NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 18, 2008

Every three years, the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measures how well 15-year-olds in around 50 countries perform in their own languages, and in mathematics and science.  Based on 2006 data, OECD found that almost all immigrant students fare wore than locals, and were often the children of poor, ill-educated parents who did not speak the local language, says the Economist.

A reason for these results is connected with how often countries "track" pupils (i.e., sort them into ability groups and teach them separately), says the Economist.  Specifically, the study looked at immigrants from Turkey,  the former Soviet Union, ex-Yugoslavia and China:

  • Poor Turkish students in Austria and Germany do far worse than their peers in Belgium and Switzerland because tracking happens earlier and is more rigid in the former two countries.
  • Additionally, Turkish kids go to technical schools that don't prepare them for a university education.

The contrasting fates of children from the former Soviet Union and ex-Yugoslavia provide extra proof that the host country makes a difference:

  • Kids who arrive in Kyrgyzstan from other ex-Soviet lands do badly, albeit better than the locals. 
  • Those who attend school in Estonia do far better.


  • Mainland Chinese students who migrate to Hong Kong do very well despite being poor -- and despite the fact that Hong Kong tracks children early and often.
  • Among the world's best performers are Chinese children taught in Australia; the average Chinese first- or second-generation immigrant there outperformers two-thirds of all Australians.

In most countries, first-generation immigrant students are more motivated than second-generation ones, who are in turn more motivated than the children of the native-born.  This suggests that any country that figures out how to let incomers shine will reap big benefits, concludes the Economist.

Source: Editorial, "Huddled Classes," The Economist, September 13, 2008.

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