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Migrants' children need help adapting

Children attending Moscow schools who are born to migrants from CIS countries often encounter difficulties adapting to their new environment. In research published in the HSE's online journal Demoscope Weekly, Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, Yulia Florinskaya, Dmitry Poletaev, and Ksenia Doronina argue that educational institutions must help them master the Russian language and to overcome issues arising during the teaching process

According to Russian Federal Migration Service data, about 70,000 children born to foreigners currently attend Moscow schools. Mixed education is the most common approach taken. When surveyed by the article's authors, 35% of Muscovites said their children study alongside migrant children in schools. 18% of respondents noted that their children are in the same kindergarten group as migrants’ children.

It is clear that this approach makes the child's journey of adaptation to their new environment significantly easier. Nonetheless, children born to migrants still encounter difficulties integrating into a new society and different culture, stressed Leading Research Fellow at the HSE's Institute of Demography Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Demographics Yulia Florinskaya, and postgraduate student at the Institute of Demographics Ksenia Doronina. Children born to foreign parents find it difficult to alter their mode of thought and behavior.

This negatively impacts the quality of education in the classroom, in part due to disputes – including those resulting from xenophobia – the experts noted in their article Migrants Through Muscovites' Eyes. The researchers proposed a raft of solutions: from supporting teachers working with children born to migrants, to approaches to counteracting intolerance in society.

The article grew out of the Center For Migration Research's project 'Defending Muscovites' Rights In the Context of Mass Migration' carried out in 2013. The project involved a survey of 800 people – 600 Muscovites and 200 international labor migrants.

No 'national' classes in school

There are no concrete figures for the numbers of children currently studying in Moscow schools who have foreign parents – other than the FMS figure (70,000) mentioned above, and individual expert views. The Moscow City Education Department was unable to offer the researchers any further information regarding the number of children attending schools in the Russian capital who have migrant parents.

However it is clear that there are considerable numbers – tens of thousands – of children whose needs must be taken into account.

Additionally, this social strata remains under-examined. For example, there is no solid data on these foreign students' nationality.

The article's authors decided to carry out their own research, surveying Muscovites and migrants. They came to two key conclusions: first, there are no 'ethnic' schools in which children with migrant backgrounds are the majority; second, the nationalities of children in this group were clarified.

According to this research, children identified were most commonly from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia (22.6%), then came internal migrants from Russia's North Caucasus republics – Chechnya, Dagestan etc. (11%). And finally, in third place, children whose parents come from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan (8.5%).

The same groups of nationalities are seen in kindergartens, although the balance is slightly different. First come children whose parents are from countries of the Transcaucasus region (12.2%), then children whose parents come from Central Asia (7.9%), and finally those whose parents come from Russia's North Caucasus republics (3.7%).

Table 1. Educating migrants' children alongside Muscovites, % 

Place of originDo your children share a kindergarten group with migrants' children Do your children share a class with migrants' children 
In the whole sampleAmong those whose children are under 18In the whole sampleAmong those whose children are under 18
(602 people)(164 people)(602 people)(164 people)
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan2,57,938,5
Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia4,212,27,622,6
Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus132,56,7
Russia's North Caucasus republics (Chechnya, Dagestan, etc.) 1,23,73,511
Other Russian regions132,37,3
No children whose parents are migrants94,281,788,565,2

Source: Article by Zh. Zayonchkovskaya, Yu. Florina, D. Poletaev and K. Doronina

This data, and the survey carried out among migrants themselves, reveals that the Russian education system is highly accessible to foreigners' children. The survey also showed that three quarters of school-age children from families of migrants surveyed attend school. Nonetheless, some paradoxes were identified regarding the access to education in Moscow schools for children of migrants.

Foreigners' 'permits' don't always work

On the one hand, school administrations often require Moscow residency registration when enrolling children in school, alongside the other documents (parents' passports, written request for enrollment, birth certificate, medical records). A lack of registration could serve as a reason to refuse to enroll the child.

On the other hand, under the law, all children in Russia have the right to receive education, regardless of their parents' residency registration (see letter from the Ministry of Education 'On the Regulations on Enrollment in Educational Institutions' dated 12 June 2012). These rights are enshrined in the Russian Federation's Constitution, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified. So if the three month registration expires after a child has been enrolled in school, the school administration has no right to demand it is extended.

De facto the situation is very different. Moscow school principals almost always ask parents for their residency registration. Is this an obstacle to enrolling in school? Clearly – it is.

Problems are not only met in enrollment, but also during the educative process. This is not only related to how migrants are treated, although that is, undoubtedly, a significant factor. Foreigners surveyed were divided almost 50-50 on how their children are treated at school. Some say there is no problem, while others say they are not treated well.

However, there are more issues – in the educational level and behavior of migrants' children, and in the schools' lacunae.

Migrants need help boosting their Russian-language skills

According to the article's authors, teaching quality suffers due to the low level of Russian-language proficiency seen among migrants' children. Particular approaches are needed to avoid failures in this area: children need help adapting to their new environment. This involves additional Russian-language classes.

Knowledge of the Russian language could be tested on enrollment in school, the article's authors posit, suggesting that migrants' children could be 'placed in classes based on their knowledge of the Russian language – not their age.' This would work for children under 15 years of age, while older children would benefit more from evening classes and distance learning or homeschooling.

'A similar approach is already applied in Russian language schools, which are currently in legal limbo and under threat of being closed down' the article's authors say. 'Their experience must not be lost.' Raising the Russian language level would not only improve the performance of children whose parents are foreign, it would also help Muscovites' children.

Teachers need to learn how to resolve disputes

Children whose parents are migrants from Russia's North Caucasus republics prove the most problematic group, the experts note. This is due, they say, to a 'different mindset'. 'Boys from these republics grow up faster, they have more life experience, and that's why they often become informal class leaders.' In classes attended by several children with this background 'you can see an unhealthy atmosphere develop, in which these children bully the others,' the article's authors say. This background is also associated with a certain arrogance in relations to girls.

It would be appropriate for teachers to undergo special conflict resolution training to deal with these kinds of issues in the classroom. 'Courses in which people share their experience in solving these problems are only available for head teachers, and they only occasionally mention the issue of migrants' children, despite the many different problems faced in schools attended by children from migrant backgrounds,' the article's authors say.

Additional incentives are needed in work with migrants

One of the lacunae in schools' performance in this area is that while teachers' salaries do include extra remuneration for overtime, they do not include any remuneration recognizing the additional effort teachers put in to dealing with children from migrant backgrounds. This is a clear failing. Teachers working in these classes face more difficulties, but this is not reflected in their salaries.

As a result, teachers try to avoid accepting foreign children into their classes. 'This oversight in teachers' pay should be dealt with as a priority,' the article's authors say.

It is also vital to be more active in accessing government grants available to support community organizations and children’s groups that work on issues of migrant adaptation.

The level of xenophobia in society as a whole must be reduced

Teachers sometimes express xenophobic attitudes, although not at a level deemed critical by the researchers. However, this intolerance is a broader social problem, they stress. In other words, we need to see a change in mentality. Fighting xenophobia, the researchers say, involves increasing liability for race-related ‘hatespeech’ and counteracting it in social consciousness.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 02, 2014