Migrant pupils’ scientific performance: the influence of educational system features of origin and destination countries

J. Dronkers, M. Levels, M. de Heus

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Earlier studies using a double perspective (destination & origin) indicate that several macro-characteristics of both destination and origin countries affect the educational performance of migrant children. This paper explores the extent to which educational system features of destination and origin countries can explain these differences in educational achievement of migrant children, next to these macro-characteristics.


Using data from the 2006 PISA survey, we performed cross-classified multilevel analysis on the science performance of 9.279 15-year-old migrant children, originating from 35 different countries, living in 16 Western countries of destination. We take into account a number of educational system characteristics of the countries of destination and origin, in order to measure the importance of differentiation, standardization, and the availability of resources.


We show that differences in educational achievement between migrants cannot be fully attributed to individual characteristics or macro-characteristics. Educational system characteristics of countries of destination and origin are also meaningful. At the origin level, the length of compulsory education positively influences educational performance. This is especially the case for migrant pupils who attended education in their countries of origin. We show also that at the destination level, a high student-teacher ratio in primary education positively affects migrant pupil’s scientific performance. Moreover, migrant children with low educated parents do not perform less in highly stratified systems and even perform better in moderately differentiated systems than they do in comprehensive one. But migrant children with highly educated parents perform worse in highly and moderately stratified systems.


This study underscores the importance of educational system features as an explanation of differences in educational achievement across different origin groups and across migrants living in different destination countries. Although individual level characteristics account for the largest educational achievement differences, educational system characteristics have an effect on top of these individual level characteristics and the average educational performance in their countries of origin. Differences in educational systems contribute to explaining the effects of economic and political macro-characteristics of the countries of origin on the educational performance of migrant children in destination countries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLarge-scale Assessments in Education
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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