How to integrate children from minority groups with majority population in school is of great interest and the focus in this chapter. Immigrant students are known to have better attitudes towards school compared to native students, but feel a weaker sense of belonging at school. The aim of this Swedish study was to evaluate further how students adapt to their school class with respect to ethnicity and gender. Data from the self-reporting of attitudes by 12-year old students in 77 classes were sampled and used in confirmatory factor analysis. Three school factors and four relational factors were identified. Social networks were made up of students who voluntarily and reciprocally chose each other to be with during breaks. The analysis of the choices was carried out using a Matlab program identifying reciprocal (bilateral) choices. Three categories of network were identified using the names of their members. Mixed ethnicity networks were compared to majority (Scandinavian), and minority networks (Non-Scandinavian). Members outside networks were labelled “Outsiders”.
In Scandinavian networks, girls were more anxious at school and scored relationships to their classmates and the view of their peers significantly lower than the male students. Girls in this category also felt that disruption in the classroom was more common while the boys were, apparently, more tolerant of it.
One out of five was classified non-Scandinavian. Non-Scandinavian networks had high scoring for the categories “Interest in School” and “Working Atmosphere”. Scandinavian and Mixed networks showed similarities. Within Mixed networks, gender differences were exclusively dependent on Non-Scandinavian students’ attitudes. Non-Scandinavian girls in the Mixed networks were surprisingly similar to their female Scandinavian peers. Non-Scandinavian individuals in Mixed networks still had higher scores for “Interest in School”. Non-Scandinavian girls scored “Relationships to their classmates” and “View of their peers” lower than their male peers and confirmed that disruption in the classroom was more common. Individuals outside networks were overrepresented among Non-Scandinavians, and at risk of rejection. Outsiders showed weaker relationships with classmates, had more problems with peers and were more anxious at school. Furthermore, they considered disruption during lessons to be common. The significant gender differences are interesting and should be further investigated.
Promotion of a mixture of ethnicities appeared best for attitudes to school. For both immigrants and native students, it is a most valuable task to support the development of identities through schooling. Their final identity will include significant identification with peers. To actively prevent children from experience apparent isolation especially during breaks seems necessary. Teachers and/or other school staff are strongly recommended to help such children to interact with class members. Furthermore, it can be problematic if smaller networks become too closed. These very small groups become vulnerable if an individual move to another school or are absent due to other reasons.
The results of this study could be used to find a mixture of ethnicities that give the optimal score for attitudes towards school, teachers and peers. Educationalists can be encouraged to mediate important variables which exist in a safe and orderly school environment. This include a specific focus on teacher socialisation competence.