Immigrant students’ academic performance in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore

Year: 2014

Author: Asma, Akther, Julie, Robinson

Type of paper: Refereed paper

  Background: Education systems in most countries are now responsible for ensuring that large and diverse populations of immigrant students develop the academic skills and knowledge. Past research indicates that immigrants to the USA and Western Europe show a disadvantage in academic achievement that persists into the second generation. In contrast, an immigrant advantage is often seen in countries with selective immigration policies. This paper examines whether adolescent immigrants to four countries with selective migration policies continue to show an academic advantage in the most recent data from the Program for International Assessment (PISA), whether the advantage applies equally across academic domains, and whether any advantage can be attributed to greater access to five personal and teacher-related academic resources. Method: There were 3 comparison groups (1) First-generation immigrant students (I1, child and both parents born overseas; (2) second-generation immigrant students (I2, child born in test country, both parents born overseas); (3) native-born students (N, child and both parents born in test country).  Nationally representative samples of 15-year-old students were assessed in Australia (I1: n =1170; I2: n =1233; N: n = 8430), New Zealand (I1: n = 681; I2: n =376 ; N: n = 2346), Canada (I1: n = 1752; I2: n = 1953; N: n = 14687), and Singapore (I1: n = 663; I2: n = 307; N: n = 3331). Students completed measures of their ability to apply reading, mathematics and science skills to real-life tasks, and five resources: positive teacher-student relations, academic support from teachers, positive student attitudes towards learning outcomes and activities, and a sense of belonging to their school. Results: In Australia and Singapore, first- and second-generation immigrant students showed an advantage in all three subjects.  In New Zealand and Canada, the pattern of performance differed across academic domains, but in all cases first- and second-generation immigrants showed performance similar or superior to than that of native-born students. This is not the case for Singapore. In all countries, the pattern of academic advantage of first- and second-generation immigrant students remained after statistically adjusting for individual differences in the five academic resources. Conclusion: Recent PISA data confirm that first- and second- generation immigrants to countries with selective immigration policies show academic performance similar/superior to that of native-born students, that this is not an artefact of greater access to five personal and teacher-related resources, but that the advantage is not always seen in all academic subjects.