Research objectives and questions
Improving the education of immigrant students has been identified as a policy priority internationally (OECD, 2010) as well as in Ireland (Taguma, Kim, Wurzburg & Kelly, 2009; Smyth, Darmody, McGinity & Byrne 2009). Today, around 25 million persons born in a third country are living in the European Union (EU), representing 5 per cent of its population (Jacobs, 2013). Social transformation in the Republic of Ireland has been particularly notable, as a result of large-scale immigration of non-Irish nationals during a recent period of significant economic growth, otherwise known as the Celtic Tiger. Between 2006 and 2011 the number of non-Irish nationals living in Ireland increased by 30 per cent (CSO, 2012, 33). In 2011, immigrants represented nearly 200 different nationalities (CSO, 2012) and migrant children accounted for about 8 per cent of the total child population in Ireland (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2012, 29). Over three quarters of newcomer students at primary, and over 70% at post-primary level, have a first language other than English (Smyth, Darmody, McGinity & Byrne, 2009).
The significant population and accompanying social changes have fueled ongoing debates about the compatibility of publicly funded denominational schools (90% of Irish primary schools are Catholic) with growing religious diversity and secularism (Darmody & Smyth, 2013; Faas, Darmody & Sokolowska, 2015). Recent European (Donlevey, Meierkord & Rajania, 2016) and Irish (Heinz & Keane, 2015; Keane & Heinz, 2015) research has also highlighted the mismatch between an increasingly diverse student cohort and consistently homogenous teacher populations.
Within this context of rapid diversification of Irish society which, currently, contrast starkly with a homogenous (White Irish (Settled), Catholic) teaching body (Heinz, 2011, 2013; Keane & Heinz, 2016), this paper discusses school experiences and social integration of immigrant students. In doing so, it draws on the national longitudinal Growing Up in Ireland study (http://www.esri.ie/growing-up-in-ireland/).
Specifically, the paper will address the following research questions:
1. To what extent does social engagement in school (with other students and teachers) differ between immigrant and native students once differences in home/family background, school and child characteristics are controlled for? Do these experiences vary by religious background?
2. To what extent does social self-image differ between immigrant and native students, all else being equal?
3. To what extent does social integration (defined here by liking school, friendships, interactions with teachers, self-reported behaviour, experience of bullying) differ between immigrant and native-born Irish children, all else being equal?
Our analyses will pay attention to the potential impact of school types (i.e. denominational or not, disadvantaged status or not) and school ethos/climate on childrens social integration. Ultimately, the research aims to explore factors (student background and school-level) predicting positive/high level of social integration in school.
The field of sociology defines integration as a process of developing a society in which all the social groups share the socioeconomic and cultural life (Lockwood, 1964). Social integration is particularly relevant in the context of immigration (Bosswick & Heckmann, 2008) and settling into the new educational system of the host country is viewed as an integral part of integration of migrant children and their families (Gitlin et al. 2003). Despite migrants high educational expectations and optimism for their children, disadvantage occurs, at least in part, due to the devaluation of the human, cultural and linguistic capital of the new arrivals (Darmody, McGinnity & Kingston, 2016).
This paper will explore school experiences and engagement as an important dimension of social integration impacting childrens education and future life opportunities.
Methods and Methodology
Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) is a Government-funded panel study of children, carried out jointly by the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin. The main aim of the study is to paint a full picture of children in Ireland and how they are developing in the current social, economic and cultural environment. The Child Cohort is made up of just over 8,500 children who were selected randomly through the National School system. Information was collected from the children, their parent(s)/guardian(s), school teachers, principals, and childminders (where relevant). Data collection for Wave One of the Child Cohort took place at age 9 (from September 2007 to June 2008) followed by Wave 2 at age 13 (from August 2011 to March 2012).
To answer the research questions exploratory analyses of GUI data will initially be carried out using cross-tabulations and ANOVAs to ascertain which factors are of most interest when looking at school experience and social engagement, social self-image and ethnic and religious diversity (e.g. child background, family context and school characteristics). Regression models will then be developed to examine the impact of childrens ethnic and/or religious backgrounds on their level of social integration in school, taking account of other child (i.e. gender, parents education, linguistic background, whether born in Ireland, temparament) and school factors (i.e. school type denominational or not, disadvantaged status or not, and school ethos/climate).
The analysis focuses, primarily, on primary school children at nine years of age considering the predominance of denominational schools at primary level in Ireland. The longitudinal nature of GUI will allow us to observe changes in social integration in school between 9 and 13 years.
Children reported how much they liked school and how many close friends they had. Relationships with friends were measured using the inventory of parent and peer attachment (Armsden & Greenber, 1987). Children reported their experiences of various interactions with teachers (e.g. you are told by the teacher that your work is good, you are encouraged to answer questions in class) as well as their behaviour and experience with school sanctions (e.g. I was late for school, I got into trouble for not following school rules). Finally, children and parents reported on experiences of bullying, forms of bullying experienced, and the perceived reasons for the bullying.
Childrens social self-image was measured using the Piers Harris II, School Status and Popularity Sub-scales (Piers & Herzberg, 2007).
Our initial analysis of national Census data will show increased diversity in denominational groups, as well as change in the number of residents who do not belong to any organised faith group. It will also demonstrate the heterogeneity of the immigrant population in Ireland in terms of countries of origin. We will pay special attention to school-aged children and changes in their ethnic and religious profiles.
Based on existing international literature it is expected that students experiences at school, especially whether they experience high or low integration, are influenced by a number of micro (student-level) and meso (school-level) factors. To what extent immigrant and religious background play a role will be investigated in this paper. While the analysis differentiates between different types of schools (demominational or not), it is expected that it is not the school type per se, but social climate in the school that influences student engagement and promotes successful integration.
Our investigation conceptualises minority ethnic and religious backgrounds as a relatively new dimension of inequality in Ireland and aims to contribute to a better understanding of how children from minority backgrounds navigate and experience school as they engage with other students and teachers. The exploration of similarities and differences as well as relationships between native and newcomer children in Ireland is closely connected to research enhancing our understanding of identity formation and belonging in an increasingly culturally diverse Europe. In particular, this papers focus will extend previous investigations by critically examining social integration within a largely denominational (Catholic) school system. Comparisons with similar studies conducted in other international and predominantly secular educational contexts can contribute to evidence-based policy formation in Ireland and further afield.
Findings will have implications for education and social policy and practice, particularly with regard to social integration, equity and teacher education.
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