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María Ángeles Sotés Elizalde, , Researcher at Institute for Culture and Society Universidad de Navarra

Immigration, cultural diversity and Education

Tue, 21 May 2013 11:30:00 +0000 Published in News Journal

Historically, the migratory phenomenon has involved factors related to cultural differences and social position, and it does not seem that the current globalized world is an exception. The difference between cultural diversity and social diversity is sometimes a very clear reality that influences the Degree social acceptance of foreigners. A foreigner will be considered an immigrant when his/her initial socioeconomic status is unfavorable compared to that of the native, and will have fewer possibilities of being socially recognized than another subject of foreigners, such as investors or managers of multinational companies. Both cases may be culturally diverse vis-à-vis the host society, but those in the second status will enjoy a similar or even higher socioeconomic status than average of the native population.

At the same time, and with great differences from one country to another, the social mobility resulting from migration for economic reasons, together with the recognition of the right to Education and the compulsory nature of the basic teaching , has made the increase of cultural diversity in schools an issue that education systems must incorporate, interpret and manage. On the occasion of the International Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and development, the Director-General of Unesco, Irina Bokova, says that "we must equip young generations with stronger intercultural competencies to learn to live together and to make the most of the multiplicity of cultures". There is no doubt that the educational center is one of the most suitable scenarios to contribute to the acquisition of these skills, especially through the intercultural Education .

Here it is necessary to remember, as Unesco itself has been saying for years, that the intercultural Education implies interacting in the center educational from the respect and through dialogue to generate, through the diverse contributions, new enriching forms for all. That is why more than once it has been defended the need that the intercultural Education does not remain only in the exchange of folkloric elements more or less acceptable by all, but not effective in terms of equalization in dignity and rights of the immigrant people.

But, since we are talking about educational centers, it is worth asking whether all this has anything to do with academic results? It is here that the issue takes on a tone closer to what we have previously called social diversity since, in general terms, it is possible to affirm that student body from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, as occurs in some cases with the immigrant population, is the one that presents the greatest risk of school failure.

Another fact, which perhaps goes more unnoticed, but which is of great pedagogical interest with respect to the immigrant student body , is that in all the countries participating in the 2003 Pisa project , this student body presented a motivation towards the programs of study similar or even higher than the native student body .

However, after almost ten years since this observation, it has not been possible to transform this equal or higher motivation of students from immigrant backgrounds into equal or higher academic results in percentage terms. This is an untapped potential that should be kept in mind and taken as a starting point for promote rectifying measures for this status. But the organic education laws, whether enacted or in the making, remain silent. In this sense, it is possible to put forward proposals for improvement with the help of immigrant associations. For example, there is no record that immigrant associations have submitted allegations to the draft bill currently being processed, as other types of associations have done. This can have more than one reading but, be that as it may, this lack of presence is not a good symptom for the topic that concerns us. Educational policies must arbitrate measures for equity, and not only in terms of results, but also in terms of the ability to choose post-compulsory programs of study and the opportunity to continue them under the same conditions as the native student body . Otherwise, legitimate vocational aspirations are being curtailed and talents that could contribute a great deal to society are being wasted.