I was excited about the opportunity to explore a new country and make new friends when I moved to the UK as a boy of nine in 2018. However, when I started school in the new country, I found it very difficult to adapt to the culture and surroundings. I knew I was one of the fortunate ones who has got the opportunity to experience the education system in one of the most advanced countries in the world, which many children in the world cannot afford, or even dream.
It’s been nearly five years since then, and I am writing this to share my experience and thoughts with parents who migrate to the UK with their children. My parents had given enough thought and prepared my sibling and me before we moved to the UK. But I feel that preparation wasn’t sufficient.
I was a cheerful and popular kid studying in a famous Hyderabad Public School, located in Ramanthapur, Hyderabad, India. If only I had known, I would’ve totally stayed back in India and chosen to live in a hostel instead of coming to the UK. It’s been especially tough for me to make new friends here because I’m naturally social and had a bunch of friends back home. All my school buddies and neighbourhood pals just disappeared all of a sudden, and on top of that, the weather here is so gloomy that I often find myself sitting alone at home. It has had a big impact on me. Thankfully, my parents, have been doing everything they can to make me feel better.
Based on personal experience and a survey I conducted with 50 Indian students living in the UK, I’ve discovered some important issues that parents of migrant children should focus on.
From the parents’ point of view, they face their own challenges in adjusting to a new country with their family. However, instead of simply telling their children to adjust and be calm, parents should put more thought and effort into helping their kids transition to the new environment. For example, choosing to live in areas where there are other children from similar backgrounds, selecting schools with similar criteria, finding ways for children to meet other immigrant kids more often, and planning outings together can all make the transition easier.
From the schools’ perspective, one common challenge for Indian immigrant children is language barriers. Around 45% of the students in the survey mentioned that language difficulties affect their academic performance and understanding of the curriculum. Schools need to provide language support, such as English classes, peer assistance, and access to bilingual resources, to help these students integrate and succeed in their studies.
Another issue that emerged from the survey is cultural differences. Over 60% of the respondents found it difficult to adapt to the British education system and culture. UK schools can be quite different from what Indian children are used to, causing stress and anxiety. Schools can help by offering orientation programs, cultural exchange activities, and support networks to help students feel more connected to their new environment.
Discrimination and racism were also highlighted as significant issues by the students in the survey. They reported experiencing racial slurs, bullying, and prejudice. Schools should have zero-tolerance policies toward discrimination and racism and provide support services like counseling, peer support, and mentorship programs for those affected.
Another problem that some of the people in the survey mentioned was that there’s not enough diversity among the teachers. Around 20% of the students who were asked said they felt uneasy when they had to talk to teachers who didn’t get where they’re coming from culturally. To fix this, schools can hire more teachers from different backgrounds, give cultural training to the current staff, and even encourage students from diverse backgrounds to think about becoming teachers. That way, they can make everyone feel more understood and included in the learning process.
In conclusion, there are several steps that schools can take to address the challenges faced by Indian immigrant children in UK schools. This includes providing language support, orientation programs, cultural exchange activities, and a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and racism. It’s important to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where all students feel supported and can reach their full potential.
Varshith Premnath Kokkonda is a Year 9 student at Palmer Catholic School, London