follows on from this year’s earlier report on schools, Pisa 2022. It has special focus on children with “immigrant backgrounds” (defined as children whose parents were both born outside of Denmark) and was produced at the request of the Ministry of Education.

The reports were produced by research and analysis institute VIVE (National Research and Analysis Center for Welfare).

According to the report, some 40 percent of school students with immigrant backgrounds were considered to be underperforming in mathematics, reading and science. That compares to 16 percent of students with non-immigrant backgrounds.

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The difference in performance has shrunk in both maths and science but remained the same in reading, VIVE said in a summary of the report released on Thursday.

“The explanation of the smaller gap is not that students with immigrant backgrounds are now scoring better results – it’s because other students have dropped on average,” senior researcher Louise Beuchert says in the released summary.

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“Students with immigrant backgrounds have also dropped [in performance], but not by as much,” she added.

For all students, regardless of heritage, socioeconomic status is a factor in school performance. In other words, students from strong socioeconomic positions achieve better PISA results on average than those from weaker socioeconomic positions.

“There are more factors at play than just immigrant background,” as Beuchert puts it in the summary.

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Socioeconomic background, related to the educational and professional status of the parents, is therefore highly significant when it comes to PISA results.

“There’s a greater proportion of students with immigrant background which come from socioeconomically weaker homes, and that is a significant part of the explanation for why they score lower than other students,” Beuchert said.

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“When we take into account the socioeconomic background of the students and the language spoken at home, the average points different between students with and without immigrant background is halved,” she said.

The language spoken at home may also have an effect, with students who speak some Danish at home more likely to achieve better results – although this effect is reduced when socioeconomic status is taken into account.

The conclusions of the report state that “when the pupils' socio-economic background is taken into account, and partly whether Danish is spoken at home, the competence gap between pupils with and without an immigrant background is halved.”

An additional conclusion of the report is that the majority of students with immigrant backgrounds do well at schools and are supported by their teachers. However, non-immigrant background students have better feelings of belonging, particularly in relation to the extent to which they feel ‘at home’ at school.

PISA, which stands for Programme for International Student Assessment, is an international study of maths, reading and science skills among 15-year-old school students. Some 81 countries took part in the international study in 2022.

In Denmark, around 7,800 students from 347 schools took part, of which 10.7 percent are of immigrant background. It is this last segment which was the focus of the second Danish report produced by VIVE, PISA Etnisk 2022.

The 2022 PISA report was the eighth to be completed and also includes a review of trends since 2012.

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