Our research findings reveal a variety of interesting educational practices within and across the four countries, although there are many similarities in policies, structures and organization.
Policies and curricula
The policies of the preschools in all countries are child centred and emphasize holistic view of learning that focuses on care, play and active participation. They emphasize creating a community for all children. This is reflected in active communication with parents and children across languages and cultures.
The policies of the compulsory schools (elementary and lower secondary) emphasize diversity and inclusion and cooperation between teachers. Cooperation with parents is also an important part of the policies. Structures differ slightly between the schools although they generally organize introductory divisions or reception units around the immigrant children. There are, however, examples of schools that have a model of direct integration. In most of the schools the students belong to a regular class and have their supervisory teacher, and their attendance in the units depends on their needs and pace of learning.
In the upper secondary schools the policies emphasize that the student acquire knowledge to be able to think independently and critically so they can actively participate in society. The schools have a variety of programmes and support to facilitate the integration of immigrant students. Policies indicate understanding and empathy for immigrant students.
Leadership in the preschools is democratic and the structure and organization does not differentiate immigrant children. Leaders are supportive and participative and strive to ensure democratic participation of all children. The leaders in some of the schools work in very demanding conditions, for example with low staff retention and staff that does not have preschool teacher education. In some cases the leaders and teachers lack the initiatives of reaching out to the immigrant parents.
Leadership in the compulsory schools generally has a democratic approach and can be characterized as participative and supportive. The leaders’ aim is to create an inclusive school culture and support diversity and social justice. They emphasize respecting difference and thinking positively about diversity.
In the upper secondary schools, organizational structures have been created for teaching the majority languages. These are independent units or departments led by heads of departments that have knowledge and interest in the matters of immigrant students. The leaders are preoccupied with the social isolation of the students and have developed ways to counteract this.
The teachers in the preschools generally emphasize individually based care and learning, diversity and equality. Educational practices are generally child-centred and based on diversity, with the aim of involving all children in active participation. Some of the teachers have specialized in education for diversity, but this does not apply to all teachers. Some missed learning opportunities were observed, where the teachers lacked the initiative to involve immigrant children in the activities. Scaffolding opportunities were not used to the full extent.
Teachers in the compulsory schools generally emphasize the importance of creating a welcoming and trusting learning environment for students. They understand the importance of linguistic diversity as a resource, while also acknowledging the importance for the students’ future of learning the majority language. The teachers also emphasize cooperation with parents.
The varied experiences of the teachers in the upper secondary schools of living and studying abroad provided them with an understanding and insight into multicultural issues. Some of the teachers had a strong vision for teaching immigrant students. However, their practices varied and while some teachers emphasized the majority language acquisition, others had a more holistic view, emphasizing the students’ personal and social development, as well as academic learning.
Students and children
Most of the immigrant children in the preschools were active and seemed to be included in play. In some of the preschools, the majority language was the “proper” language to use, while other preschools encouraged the use of many languages. There were some cases of missed learning opportunities, where the teachers lacked the initiative to involve immigrant children in the activities and the children seemed to be marginalized.
The students interviewed and observed in the compulsory schools emphasize their teachers and their schools as reasons for their success. Some describe their teachers as caring, kind and genuinely concerned with their well-being and success. Generally, the students appear to be active in their schools and both academically and socially successful. However, challenges appear in both of the models, the reception model and the model of direct integration. Some of the students in the reception model find it difficult to relate to and make friends with children in the regular class. And some of the students in the model of direct integration feel insecure and find it an overwhelming experience.
Overall, the students in the upper secondary schools appeared to be very positive about their schools and many of their teachers. They appreciated that their teachers showed personal interest in them and cared for their well-being. They also talked about the importance of having a demanding school environment. Most of these students had friends from immigrant backgrounds, while some also had Icelandic friends.