Recent Migration Trends – Asia


There are some interesting migration patterns happening in Asia. In collaboration with Kaitlin Zbonski-Wagner and Kate Boardman, we dug into UN statistics and migration research to create this presentation visualizing the trends.  Additionally, we have some information on the rights of immigrants to education in South Korea, Japan, and Indonesia and some guidance for teachers and schools in Asia with immigrant students. There are many obstacles to navigate in preparing a nurturing space for all children.

Struggles and Changes Faced by Migrant Students


Immigrant students, including refugees, face incredible challenges – challenges for which their young minds and bodies are not equipped to navigate as deftly as their parents or other adults.  It is important for schools and teachers to recognize and address these obstacles to learning in order to lift students to their highest potential academically and personally.

Students entering a new country, a new school, and a new way of life are likely to struggle with academic learning to some degree as they become acclimated to their new home and environment.  However, it is important not to let those initial slow steps define the student’s academic outlook forever.  As the OECD points out, voluntary immigrant families, and often involuntary immigrants, are usually eager to take advantage of all resources available to advance their children’s education and career prospects.  The children in these families, too, are highly ambitious.  In Australia, Israel, and the United States more immigrant students from disadvantaged households perform in the top quartile on PISA than their non-immigrant counterparts.  These students are overcoming dual obstacles of poverty and acculturation.  (Helping Immigrant Students, 2015, p. 18) (Schleicher, 2016)

Many immigrant students may be faced with language difficulties in that their native language or previous language of instruction does not match their new situation. While some schools may feel the need to hold immigrant students back a grade level or enroll them in an alternative language program before moving into the mainstream classroom, in order to help immigrant students succeed in their new school, they should be integrated into the mainstream classroom as early as possible.  This should be done in addition to concentrated language training to avoid falling behind academically as they age.  Younger students tend to acclimatize to their new school and country more quickly and more successfully than older students. (Helping Immigrant Students, 2015, p. 10, 12)(Here’s how schools, 2019)  Inclusion in the mainstream class will also help students’ to adjust to their new culture and to make friends.

“These highly motivated students, managing to overcome the double disadvantage of poverty and an immigrant background, have the potential to make exceptional contributions to their host countries.” (Schleicher, 2016)

Maintaining high expectations for student learning should be a blanket policy, but it is of even greater import for the immigrant student. Schools cannot fall into the trap of assuming a child is of a certain ability, attitude, or experience based on misconceptions or stereotypes of that child’s situation or culture.  In a riveting presentation “The danger of the single story,” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us, “…the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” (2009) As educators, we would take our students’ best interests into consideration by conducting enrollment interviews with immigrant students and their families, including an interpreter, if necessary.  This will set the basis of trust as well as provide an opportunity to collate data on the student’s health, previous schooling, background, cultural considerations, etc., dispelling myths, misconceptions, or preconceived notions. (Here’s how schools, 2019)

In a way, the academic and language struggles for immigrant students is quite a straightforward endeavor.  There is content to learn, skills to master, and assessments to measure achievement.  With the right environment and pedagogy, any child can succeed in this realm.  A more challenging part of a child’s transition to a new country and new school is in their sense of well-being, belonging, and cultural identity.

According to PISA results, when asked, 15 year old immigrants report a feeling of acceptance at the same rate as non-immigrant students in some countries, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. (Helping Immigrant Students, 2015, p. 6-7) However, this is not always the case and in many countries and situations students struggle mightily to feel a part of their new group.

Philip Harrington writes this “Sense of Belonging” arises from kinship with other children in their situation. Harrington’s studies of international schools describe the unique cultural construct formulated by students there built on their shared experiences (several cultural influences on identity, unidentifiable “home” country) rather than from either of their parents’ cultures or the culture of their host country. (2008, p. 13)  These children are sometimes referred to as Third Culture Kids or TCKs. This term has been around since the 1950s to describe anyone who identifies with two or more cultures, which often includes International school students, as well as the more traditional usage to describe immigrant children or children from parents of two different nationalities.  (2008, p. 12) Recent discussion with my own classmates reveals that many TCKs actually prefer the term Cross Culture Kids or CCK, because it feels a more suitable fit for those who have moved often in their childhoods and beyond.

