A new study by state statistics bureau SSB shows that after just seven years in Norway, immigrant girls are doing at least as well or better than Norwegian boys born in the country. Students with minority background are matching natives’ skills more quickly than ever before, with their families motivated to build new lives.
“Language barriers are much lower and we’re seeing better results in school,” Maja Kalcic, who wrote the report for SSB, told newspaper Dagsavisen. The report documents how immigrant girls especially are excelling, consistently performing better in school than immigrant boys who’ve been in the country for the same period of time.
Fluent in a year-and-a-half
Children often master new languages more quickly than adults, and immigrant children in Norway are no exception. Newspaper Aftenposten recently reported on the case of a Syrian refugee family where all four children, aged 10 to 15, learned Norwegian in 18 months and were ready to start school this fall in Norwegian schools with children their own age.
Their parents were slower to grasp the language but making concerted efforts in order to join the work force. They all expressed gratitude for being able to start news lives in Norway, after languishing in a refugee camp in Egypt: “The day Naser (the father) called and said we were going to Norway was like Id for us, juleaften (Christmas Eve),” Gada Talla told Aftenposten. She and her children arrived in Oslo in the winter of last year, and were reunited with Naser for the first time in two years.
Lack of language programs
Others, including opposition politicians in Parliament, have criticized funding cuts for language classes for refugees after last year’s immigration wave. The vast majority of immigrants, meanwhile, are on their own in trying to learn Norwegian, with classes often expensive in private schools and capacity for subsidized public sector programs at the bursting point.
“My 24-year-old aunt moved from London to Oslo in the summer of 2014,” wrote a member of the Oslo City Council for the Labour Party, Abdullah Alsabeehg, in Dagsavisen recently. “Her husband got a job at (food company) Modelez International (formerly Kraft Foods) and she wanted to start learning Norwegian from the first day. She has a bachelor’s degree in travel and marketing and worked two years at a day care center.”
She’s not eligible for any subsidized “introduction programs” to Norway, however, since she’s not a refugee and not part of any family reunification program. Even a program run through the city, offering a nine-week course for beginners, cost as much as NOK 11,500 (USD 1,400), Alsabeehg wrote, depending on whether she had classes two or five days a week. There was also a waiting list, while private language classes cost as much as NOK 6,000 a month. “With two children, high rental costs and only one income, that was too much for her,” Alsabeehg wrote.
He noted that the vast majority of immigrants in Norway come from Poland, Lithuania and other European countries, and learning Norwegian is a major challenge. “Polish women with master’s degrees are sitting at home because they can’t speak Norwegian yet, while the rest of the community can be shrieking after their competence,” Alsabeehg wrote. “They not lacking a willingness to learn, but the sheer ability to do so.” He’s calling for more support for language training for all immigrants, not just asylum seekers.
Language support, it’s argued, could also reduce chronic underemployment in Norway. The organization LIN (Likestilling, Inkludering og Nettverk), which promotes equality, inclusion and networking and offers Norwegian language training, also initiated a mentor program for those who have learned Norwegian that matches immigrants with Norwegians willing to help them integrate and find jobs.The willingness is clearly evident: Dagsavisen reported that 7,556 immigrants sought certification of their education and skills last year with NOKUT, the organization in charge of verifying degree programs from abroad, so they could hunt for jobs.
There are positive stories amidst the challenges. Akil Saleem wrote in a recent newspaper commentary that he arrived “hungry and afraid” in Norway in 1998 at age 10 with his refugee family from Iraq. He’s now a doctor, has one brother who just graduated from medical school and another who’s also a medical student. This summer Saleem was participating in a Norwegian medical mission to Ghana because he now wants to help people. “Norwegians gave us hope and lots of help,” he wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen. “Clarifying the gratitude we feel is difficult. There are no words. We just want to give something back.”