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Challenges for immigrant students in France

Japanese
Currently there are many immigrants, such as Japanese Brazilian, living in Japan, and we have heard and observed that many of their children face various problems and challenges at schools.
In order to think about how they could adapt themselves to schools in Japan,I would like to introduce interesting efforts made by France which has a long history of receiving immigrants and tries to integrate them into the society.

Who are immigrants in France?

To begin this short article, I have to raise questions such as: who are immigrants? Are immigrants the same as foreigners? Many Japanese are unable to understand these differences, because in Japanese society there are only classifications of Japanese and foreigner. However, in France, there are categories of French, foreigner and immigrant, based on the law of citizenship which adopts the principles of both blood relationship and birthplace.

According to the definition of the National Institute of Statistic and Economic Study in
France (INSEE), an immigrant is a person who was born in a foreign country of
non-French parents, and who later migrated to, and now resides in, France.
However, since it is possible for such an immigrant
to apply for French citizenship, there are two categories of immigrants: i.e., an immigrant with French citizenship and a foreigner with foreign citizenship.
At the same time, it is important to note that the term immigrant does not necessarily
correspond to the definition of foreigner, because some foreigners were actually born in France but still hold their foreign citizenship. Moreover, even in cases where a foreigner is naturalized in France as a French citizen, he/she will still be regarded as an immigrant for the rest of his/her life.

You may then ask how an immigrant can become a French citizen.
By naturalization and according
to the principles of birthplace, a person who was born to non-French parents in France becomes a French citizen at the age of 18, on condition of more than five years of residence in France and unless he or she raises an objection to this. Because of this rule, 40% of immigrants are now considered French citizens. In 2004, there were over 4.93 million immigrants in France. Among them, those who were born in a foreign country but with French citizenship were 1.97 million.

Historically, France has accepted an enormous number of immigrants. In particular, France accepted many foreigners as laborers who contributed to the reconstruction of society after the end of the World War II. In the beginning, many Europeans including Italians and Spanish came to work in France; later, in the 1960s and 70s, more Africans, mostly from the former French colonies, arrived. However, in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, the French government began to regulate the inflow of new immigrants more strongly, and encouraged foreigners who became unemployed to return to their home countries. However, despite the expectations of the French government, most of them stayed in France and settled down.

Today, the government has limited the entry of new immigrants and officially accepts entry to France only in the case of those who would be joining family already resident in France. Therefore, in general, when we look at the category of immigrants, we count those who are French residents, and include among them people who hold French citizenship but who are also considered immigrants.

Problems with education for immigrants

It is very important for foreigners who have settled down in French society to provide education for their children. For children of foreigners as well as immigrants holding French citizenship, the big challenge is to acquire the appropriate level of French language proficiency, as a lack of proficiency often leads to failure at school.

This problem was first tackled in the 1970s when the government opened special classes for students who were non-French speaking and who had just arrived in France. However, these kinds of classes caused a separation between immigrant students and French students. Also, since these classes were not offered
to French students, students who were also immigrants but who held French citizenship were excluded from access to the support provided by these classes. It became widely recognized that the reasons for failure at school were influenced more by socially and economically disfavored or disadvantaged environments, rather than by the ethnic and cultural origins of the students. Because of this situation, a new education policy, which recognized the needs of students based on the territory or place where many students who failed in school lived, was introduced in 1981. This new education policy was named the Priority Education Policy.

This new education policy identified special residential areas where more assistance was required and recognized them as a Zone of Priority Education (zones d'education prioritaire: ZEP) in order to channel additional resources to schools. In schools in a ZEP, we are likely to find situations such as high repetition and drop-out rates and low academic performance among students. In these residential areas, which include socially and economically disfavored and disadvantaged environments, there are high unemployment rates, a high proportion of families who receive social security, and a high proportion of single parent families. Children from these families require special support in terms of financial resources and educational assistance. Although there is no specific indicator by which to count the number of immigrants in order to identify a ZEP, it is commonly observed that the proportion of immigrants in these residential areas is often quite high.

