Diversity as a value

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Diversity as a quality indicator

School social composition, and especially the presence of foreigners, is usually interpreted by families as an indicator of low achievement and bad performance. Several schools and municipalities have tried to work on the message of diversity as a positive value to change this narrative. Nevertheless, most parents are not aware of the instrumental advantages for their children of living in a diverse learning environment and they see only the potential flaws: slowdown of the learning activities, relational difficulties, exposure of their children to unpleasant and not accepted behaviours. In order to counteract this narrative, information should stress the instrumental advantages of a heterogeneous environment.

Diversity as a quality indicator


1) Is the presence of foreign students always an obstacle to school performance?

The relationship between the presence of socially disadvantaged students in a class and students’ performance is not linear. Several studies have found diverse evidence depending on the socio-economic composition of the school, the features of the territory in which the school is embedded, the school pedagogical offer and the organization of the educational system. The threshold at which the presence of disadvantaged students or students belonging to ethnic minorities become an issue in terms of school performance changes among cities and depends on the residential segregation as well, but it is usually higher than the threshold perceived as problematic from native families, who take this characteristic in consideration for their choice. The high presence of ethnic minority students’ in certain school has a negative impact on the performance of minority students themselves, affecting much less or not at to native students. In addition, it has to be noticed the difference between first or second generation foreign students. Students arrived from another school system entail higher learning difficulties and may have a higher impact on school performance than second generation foreign students..


2) In which way a diverse environment would help children in acquiring useful skills?

Current society is diverse by definition, not only as the ethnic origin is concerned, but also in terms of gender orientation, religious belief, systems of values, lifestyle and so on. Confronting and managing diversity every day at school would help children and young people to navigate and integrate themselves as future citizens in the wider society, which shows significant levels of complexity. Socializing in diverse and complex environment becomes an asset for social and labour integration in the future.


3) Which kind of skills diversity provides?

Diversity, or living in a diverse environment, provides tangible skills that have been started to be recognized and appreciate as requirements for a professional career. Capabilities such as cross-cultural communication, mitigating conflicts, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic understanding and inclusive management can be very appreciated and useful in a work-place and they can be acquired in a diverse school environment. The increasing relevance of these skills is proven by the flourishing of courses on “diversity” among universities, organizations and firms (i.e University of Gottingen).

Data and evidence

1) School composition is not an indicator of school quality

Primary school composition

Several scholars indicate the correlation between presence of foreigners and lower performance, but while this can be a general trend, several exceptions contradict these results. See for instance the following data on the city of Milan.

Some primary schools have a higher presence of foreigners than the city average, but show good test results. These schools have a share of foreigners between the 25% and 40%. Seven schools that are above the 25% in terms of foreigners’ presence show results higher than the city average both in math and Italian.

In lower secondary schools the correlation between the presence of foreigners and the average performance of the school are even weaker because: this could be linked to the fact that foreigner students have already spent some years in the Italian school system at this point and differences, in Italian language for instance, tend to narrow.

Cordini M., Parma A. (2016) Alunni stranieri e performance scolastiche: il caso di Milan, Rivista delle Politiche Sociali, 2/2016

Cordini M., Parma A., Ranci C. (2019) White flight in Milan: school segregation as a result of home to school mobility, Urban Studies, 56 (15): 3216-3233


2) Diversity has become a skill valued also in workplaces

In 2006 in Germany the Charta of diversity that promotes diversity as a chance was signed: The initiative aims to promote the recognition, appreciation and integration of diversity into Germany’s business culture. Organisations should create a working environment free of biases. All employees should be valued – regardless of age, ethnic origin and nationality, gender, religion and worldview, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation and social background. Over 4,500 companies and organisations with a total of more than 14,6 million employees have already signed, and new signatories are continually being added.


Diversity skills include:

  • Confronting bias
  • Mitigating microaggressions
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Multi-cultural and multiethnic understanding
  • Combatting stereotypes
  • Cultural awareness and belonging
  • Inclusive management


What kind of information policies may cities develop?


1) “Changing school reputation policy” in Milan: from a segregated school into an international school



2) Giving value to diversity

Advertisement of an American school that prepare for future teachers and highlight the value of diversity