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Migrant parents show the way to better Australian school results


Australia can learn from migrant families in our efforts to arrest the nation’s falling educational performance, writes Andrea Michaels.

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It’s a worry to see research showing Australian kids sliding down the charts against other countries, as well as stalled NAPLAN results. But cries to increase funding only address part of the problem. What’s needed is a much broader approach, including examining some of the social and cultural issues that could be at the heart of the problem.

Interestingly, new research shows children from migrant families are doing better than many other students in the key areas of numeracy and literacy. Why is that?

As a child of a migrant family myself, I have some ideas. It has less to do how much government money is spent and more to do with migrant attitudes to education and parental expectations.

I’m not talking about tiger mums or “cram schools”. I can’t see that occurring in sufficient numbers to affect the stats around migrant kids doing better, and not all of them study until midnight every day of the week.

Rather, parental attitudes, just as much as teacher input, ingrain a belief that education is valuable and that, with effort, you will achieve something.

Parents of migrant children have often suffered a difficult journey from countries where schooling may have been a privilege, or at least was regarded as a privilege.

Understandably, these parents want a better life for their children. Education is the key to a good future.

My own parents, both refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds and not university-educated themselves, provided me with a real belief that I could succeed with hard work.

They believed education was important and so I believed that too. That’s a common experience in many migrant families and I think that’s why children from those backgrounds often seem to do well.

But this kind of support and belief in the value of education doesn’t happen in every household. Not everyone is born with parents who are equipped or motivated to provide them with the guidance to achieve their best.

What I’m talking about is the very real link between social disadvantage and poor outcomes at school. That’s where we need more attention and it’s where the lessons learned from migrant achievements can be helpful.

It’s not all about funding: the government has increased spending on education yet the results still don’t seem to be improving.

ABS stats show in 2014/15 $43,279 million was spent on primary and secondary education, an increase of $4,169m in just 5 years, but our placing on NAPLAN and the international PISA tests continues to slide.

We need to take a village approach; we need to encourage parents in disadvantaged areas to assist their children at home in the way migrant families have been doing for years.

It’s about building optimum learning environments.

Evidence shows children of parents who have greater involvement in their child’s schooling do better. That means doing what many of us taken for granted: helping with homework, reading to children regularly, talking to kids about educational opportunities beyond school and career possibilities, and generally engaging with what’s happening in the classroom in both primary and secondary school.

In many cases, this means helping families to believe their kids can achieve and make a positive future for themselves. It’s not good enough to blame schools or teachers.

We need to facilitate mentoring programs, provision of books and resources and provide greater encouragement to caregivers.

The curriculum needs to be looked at and de-cluttered.  There are many “life skills” now taught in school that used to be the parents’ job. A stronger focus on the basics will serve kids well in the future.  Auto-correct can only do so much, no matter what my son says!

Schools might need more support in terms of specialist learning teachers who can help those who are struggling and, in some cases, qualified psychologists on-site to help with the increasing number of social problems many of our children are now facing.

There would be benefits in providing more direct links to TAFEs and universities to help students make the connection between what they are doing at school and their future working life. This is likely to become even more important in the future with the changing job market.

As I reflect on my own educational experiences, and as an employer of young South Australian graduates, I think the best Christmas present I could get this year would be knowing more students can access the same opportunities I had.

We need to understand that education can change lives.

It’s my hope that more young people will benefit from increased support from their school, parents and the whole community. That’s certainly at the top of my wish list.

Andrea Michaels is the managing director of South Australian commercial law firm NDA Law and a regular contributor to InDaily.


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