Miscommunication causes problems between migrant parents & teachers

Teachers in the Netherlands discuss children's school performances differently with migrant parents than they do with Dutch parents.

Migrant parents tend to have a different educational vision and tend to encourage their children to perform well at school in a different manner compared to Dutch parents, and the approach of teachers often fits in better with that of Dutch parents. This can lead to communication problems between the school and migrant parents, according to researchers from Utrecht University who are investigating the role of schools in the socialisation of migrant families.

In the last year of primary school, parents and children receive advice from the school regarding the choice of secondary school education during a consultation. The researchers analysed a number of these meetings between teachers and parents with Dutch, Turkish, and Moroccan backgrounds.

The analysis of the meetings revealed that teachers explain the school performances of children differently depending on which parents they speak with. Teachers often ascribed the school performances of migrant (so-called "allochtonous") children to "effort" ("doing your best"), whereas the performances of Dutch children were more often ascribed by teachers to psychological factors such as concentration or fear of failure. Dutch parents also more frequently stated causes that were associated with the child's personality.

Dutch parents and teachers apparently expected to agree with each other in meetings. Dutch parents were more successful in proposing their own explanations, and as a result they exerted more influence on the meeting and the diagnosis.

The meetings with Dutch parents were also found to be more interactive than those with migrant parents. In the meetings with migrant parents, teachers expected to differ in opinion, and as a result the teachers had the tendency to refute any explanations the parents might give for good or bad performance before the parents had even said anything.

One of the researchers, Mariëtte de Haan, believes that the communication between teachers and migrant parents can be improved by dealing more deliberately with differences from Dutch parents with respect to vision, attitude and behaviour.

De Haan also notes, "Allochtonous parents adopt a more distant approach to the teacher. They see a large difference in the responsibility between the teacher as a professional and themselves as parents. Dutch parents reduce this gap." The researchers also noted that the more educated the migrant parents were, the more their behaviour and attitude were similar to that of Dutch parents.

Migrant parents are at an obvious disadvantage in these meetings due to their lack of experience, more limited understanding of the language, and less familiarity with the Dutch school system compared to Dutch parents. Furthermore, their pedagogic vision sometimes differs from that of the school. Even though both sides presumably share the same goals, the differences in vision make it difficult for migrant parents and teachers to work together as partners.

These findings come from the research project "The role of the school in the socialisation of migrant families," which focuses on communicative processes at schools as a reflection of the interaction between schools and communities. It is being funded by the Dutch Programme Council for Educational Research, a unit of NWO (The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research), and is being carried out by Utrecht University.

Carly Blair


Carly Blair



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