Migrant parents, children and schools face significant challenges in Ireland with the youngsters facing a shared sense of dislocation, according to a new book.
While some young children can take the migration experience in their stride, others face a number of challenges as result of moving country, says the book, The Changing Faces of Ireland, edited by Merike Darmody, Naomi Tyrell and Steve Song.
Reasons for migration differ. While some children and young people are active participants in the migration process, others have little say in the decision to move to a new country. Some migrant students experience racism at school.
First generation migrant children, but not returning emigrants, report lower life satisfaction and poorer relationships with fellow students, compared to second generation child migrants.
For many migrant families maintaining home culture and values and transmitting them to their children remains important, the book points out.
Multilingualism is an increasingly common reality in Ireland. Mixed marriages have resulted in a situation where some children are exposed to two or more languages at birth. Where more than one language is spoken in the family, parents have started expressing a need for information on how to raise their plurilingual children and have subsequently set up support groups.
Low proficiency in English can act as a barrier for migrant parents to meaningful participation in school and their child’s educational activities. Subsequently some parents experience difficulties in understanding the organisation and policies of the school, sometimes using their children as mediators.
Second language proficiency is important for academic success and social integration of migrant children. So far, the main focus in Ireland has been on providing migrant children with additional support in learning English. However, maintaining and developing heritage languages is equally important in terms of communication within minority language families and migrant communities. Non-recognition of the heritage languages may also have implications for feelings of belonging in school.
Teachers are seen as the primary sources of support and information for learning by many migrant students. Teachers can empower minority language students by incorporating the student’s first language and culture into their teaching approaches.
Supporting migrant students should not just be the responsibility of language support teachers but a whole school approach. In this respect, both teacher education and in-service training of teachers in addressing the needs of an increasingly diverse student body is crucial.
Teachers often feel ill prepared to address issues of race and racism in their classrooms, indicating gaps in teacher education programmes. The school curriculum does not adequately address growing diversity among the student population and can largely be characterised as Eurocentric.
In general, migrant children are perceived by teachers as highly motivated and hard workers. Migrant children have good relationships with teachers. Well-being scores for migrant children are higher compared with the children of their Irish neighbours in more disadvantaged areas in Dublin.