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Mixed schools promote integration

One-sided Cabinet policy

05 September 2011

Mixing ethnic minority and indigenous schoolchildren does not benefit their learning performance, says the Cabinet. Projects designed to stimulate mixed schools will thus no longer be supported. This is a missed chance, research by sociologist Tobias Stark demonstrates. At mixed schools, pupils develop a positive attitude towards other ethnic groups. ‘Although the learning performance might remain the same, mixed schools definitely promote integration’, according to Stark. He will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 8 September 2011.

This spring, the Rutte Cabinet decided no longer to support policies that stimulate mixing indigenous and ethnic minority pupils at schools. The decision was supported by research revealing that a mixed school had little or no extra effect on pupil performance. Mixed schools are definitely worthwhile, however – they promote the integration of various ethnic groups. Stark: ‘On this point the Cabinet’s view is very one-sided. Education is not just about imparting knowledge, it’s also about teaching pupils to be fully-fledged members of society.’ Stark’s research shows that this is exactly what mixed schools do. If the mixing is responsibly managed, it improves the perceptions of pupils about other ethnic groups.

Individual experiences

In his research, Stark questioned over 2000 pupils at about 40 schools in Arnhem. Some of the pupils were followed from group 7 (age 10-11) into the first year of secondary school. The research has revealed that mixed schools promote positive relationships between pupils from different backgrounds. The pupils turn out to base their opinion of a particular ethnic group on positive experiences with individual classmates. Pupils in mixed classes who interact positively with classmates from different backgrounds also had a more positive picture later in the school year of the ethnic groups of their classmates as a whole. According to Stark, this is important for society in general. ‘If children and adolescents learn to look at people from other ethnic groups in a positive way, they will later interact with each other more easily. This strengthens social cohesion and leads to less discrimination.’

Opposite effect

However, mixing pupils can also have the opposite effect, the research reveals. In the school classes that Stark investigated, Dutch pupils who did get along with their Turkish classmates became more negative about Turks in general as the school year progressed. And ethnic minority pupils who didn’t like their Dutch classmates had a poorer picture of all Dutch people. According to Stark, teachers should therefore actively stimulate mutual contact. His research revealed that children often choose their friends on the basis of shared interests, such as music or fashion. Stark: ‘Teachers could make use of this fact. If pupils are made aware of a joint interest, they will be more likely to see similarities rather than differences, and they will become friends more quickly.’

Curriculum Vitae

Tobias Stark (Germany, 1980) studied social sciences at the universities of Konstanz and Mannheim in Germany. He conducted his research at the department of Sociology of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences of the University of Groningen, and within the national research school ICS (Interuniversity Center of Social Science Theory and Methodology). The research was commissioned by the Institute for Integration and Social Efficacy (ISW) and the Gemeenschappelijke Overleg Woningcorporaties (GOW), a joint consultation of housing corporations in Arnhem. Stark’s supervisors were Prof. A. Flache, Prof. R. Bosker and Prof. R. Veenstra. He will remain at the University of Groningen as a researcher. His thesis is entitled Integration in Schools. A Process Perspective on Students’ Interethnic Attitudes and Interpersonal Relationships.

For more information

- Tobias Stark, tel. 050-363 6237 (work), e-mail: t.h.stark@rug.nl

- ICS research school

Last modified:04 July 2014 9.27 p.m.

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