Every three years, teenagers around the world are tested on their abilities in maths, science and reading, as part of PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment. Basically, it’s a way of comparing how well countries are doing when it comes to educating their children.  Because of Covid-19, the latest PISA data we have are from 2018 and what these data show is that in many countries, there are huge differences between children in how well they score, differences that are related to, for example, their parents’ level of education (often referred to as socio-economic status), where their parents come from (whether they have an immigrant background), and also the language spoken at home. What causes these differences and when do they emerge? Do we see the same differences for all bilingual children? In this episode of Kletsheads, we’re talking about the relationship between bilingualism and academic achievement. To what extent does speaking another language at home affect how well a child does at school?

In conversation with researcher Orhan Agirdag, we discover that the performance gap between bilingual students and their monolingual classmates is *not* due to their bilingualism. It is precisely the children who use their home language more that do better at PISA. So what is the reason? According to Orhan, this achievement gap is caused by the way bilingual children are treated in education. We talk about the role of teachers’ expectations, a country’s educational system, and about using the multicultural capital of bilingual children in school. 

Orhan Agirdag is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences of KU Leuven and at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences of the University of Amsterdam.  He has more than 100 publications to his name on all kinds of subjects concerning bilingualism and education. If you want to know more about his research and about the topics he discussed in the podcast, and you read Dutch, then read his book, Onderwijs in een gekleurde samenleving

In this episode I also share another Kletsheads Quick and Easy (starts at 25:44) with you, a concrete tip that you can put to use straightaway to make a success of the bilingualism in your family, class or clinic. This episode’s tip is to play a game with your child. It’s a tip taken from the resources provided by the PEACH project.  The PEACH project is a European project supporting families raising bilingual and multilingual children by creating a handbook for parents and educators as well as informative videos and a whole host of free resources for you to use (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page!). As I mentioned in the podcast, there are even pictures you can download to turn into jigsaw puzzles to play with your child whilst speaking your hertiage language. It’s well worth a look!

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