Global context

Migration has become a feature of the modern, global landscape. According to the United Nations, 14 per cent of the world’s estimated 258 million migrants are children and young people (UNCF, 2017).As in many other countries, migrant populations in Scotland, Finland and Sweden have increased substantially in recent years, with increased numbers of migrants who identify as asylum seekers or refugees.

This increase in migration has put considerable strain on receiving school systems in many countries. Countries have differing policy approaches to the education of migrants, arising from historical or contextual factors. While there are some similarities between Scotland, Finland and Sweden in this respect, it is important to understand the dynamics and effects of different systems, approaches and resources, in order to gain greater understanding.

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Summary of Scottish Context by Dr. Helen Packwood, University of Edinburgh

The population of Scotland is changing. It has experienced sustained growth over the past twenty years with the current population estimated to be around 5.46 million people. This population growth is driven by net migration to Scotland. In 2019, there were approximately 388,000 non-British nationals living in Scotland, accounting for 7 per cent of the population. Of these 388,000 people, 60 per cent were EU nationals and 40 per cent were non-EU nationals.

In recent years the process of devolution has allowed Scotland to gain a degree of autonomy from the UK Parliament. It currently has responsibility for a range of areas including education, health, justice, housing, the environment, transport and taxation but not, migration policy. Despite this, the Scottish Government has stated that it views immigration as an important driver to meet Scotland’s economic needs and has spoken out against the current UK immigration and asylum system.

This sets the context for increasing diversity within Scottish schools. There are estimated to be around 700,000 pupils in publicly funded schools in Scotland, of these around 62,000 pupils (9 per cent) had a home language other than English. The annual Scottish School Census provides information on ethnicity and language but does not collect data on pupils’ country of birth or nationality which can make it difficult to estimate the numbers of children and young people with a recent migration background.

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Even though the number of migrants in Finland is small compared to many other European countries, recent global changes such as migration, mobility and transnationalism have led to increasing diversification in Finland and this has also had an impact on the number of migrant students in schools.  At present, about 8 % of the population of Finland has a foreign background and of these, Russian-speakers make up the largest immigrant group, followed by those speaking Estonian, Arabic, English and Somali.

While there are several initiatives aimed at raising awareness of diversity in early childhood and comprehensive education, based on research evidence, there are also many educational and social challenges to be tackled, which have an impact on the lives of young migrants.  These include the numbers of young migrant students who complete all the years of compulsory education, which is significantly lower than native-born students, and with lower levels of achievement. This is true of first and second generation migrant students. There is also variability between schools in the numbers of migrants and stabilization of practices. This variability also has an effect on teachers, some of whom feel insufficiently prepared to meet the changes and challenges in their practice.

When discussing schools’ success in integrating students with a migrant background, several factors having to do with both policy and practices need to be discussed. From the policy level point of view, Finnish government education policy and legislation guarantee equal opportunities to education to all Finnish residents, including those of migrant status. The curriculum aims not only to support each student’s linguistic and cultural identity and the development of mother tongue, but also recognises the importance of multilingualism in school communities across the curriculum.

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Sweden is a country of immigration with 10, 3 million inhabitants about 17% of whom are foreign-born. In 2015 and 2016 along with other countries in Europe, Sweden witnessed the arrival of a relatively large number of refugees. More than 1, 3 million people (Górczyńska 2020) came to the Greek islands and Italian ports after a risky journey through the Mediterranean Sea in order to reach Western- and Northern Europe.

In 2015, around 163,000 refugees applied for asylum in Sweden. Around 100,000 children applied for asylum between 2015 and 2019; 41, 000 of these were unaccompanied minors . As of 2020, about 7 percent of all students in elementary school (age 7-15) had arrived in Sweden in the previous four years. They are unevenly distributed among 290 municipalities in Sweden.

The Swedish government introduced some organizational and pedagogical supporting measures in elementary schools for newly arrived students (age 7-15) including mandatory mapping and screening, individual study plans and adjusted curriculum (age 13-15), stronger support through mother-tongue and professional development in Swedish as a second language for teachers. However, a strict migration policy, socio-economic status, lack of resources and institutional regulations make proper implementation of some of these promising educational policies difficult to achieve.

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