Thus, the public education system in France stopped the special classes to assist only foreigners and adopted a new Priority Education Policy to provide support to students who were failing or who were at risk of failing, without making any distinction based on nationality.

A case of a junior high school in ZEP in Lyon

Once I had a chance to visit Lyon, situated in the middle of France, for the purpose of conducting my research regarding the situation of schools in a ZEP. This ZEP is situated in a suburb and it took half an hour by bus from the Central Station of Lyon to get there. Lyon is famous as the City of Gourmet; however in this area, there are no shops or restaurants with the exception of one coffee shop which seemed to have hardly any customers. There are some council flats, which seem to accommodate many immigrants judging by the parabola antennas on almost all the balconies to enable them to watch the TV programs of their home countries.

This area was designated as a ZEP in 1990. A network was then formed, known as the Network of Priority Education (réseaux d' éducation prioritaire: REP), among a junior high school and the four elementary schools in the area in order to manage the various problems facing them. There are around 2000 to 2500 students in this REP, which is relatively big as far as REP goes.

According to the social and professional category (Catégorie socio-professionnelle: CSP), over 70% of families in this area are classified as economically and socially disfavored, which is higher than many other REP. In this area, many families receive social security and there are high rates of divorce and many single parent families. Many students in this school area are second-generation immigrants (their parents migrated to France), but many of them have French citizenship. Teachers at this school have indicated that many immigrant families tend
to be isolated and do not talk to anybody about their problems.
Teachers think that one of reasons for the delinquent behaviors of the children, which include things such as school violence, rude behavior and breaking school regulations, is derived from their struggles to deal with the problems within their family. It seems that students in this junior high school have more difficulties compared with other REP. Based on the self-evaluation of this junior high school, the situation has been summarized as follows:

    - In the first year of junior high school, many new entrants are actually older than the regular age of the grade because of very high rate of failure during their elementary school years. Over 70% of students came from elementary schools in the same REP, and half of them had repeated the same grade once or more at elementary school.
    - Many students come from disfavored families. Their parents are often unskilled laborers or even unemployed. The unemployment rate is more than double the average unemployment rate.
    - Half the students are from a family of four or more children, often with only a single parent.
    - Many students repeat the same grade and fail at junior high school. For example, 20% of students in their final year of junior high school are over the average age of 16, a percentage which is double that of the non-REP schools.

Thus we can see that the social and structural problems existing in this area, which include poverty amongst immigrant families, high divorce rates and many single parent families, can be linked with the developmental deterioration of students evidenced by their failure at school.

Toward a resolution of these social and structural problems

In an effort to resolve these social and structural problems, the network of priority education has been expanded since 1999. The network now provides for close collaboration not only between a junior high school and the neighboring elementary schools in a ZEP, but also between these schools and their local communities.

In the collaboration between a junior high school and elementary schools, one teacher is designated as the coordinator at each elementary school, and he/she facilitates communication between the junior high and his/her elementary school. For instance, representatives of the elementary school might join the council of representatives from the junior high school, which includes students who know what life at the junior high school is like.

To facilitate collaboration between schools and their local communities, a commission is jointly organized for discussing things like how problems developed for students in the area and how best to provide support for students as well as schools. A principal of the junior high school often becomes chairman of the commission, which is composed of principals, teachers, school doctors, nurses and social workers, educational administrators such as school district inspectors, and people representing the local administration office, the town hall, the police, the medical-psychological center, the social-urban development center, the public library, the public museum and some associations (e.g., non-profit organizations). The commission then works together on issues relating to education and young people.

Within this commission, the junior high school makes a "contract for success in school" ("contrat pour la réussite scolaire") with the other participants. This "contract" lasts for three years and sets up principal objectives for the school and concrete activities for achieving these objectives. The school will then evaluate itself at the end of the final year and report the results back to the commission.

As briefly illustrated in this article, schools in France try to resolve the social and structural problems of children of immigrants by means of close collaboration with local communities, and by applying such concepts as networking and the setting up of a contract between schools and the community in order to promote success at schools.
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