Prejudices that mark foreigners educated in Spain


According to the National Institute of Statistics, the population of foreigners in Spain in 2021 amounted to more than 5 million people . This figure includes the 848,513 schoolchildren enrolled in non-university education during the 2020-2021 academic year, as confirmed by data from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.

Evolution of foreign students (who do not have Spanish nationality) enrolled in non-university General Regime education and in Special Regime education. Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. Government of Spain.

All these immigrant schoolchildren, are they academically successful? The number of those who drop out of school doubles that of natives , which should lead us to ask ourselves what are the possible causes and the risk factors that can contribute to it.

Although it is true that the research has focused on the characteristics of the socioeconomic environments, certain psychoeducational factors have also been pointed out that could be influencing the educational possibilities of these schoolchildren. Some of these factors are the lack of resources in the centers or the use of inadequate methodologies.

Self-fulfilling teaching prophecies

Along these lines, our recent study also points out another academic factor: the relationship between students and teachers. In fact, we find that the low trust of teachers in non-native students, a phenomenon that is largely unconscious, influences the student.

It is what we call the Pygmalion effect or prophetic thinking of the teacher, very powerful if it manages to take root in the student. Thus, the teacher’s beliefs, which are manifested through their attitudes, words and actions, can affect a student’s performance if he believes them and incorporates them into his cognitive (and emotional) structure and his behavior.

Affective involvement and plurality

However, the affective involvement of the teacher with the immigrant student body can improve their academic performance. The institution itself is also a major factor in academic success, if it creates procedures, spaces and times for cultural enrichment.

According to our research, the use of methodologies that promote the plurality of values ​​of different cultures is associated with the academic achievement of foreign students.

Family involvement

We must also allude to another outstanding factor in the performance of immigrant schoolchildren: the family context. The family itself, with its level of involvement in the educational process of their sons and daughters, has a significant impact on their academic performance. This implies that parents must receive training and support from teachers and the school.

If the basic objective of the school, as a social institution, is to ensure that students adapt to the global and changing context that characterizes today’s society, its achievement could be conditioned by the social origin of the students.

Unconscious biases

Two conclusions are derived from our study:

  1. The first is that the teacher’s cognitive architecture harbors the idea that foreign students obtain worse academic results and require more effort and pedagogical help. It will then happen that the low expectations placed on foreign students will constitute a powerful dissuasive element for them to demonstrate their value and uniqueness. Academic success is not possible without trust in them.
  2. The second conclusion is that, in general, teachers are not aware of the power that their beliefs exert over those of their students, and this is explained by the fact that they have adopted the habit of not thinking about their own thinking. This is serious, especially when we find that students of foreign origin have lower performance than their Spanish peers. The external attribution would explain the attitudes and behaviors of teachers in relation to immigrant students. For them, families and the organizational resources of the school institution are the only factors that determine school performance.

Collective reflection

The conclusions presented as a result of our study lead us to raise the need for reflection and self-criticism in addition to formative overexposure and intellectual eruption.

For self-critical reflection, we resort to an argument from authority: Aristotle himself, in his Nicomachean Ethics , distinguishes between production and action, which are two differentiated skills.

While the first –τέχνη– is a technical activity that does not require reflection and whose end is different from it, the action –πρα̃ζις– is a prudent activity, that is, a practice subject to continuous review whose end lies in itself.

Doing versus acting, τέχνη versus πρα̃ζις, productive action versus moral action: this is the dilemma that we extend to education professionals.

Author Bios: Cristina Maria Garcia Fernandez is Professor of Education in the Didactics and School Organization area, Carmen Gil del Pino is Professor of Theory and History of Education and Sonia Garcia-Segura is Assistant Professor Doctor all at the University of Córdoba