pupils in a classroom

Seeing the individual crucial for newly arrived students to succeed in school

Establishing good relations between teachers and newly arrived students, seeing every student as unique, and having an individual plan for every student. These are three important factors in the work with newly arrived students in upper secondary school, shows a new study from Linnaeus University.

Since 2015, more than 70 000 children and young people have come to Sweden, more than half of them unaccompanied, according to the Swedish Migration Agency. This has been a great challenge for the Swedish school system.

A new research study deals with several aspects of the integration of these young people in school. Together with two pedagogues, Goran Basic, associate professor at Linnaeus University, has analysed teachers’ stories about successes and obstacles in the work with newly arrived students in upper secondary school.

Three important factors

The study points out three factors that are important to be successful in this work. These concern both organisational and practical work, and they are all about seeing the individual, means Basic.

“It is about establishing good relations between teachers and newly arrived students. To not see newly arrived students as a homogenous group, but instead seeing every student as unique, and to take into account each student’s experiences of education and school in the home country. And, lastly, to establish a suitable and individual plan for every student, which can be carried out within the framework of the student’s presence at upper secondary school”, Basic explains.

Education is one of the most important opportunities for newly arrived students to, with the help of teachers, restore a positive view of themselves and, thus, has great potential from a social pedagogy perspective. The teachers in the study also talk about obstacles in their work. Among other things, the sometimes high absence from school among newly arrived students is described as a major problem.

“Then there is also the view that newly arrived students do not get the support that they are entitled to according to Swedish law. One can also see an imbalance in the implementation of the twofold mission of upper secondary schools, namely knowledge and socialisation”, Basic continues.

Language a power factor

The study also shows how teachers can use language as a power factor, to reinforce the higher status they have in the world of school compared to their students.

“These interactions give teachers the opportunity to control and even subdue newly arrived students who, sometimes, are also in the middle of a struggle for confirmation in the school context. The teachers’ interpretation of the students’ powerlessness can set the agenda for how the newly arrived should act in order to fit in to the prevailing order in school”, Basic explains.

Thus, to a great extent, a teacher’s approach is decisive for how newly arrived students are included in school, means Basic. However, it is not only a matter of personal commitment.

“An inclusive approach places demands on how upper secondary schools organise their work with newly arrived students. Another thing that is of importance is what support and maneuvering possibilities teachers and other actors in school are given in their practical work with newly arrived students.”

What about the didactics?

An interesting question that came up during the study is how much importance is ascribed to didactical reasoning in the practical work, that is to say; the teaching and how it is organised.

“What should newly arrived students learn? What is the objective of the teaching? How can you motivate newly arrived students to learn this? It would be interesting to study how these didactical questions are being handled, both in theory and in the practical actions of the teachers”, Basic concludes.

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