Refugee Children in Sweden Do Better in School than Refugee Children in Denmark
10 Sep 2020
Refugee children arriving in the Nordic countries at a late school age achieve better school results in Sweden than in Denmark. This is the conclusion of new research findings from the Nordic CAGE project, in which several researchers from the University of Copenhagen participate.
The significant increase in the number of refugees arriving in the Nordic countries in recent years has brought focus on the education of refugee children and youth. In general, refugee young people who arrive in the Nordic countries at a late school age do less well in school than their peers. But there is also a significant difference between the Nordic countries. Refugee children living in Sweden show the best school results, while Denmark and Finland demonstrate the poorest school results among refugee children compared to the children in the general population.
This is the conclusion of new research findings highlighted in two new scientific reports: a report based on harmonised register data on refugee children in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden who arrived during 1986-2005, and another report based on qualitative research carried out in schools and classrooms in Norway.
These newly launched reports are part of the large, cross-disciplinary Nordic research project ‘Coming of Age in Exile’ (CAGE) on the health, education and labour market affiliation of refugee young people, and on how the different conditions and efforts in the Nordic countries affect their course of life. The register study reveals that refugee children in the Nordic countries do less well in school than their peers.
‘For example, the study’s findings show that more refugee children drop out of school, and that their average marks in primary and lower secondary school are lower than those of majority children born in the Nordic countries. However, the study also reveals that the gap in school outcomes between refugee children and majority children is smaller in Sweden than in Denmark and Finland’, says Assistant Professor Christopher de Montgomery from the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.
‘Denmark and Finland have the poorest school results for refugee children in both primary and lower secondary education as well as in upper secondary education, also when divided into the children’s country of origin and age at the time of arrival’.
Differences Between the Nordic Countries
The reason why refugee children living in Sweden do so well and show only a minor difference in school results compared to children in the Swedish population in general may be that Sweden is the Nordic country, which has the longest history of immigration and is more experienced in receiving refugee and migrant children. Another contributing factor to the better results in Sweden could be the high level of early-integrated living and schooling in Sweden leading to a better and earlier training in the majority language in contrast to a more separate asylum period in the other Nordic countries.
The qualitative study shows that schools and teachers have varying, and often insufficient, knowledge and competence of how to relate appropriately to a diverse group of refugee students with multifaceted needs. School staff interviewees tend to focus more on educational than psychosocial issues when commenting on young refugees’ challenges in school. A recurring statement is that school first and foremost is an educational, and not a care, institution. However, several of the teachers who acknowledge the school’s role in promoting young refugees’ psychosocial well-being, express a need for more competence in psychosocial issues.
‘Some school staff members describe their approach as learning about the field as they go along. One of the interviewed teachers points out that a consequence of the lack of qualifications in schools and among teachers is that a system problem erroneously becomes the individual student’s problem’, says Associate Professor Signe Smith Jervelund from the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.
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