diversity in classrooms
Schools and politicians are looking into ways to support diversity in classrooms. Source: Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Migration is rising around the world and reshaping societies, making the topic of diversity in classrooms a pertinent topic for educators.

Last year, the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) said the number of international migrants has reached 272 million, outpacing the growth rate of the world’s population.

The global number was at 221 million in 2010.

Immigration has many impacts and education is no exception. In classrooms, the rising number of migrants means both students and teachers are being exposed to diversity more than ever. 

Can diversity in classrooms affect student learning outcomes?

A report by The Local Denmark said a Danish study from 2011 found that the average grades of children in a class is negatively affected when the proportion of bilingual children in that class exceeds 50 percent.

This is echoed by Pisa’s findings, which found that children with non-immigration backgrounds who attend schools with over 40 percent bilingual students fare worse than equivalents at schools where the proportion is less than 10 percent.

Quoting Mikkel Høst Gandil, an assistant professor at the University of Oslo’s Economics institute, via a report in Politiken, Gandil said that the figures should not necessarily “be interpreted as the effect of going to school with many bilingual children”.

“The study cannot tell whether a specific child would fare better if the number of immigrant-background children in her school fell,” he was quoted saying, adding that the difference in results does not occur if differences in social conditions between students at the same schools are taken into account, he said.

What can schools learn from Copenhagen’s efforts?

According to Politiken, via The Local Denmark, Copenhagen has been stepping up efforts to to evenly distribute children with Danish and minority ethnic backgrounds in its schools since 2010.

They said that in 2010, 16 schools in the capital – or one in four – had a ratio of over 50 percent for children termed “bilingual,” meaning a language other than Danish is spoken in their home environments.

That number has been reduced to nine schools in the city, ensuring there is more even even spread between schools in Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Municipality said the composition of schoolgoers’ backgrounds is important as bilingual children fare worse at school than ethnically Danish children, on average.

“This is a pleasing development. We want Copenhagen to be a city in which the places where we live and go to school and daycare is mixed. We think this has a big impact with respect to integration and opportunity,” said Social Democrat councillor Jesper Christensen, who heads the municipality’s children and youth committee, to Politiken.

The municipality has given greater flexibility in allowing children – especially those from minority ethnic backgrounds – to attend schools other than their local district school.

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