The Challenges of Educating Immigrant Children

By Quinsenberry, Nancy | Childhood Education, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Challenges of Educating Immigrant Children


Quinsenberry, Nancy, Childhood Education


For many years, teachers have been concerned with the challenges associated with educating children from different cultural backgrounds in one classroom. Various terms have been used to address this situation, with the most recent ones being "cultural diversity" and "multicultural education." We can learn much from the literature on cultural diversity and multicultural education that can be helpful in our work with children of migrating families. As we address the host of challenges that accompany the children of migrating families, we should take the opportunity to rethink some of our usual responses to children whose cultures differ from the primary culture in the educational settings serving them.

One only has to look around to find that migration continues to be a global issue; few countries are untouched by migration, whether from a neighboring country or from afar. The major factors prompting global migration are war, employment, search for a better life, and political or religious discrimination. All of these factors can disrupt a family's sense of security and balance. So these children not only need to adjust to a new culture and a new school, they also, often, must come to terms with traumatic experiences from their past. The boat people of Vietnam who settled elsewhere come to mind. We are now reading stories of adults who immigrated as children. While many fared well, others struggled. The picture they paint of how they were "educated" in their new country often is not a pretty one.

Working with children of migrating families calls for a cultural sensitivity that many educators did not need in the past. We may find ourselves facing an internal conflict in these situations. We know, or think we know, the skills these children will need in order to succeed in the new culture. We are good at helping the children with whom we are familiar to learn these skills. At the same time, we must recognize and accommodate the differences children bring from their respective cultures in order to provide them with successful learning experiences. One of the biggest hurdles is dealing with language differences, especially when teachers do not speak the language of the child.

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