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Success in school for child migrants is linked to their age of arrival

November 4, 2011

Children who migrate to Canada have a better chance of finishing high school if they arrive in the country at a younger age.

In a study published by Statistics Canada I show that immigrant children arriving in Canada after the age of nine are more likely to drop out without finishing high school than those arriving at a younger age.

The chances of not graduating from high school are about 15 per cent for boys and 11 per cent for girls who arrive in Canada before the age of nine, which is lower than the overall Canadian dropout rate of 19 per cent and 14 per cent for comparable groups of boys and girls. But the chances of immigrants not attaining a high school diploma increases progressively after that age, rising by more than one percentage point for each subsequent year. For those arriving in the country at age 15 the chances are about 22 per cent, greater than one-in-five.

At a time when concern is growing over the success of immigrants in an increasingly demanding job market, this points to the need for policy makers to recognize that migration impacts children differently from adults.

These patterns of success at school are related in part to the challenges faced by immigrant children in learning English or French. In fact, for those arriving from English or French-speaking countries, the age of arrival has no discernible impact on high school graduation rates.

Changes associated with the onset of puberty and the challenges of adjusting to a new school system for children in their later primary years and high school also play a role.

The age of nine is an important turning point in the development of cognitive capacities of children as they make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and illustrates the challenges of language acquisition and educational integration, particularly for older children.

See the CBC story on these findings.

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