Of course not all immigrant students or CCKs will find themselves in international schools; they are more likely to attend public school in their host country.  As an Indian-American child growing up in Rhode Island, Jhumpa Lahiri, observed friends whose ancestors had immigrated to the US who felt confident in their “hyphenated labels,” but Lahiri, as the first-generation immigrant herself, struggled to reconcile the two cultures pulling at her identity. (Lahiri, 2006) Yes, it may be an exceptional opportunity for an immigrant student of one culture to integrate into the second culture of their host country, “but it can also mean a child does not adequately acquire either.” (2008, p. 12) If students are feeling lost and adrift without a sense of belonging to a culture, a group, a classroom, this will have negative consequences for their academics and their development as a healthy, whole person.  With sensitivity and awareness, educators can make the transition into a new school and culture easier for immigrant students, setting them up for success.

“[PISA] results suggest that the psychological wellbeing of immigrant students is affected not only by differences between their country of origin and country of destination, but also by how well the schools and local communities in their country of destination help them to overcome the myriad obstacles they face in succeeding at school and building a new life.” (Helping Immigrant Students, 2015, p. 6)

I’ve recorded my own story of being an immigrant adjusting to Japan in this video.


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. (2009, July). The danger of a single story. TEDGlobal 2009.

Harrington, Philip. (2008, November). The negotiation of identity in an intemational school setting. International Schools Journal. 28(1). 12-16.

Helping Immigrant Students to Succeed at School – and Beyond. (2015). Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 1-19.

Here’s how schools can help migrant students succeed in school. (2019, March 5). Study International News.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. (2006, March). My Two Lives. Excerpt from Newsweek World News.

Schleicher, Andreas. (2016, February 10). Migrant students ‘more motivated to learn’. BBC News Online.

Impact of Globalization on Education


National governments and policy makers do try to maximize educational quality and achievement within their own countries, I like to believe.  That may be my overly optimistic view, but for today let’s hold on to that Pollyanna attitude.  In a traditional way, these leaders try to affect change from the perspective of their understanding of the role of education in their societies.  Nicholas Sun-Keung Pang (2013) outlines this view of the role of education nicely as follows:

“Education has essential functions of enhancing the development of individual, society and country. Education provides opportunities for individuals to develop physically, intellectually, morally, socially, aesthetically and spiritually, to maximize their potentials and prepare them for the future. Education facilitates the strengthening of a civil society, and enhances social justice, equity and cohesion. Education helps a nation inculcate civic and social responsibility among its citizens, develop capacity building, promote national integration, and enhance national competitiveness. Each country in the one world strives to establish an education system for the well-being and development of its younger generation, the society and the nation.” (p. 17)

This fits neatly into a former world order where education served the national interest, rather than a wider international or global interest.  We find ourselves in the 21st Century world of global communication, commerce, economy, and technology, but not yet with globalized education.   International education abounds, but not global education.

It would be instructive here to discuss differences between internationalism and globalism.  Internationalism, as explained by Futao Huang (2007), is the idea that national governments are the leading actors guiding the world order while keeping intact national boundaries and defined societies. Globalism, on the other hand, is the view that speedy, cheap, and frictionless communication through technological advances has reshuffled the world order in way that governance and policy must come from above the national level to attain beneficial outcomes for all people, regardless of traditional national boundaries or cultural divides. (p. 49) Pang describes this as the new “One World” where “economic, political, and cultural factors” are crossing through formerly robust barriers of national borders, societies, time, and distance. (pp. 18-19)

This 21st Century globalization requires an educational framework that prepares citizens of any country for full participation in this global society. Society is growing beyond national borders, however, as we become more connected across the world in international global initiatives, international governance, international commerce, work, economy, and education.   However, Susan Robertson and Roger Dale (2017) argue that enhanced globalism is not at the expense of the national in a zero-sum exchange, but rather the nation-state can be the “major force in advancing regional and global projects.” (p. 861) How can students reach their full educational potential in the global world we live if limited by national frameworks that are not focused on a global perspective? National policy makers are retargeting.

