Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Non-Challenging Education and Teacher Control as Factors for Marginalization of Students in Diverse Settings

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Non-Challenging Education and Teacher Control as Factors for Marginalization of Students in Diverse Settings

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this article teachers' attitudes towards immigrant students in poor settings is investigated, and also the effect these attitudes have on organization of education on classroom level. During my years in teacher education in Sweden, I have been struck by the fact that so many teacher students seem to view children as vulnerable, neglected and in need of intense teacher supervision. It might be that children are perceived as legitimate objects for goodwill and nurturing, but I find it problematic when they are perceived as representing a collection of deficiencies. This seems particularly to be the case in many contexts involving children with immigrant backgrounds; Runfors (2003) claims that they are made to represent "a minuskultur," a culture of deficit. Runfors shows how teachers in Sweden have constructed "immigrants" based on assumptions about defects and marginalization. Teachers in her study emphasized the need to teach Swedish to students with immigrant backgrounds and to compensate for their lack of contact with the Swedish society. They focused on the experiences the students lacked, not on those they possessed. Cases where teachers have tended to treat students with multilingual, immigrant or socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds as less able have also been shown by Knapp et al. (1995), Lahdenperä (1997), Parszyk (1999), Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (2001) and Johnston and Hayes (2008).

Although students with immigrant and/or multilingual backgrounds do not constitute a homogenous group, general academic results within these groups in Sweden are below those achieved among students with monolingual Swedish backgrounds. In 2005/06, 14 % of the students in the nine-year compulsory school in Sweden had immigrant backgrounds, that is, they were either born abroad or both of their parents were born abroad (Skolverket 2009). Of these, 28 % did not pass the final exams in grade nine, while the figure for students with Swedish backgrounds who did not pass was 16 %. Of students with Swedish backgrounds, 2.4 % did not receive a final grade at all, while the figure for students with foreign backgrounds was 8 %. One out of five students with foreign backgrounds did not qualify for a national program at the Swedish gymnasium (upper secondary school, equivalent to form four to six) while the rate for students with Swedish backgrounds was one out of ten. Among students with Swedish backgrounds who took their exam in grade nine, the final year of compulsory school in Sweden, 6.4 % did not pass Mathematics and 4.4 % did not pass English in 2008. The figures for students with foreign backgrounds were 14.9 % for Mathematics and 13.6 % for English (Skolverket 2009). This means that the failing rate is more than double for students with foreign backgrounds. The educational gap between the groups is slowly widening. In Sweden, as in many Western countries, the majority of immigrants are relatively isolated, living in suburbs whose populations are largely made up of immigrants and people of low socio-economic status. This means that schools with a majority of students for whom Swedish is a second language are also schools in which many students are from low income backgrounds. In this article I will refer to this type of setting as "diverse". The reasons for the widening gaps are many and in this article I will focus on one possible reason: teachers' attitudes towards students in diverse settings and the effect these attitudes have on the organization of education at the classroom level. The article draws on the results from two case studies in Sweden on language and learning in classrooms in diverse settings.

Diverse classrooms and challenging education

Many teachers seem to support the "deficiency theory" regarding students in diverse settings, and this tends to marginalize these students. In her study, Runfors (2003) found that students who were denoted as immigrant children tended to be kept apart, side-stepped and subordinated in ways that diminished their range of personal initiative. …

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