Immigration can improve our schools and our economy, say former US and UK Education Ministers

22 Mar 2017 |

The effect of immigration on a country’s education system is often framed in negative terms. The overburdening of already strained schools and the challenges of language and culture are often the focus.

To really appreciate the full picture, though, it is vital that we recognise the benefits too according to the former Education Ministers of the United States and United Kingdom.

Rising standards

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education in the UK, told the Global Education & Skills Forum that there were, of course, challenges. Rising class sizes and shortages of school places being two of the major ones. But, he said, the benefits could also be significant.

“There’s lots of evidence that London becoming diverse has contributed to educational standards rising. Many of the children whose parents have come in recent years have extraordinarily high expectations of the state system. Some of the most demanding parents and some of the most involved parents are those who come from… they might be refugees from Somalia or Kosovo, but they want their children to succeed in Britain as British citizens”

National identity

Mr Gove said that immigrant parents had very high expectations of schools academically but also as institutions that gave people a sense of ‘Britishness’.

As a more balanced approach to immigration was adopted, he said, people should be encouraged to recognise that immigration has in some cases brought a drive towards higher standards.

Arne Duncan, former US Secretary of Education also recognised that there were obvious costs to immigration. But he said it was vital that a nuanced approach was adopted and that the benefits were also recognised.

“We are a nation built by immigrants. Immigrants come to our country seeking a better life for their kids which by definition means a better education that they didn’t have.”

“No one wakes up in the morning and says ‘I want to be a refugee’. That’s no one’s aspiration, they’re fleeing for their lives.”

High tech talent

Mr Duncan said that those unsure of the benefits to the wider economy should look no further than the US tech industry.

“A quarter of Silicon Valley CEOs are immigrants. Yes, there are challenges, there are costs. But there is a wealth of talent and hard work and entrepreneurial skills and innovation that we desperately need.”

You can watch this session in full here:

Education Past Present and Future: An Audience With Michael Gove and Arne Duncan from Global Education & Skills Forum on Vimeo.

The Global Education and Skills Forum is took place on 18th and 19th March 2017 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we make ‘real’ global citizens?”