The rise of neoliberalism in the 20th Century streamlined national and international industry and commerce with a focus on productivity and efficiency and a fealty to market forces. Lubricated by technological and communications advances, the international was elevated to the global. Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard describe a similar effect on education underway and cite the rising involvement of extra-national organizations such as the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in shaping educational policy. (Nagahara, 2011, p. 372) Has business and the global economy exerted enough force yet to raise international education into a truly global education paradigm? No, not yet, though those same players stand to benefit a great deal from education moving towards preparing global citizens for participation in the global economy.

Nonetheless, it seems national leaders are left behind the conversation and trying to refocus their priorities towards the new global targets. Global neoliberalism – enhanced competition, streamlined efficiency, focus on productivity – in education is breaking down international political boundaries between countries.  Education is attempting to prepare students for an internationally sensitive, globally-oriented service economy, but policy, until recently, was left behind in national and sub-national priorities. (Robertson & Dale, 2017, p. 860) There is a need for international data to compare educational policies and programs across borders to find the best practices and establish global education to prepare global citizens for a global economy.  There is some dissonance, however, in the utility of the international assessment data available as the assessors tend to be those same business interests mentioned by Rivzi and Lingard who stand the most to benefit from the world following their leads on educational priorities.  International comparisons are problematic with the data we have, because some people draw the wrong conclusions and the data itself becomes the desired outcome.

“This illustrates another aspect of the kinds of comparison carried out by PISA [Program for International Student Assessment administered by the OECD]; what are compared are outputs, in the form of test scores generated by PISA itself, not the different educational processes that led to them, nor the criteria used to produce them.” (Robertson & Dale, 2017, p. 865)

This rise of international assessments and comparisons is also mentioned by Pang (2013) as one of the fundamental changes to education resulting from the push towards globalization.  The other effects he describes are increased spending on education; focus on math, science, and English; inclusion of IT, computers, and the internet in the classroom; reorganization of work and the type of work we’re educating towards (the service economy, for example); and the demand for complete secondary education leading to post-secondary training and tertiary education. (pp. 20-21)

In higher education, Huang (2007) tells us this influence from economic interests and global competition is evident across the world, though in various phases of development in different areas. He describes the situation as follows:

“As for driving forces, policy and practice concerning the internationalisation of higher education in individual countries are not only affected by their national policy, character and identity, but are also influenced by calls and pressures from international, regional or global organisations. Various factors, especially the rapidity of economic globalisation, the advancement of information technology, and the introduction of market-oriented mechanisms, exert an increasingly significant influence in individual countries.” (pp. 50-51)

While higher education in developed countries is highly influenced by economic factors, less-developed countries express their internationalism through research trips and efforts to enhance the curriculum, teaching, and learning. Standardization of diplomas, programs, and content becomes “quality assurance at a global level.” (Huang, 2007, p. 52)  Former national education initiatives or programs are being replaced by international versions, standards, and exchanges.  Increasingly private money is entering through partnerships and study funding, as in the West.  Still “…in most non-Western countries, government-oriented policies and links or co-operation between governments and institutions are still strongly emphasised.” (Huang, 2007, p. 52)

The world is in flux right now as national education policies are being reorganized to an international view, while economic and business globalism exerts further pressure towards a global paradigm.  As Robertson and Dale tell us, the national leaders are not redundant, but as the policy makers, they must be cognizant of globalism, carefully balancing economic interests and national interests. Education must now prepare individuals for international competition, not just national, with the globally competitive leaders’ success reflecting positively on their home countries, increasing the countries’ power and influence on a global level. (Pang, 2013, p. 19) Nations and global business leaders are dancing around each other in the boxing ring of international educational power, policy, and influence.


Huang, Futao. (2007). Internationalisation of Higher Education in the Era of Globalisation: What have been its Implications in China and Japan? Higher Education Management and Policy, 19(1), 47-61.

Nagahara, Minori. (2011, May 21). Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard: Globalizing education policy [Review of the book Globalizing Education Policy]. Springer Science+Business Media, 371-377.

Pang, Nicholas Sun-Keung. (2013). Education in One World: Perspectives from Different Nations. BCES Conference Books, 11, 17-28.

Robertson, Susan & Dale, Roger. (2017, July/September). Comparing Policies in a Globalizing World: methodological reflections. Educação & Realidade, Porto Alegre, 42(3), 859-875