Immigrant students more likely to be bullied

The effects of bullying are much harder on immigrant students in Ireland than in most other countries, important new research shows.  

Although frequent bullying of students with an immigrant background is relatively low compared to in other countries, the impact is significant.

The 18% of 15-year-old immigrant students in Ireland who are regularly bullied is nearly five percentage points more than the figure for native students.

That difference is in line with the average across the EU, but slightly higher than that in 50 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Whereas the adverse effect on life satisfaction and sense of belonging of immigrant students across the OECD was 11%, it was far higher here. Those students in Ireland were 30pp less likely than native students to feel like they belong at school and 24pp less likely to be satisfied with their life.

“Their bullying played a considerable role in decreasing the social and emotional resilience of immigrant students,” states the OECD report.

There was also a significant effect on young immigrants’ wellbeing here among the relatively low proportion who reported unfair treatment by their teachers. The 50% who did so was 5pp more than the number of native students, but those immigrant students were 16pp less likely to feel satisfied with life or to feel like they belong at school.

“Evidence shows that poor teacher-student relations have a strong impact on several aspects of students’ wellbeing as well as on their academic performance,” states the report.

This reflects findings in several national studies of second-level students’ experiences, which show that school atmosphere and relationships with teachers are strongly linked to student performance and wellbeing.

Overall, however, the OECD’s analysis of 15-year-olds’ responses to questions during its 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests suggests Ireland’s above-average growth in immigrant students has not created major disadvantages.

For example, they are more likely than counterparts in most other developed countries to reach basic academic standards. And among teenagers globally with an immigrant background, they are among the most motivated to achieve well in their studies and careers.

An exception is found on the question of anxiety about school work, as the numbers who worry ahead of tests — even where they are well prepared — are much higher than in most other countries.

With no significant difference between them and native students on this topic, the finding may be a further indication of the general anxiety around testing felt by students in Ireland.

It could also reflect the higher ambitions felt by immigrant students here than overseas counterparts. For example, Ireland is in a small minority of countries where immigrant students are more likely than natives to have expectations of getting a third-level qualification and becoming a manager or professional by the age of 30.

There were exceptions to the relatively strong academic performance and personal resilience of immigrant pupils in responses of those whose main language at home is not English.

There is also a significantly lower sense of belonging and life satisfaction among second-generation immigrants in Ireland, students born here to two foreign parents. 

The same students were also less likely to get basic scores on the PISA tests in reading, maths, and science than foreign-born students in Ireland or those born here to one Irish and one foreign parent.

School share

At 16%, Irish schools had one of the world’s biggest increases in the share of immigrant-background students in a decade.

Only Luxembourg had a bigger increase between 2006 and 2015, and one third of all students here had such a background. One third of those teenagers were first-generation immigrants, born overseas to two non-Irish parents, nearly twice the EU average.

But 40% of Ireland’s immigrant-background students were born here to an Irish and a foreign parent.

Another 17% were born abroad to two Irish-born parents, and 10% are second-generation immigrants, born in Ireland to two foreign parents.


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