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Green Paper on the education of children from migrant backgrounds

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Green Paper on the education of children from migrant backgrounds

This Green Paper launches a public consultation on the education policy for children coming from migrant backgrounds. It addresses the educational situation of these children, the policy challenges this situation poses and how these challenges may be tackled at the national and European levels.


Green Paper of 3 July 2008 – Migration and mobility: challenges and opportunities for EU education systems [COM(2008) 423 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


This Green Paper launches a public consultation on the education policy for children from a migrant background. The issues addressed in the consultation are the policy challenges and the possible responses to these challenges, the European Union’s (EU) role with regard to the latter and the future of Directive 77/486/EEC on the education of the children of migrant workers.

For the purpose of this Green Paper, the term “children from a migrant background” refers to all persons who are living in an EU Member State other than the one where they were born. This includes EU citizens as well as third-country nationals.

The educational challenge

The number of children from a migrant background, who face linguistic and cultural differences and are in a weak socio-economic position, has escalated in schools in the past years. Hence, this has become a great challenge for European education systems. They must continue to provide high quality and equitable education, while catering for the needs of a more diverse population. Education is key to integration and employability. The failure of the systems to meet this challenge may provoke deepening social divisions, cultural segregation and inter-ethnic conflicts.

The high number of children from a migrant background poses a challenge to education at several levels:

  • classroom and school: the diversity of mother tongues, cultural points of view and skills need to be accommodated, teaching skills adapted and connections created between migrant families and communities;
  • school systems: disparities between schools due to segregation based on socio-economic situation need to be avoided.

In comparison to their peers, many of the children coming from migrant backgrounds have lower levels of school performance. There are fewer migrant children enrolling in pre-primary and higher education. Furthermore, the share of early school leavers is much higher among these children. In some countries, these issues have worsened from the first to second generation migrants, indicating that education systems are failing to promote integration.

The educational disadvantage experienced by children from a migrant background is related to several factors. Some factors are linked to the individual situation of learners, such as:

  • their socio-economic situation;
  • the loss of value of their knowledge or the lack of recognition of their qualifications;
  • the lack of proficiency in the host language;
  • the low expectations of the families and communities;
  • the absence of role models.

However, data also show that some countries succeed better than others in reducing the gap between migrant and native pupils, thus demonstrating that policies may significantly influence school performance. Segregation, for instance, is a downward spiral that affects children’s motivation and performance. Ability grouping may bear similar effects. Also, the degree to which teachers are prepared to deal with diversity and are ambitious for their pupils may condition results.

The policy responses to the challenge

The policies and approaches identified as best addressing the challenge are those that prioritise equity in education and that comprehensively cover all levels and strands of the education system.

The Member States have adopted particular policy approaches to specific aspects of the educational challenge, such as:

  • provisions that promote the learning of the host and heritage languages;
  • targeted support in the form of quotas, scholarships and grants to migrants and schools;
  • supplementary educational support and second chance and adult education;
  • prevention strategies to ensure integrated education;
  • training of teachers in order to guarantee quality standards;
  • intercultural education.

The EU’s role

While education policy remains a national competence, Member States have indicated their interest in collaborating with each other on the issue of migrant children’s inclusion. To this end, the Commission can play the role of a facilitator. In fact, the EU has already taken steps that affect Member States’ policies, in particular through the:

Furthermore, the Commission will propose a new framework for the Open Method of Coordination for Education and Training, which provides the Member States with a forum for collaboration.

Finally, the future role of Directive 77/486/EEC in national education policies is also addressed in the consultation. The issues of implementation and scope of the Directive have surfaced and its added-value in educational policy-making has been questioned. Thus, the possibility of amending, repealing or replacing the Directive with alternative approaches will be considered.

The Green Paper provides guiding questions for the consultation, which will remain open until 31 December 2008. The conclusions of the consultation will be published in 2009.

See also

  • For further information, please visit the Migration and Education website of the European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture.

Last updated: 17.10.2008