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[en] Achievement gaps between students of different family backgrounds have been found in many countries (e.g. Stanat & Christensen, 2006). They are not only based on socioeconomic status or immigration background, but also on home language: If children do not speak the language of instruction at home, they are often disadvantaged in school and perform worse in school performance tests than students speaking the instruction language at home (e.g. Van Staden et al., 2016). Low SES increases the risk that children with an L2 instruction language are disadvantaged (Cummins, 2018). With rising numbers of global migration (Edmond, 2020), these disparities in educational systems can be expected to become more distinct in the future. Luxembourg is a trilingual country with an already highly diverse student population in terms of nationality and language background, with 67 % of elementary school students not speaking the first instruction language Luxembourgish at home (MENJE & SCRIPT, 2022). It is therefore a prime example to study these educational challenges ahead of time. In addition to the “super-diversity” of Luxembourg, students of different language backgrounds have to deal with a highly demanding language curriculum at school, in which the instruction language switches first from Luxembourgish to German and then to French in secondary education. In consequence, many students face challenges in acquiring language and literacy skills (e.g. Hornung et al., 2021) – leading to distinct gaps between students of different language backgrounds.
One possible way to decrease such disparities might be an early and extensive participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC). Participation in ECEC, that is “any regulated arrangement that provides education and care to children from birth to compulsory primary school age” (European Commission, n.d.), has been shown to have positive effects on language development and other cognitive abilities. These effects differ between age groups. For young children from age 0 to 3, a Norwegian study found that scaling up early ECEC improved early language skills at the age of seven (Drange & Havnes, 2015). However, a review also indicated research on this age group was scarcer and produced more varied findings (Melhuish et al., 2015). For children between the ages 3 and 6, effects on language and other cognitive skills were more consistently positive (Melhuish et al., 2015). In children with differing home language backgrounds, this association was stronger than in those who spoke the majority language at home (Ansari et al., 2021). This study aims to investigate if these findings hold in the multilingual and diverse school context of Luxembourg and to analyze the effects of ECEC attendance on language performance, differentiated by the student’s home language background and the particular type of ECEC (non-formal daycare vs formal early education). Based on the presented literature, we hypothesize that (1) participation in ECEC, formal and nonformal, is associated with higher listening comprehension in Luxembourgish (i.e. the first instruction language) in grade 1, that (2) the associations are moderated by the children home language background where greater associations are expected for children who do not speak the instruction language at home and that (3) participation in formal ECEC explains more variance than participation in nonformal ECEC.
Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
To answer our research questions, we draw on a large-scale dataset of n = 5.952 first graders from the Luxemburg school monitoring programme ÉpStan (Épreuves Standardisées) in 2021. The ÉpStan includes questionnaires and written competence tests in key school areas that are implemented every year for all Luxembourgish students in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Its aim is a.o. to objectively assess the long-term performance of the Luxembourgish school system. For our study, we focus on Luxembourg listening comprehension in grade 1, which is assessed with different text formats, such as dialogues, short stories or radio broadcasts presented on CDs. The test is measuring different sub-skills, defined by the national curriculum, such as understanding one’s interlocutor, locating, understanding and interpreting information, and applying listening strategies (recognition of noises and voices). Information on ECEC participation is assessed retrospectively in parent questionnaires for crèches (non-formal ECEC targeted at 0-4 year olds) and for précoce (formal ECEC, targeted at 3 year olds). Home language background is assessed by self-report in the student questionnaire and categorised into five groups: a) Luxembourgish, b) French, c) Portuguese, d) bilingual Luxembourgish / French and e) bilingual Luxembourgish / Portuguese. After checking whether the prerequisites for the analyses are met, we calculate a multivariate regression model with the two ECEC types as binary predictors and other family background variables as control for hypothesis (1). For hypothesis (2), we test whether home language background moderates the association between ECEC and language performance by adding interaction terms of home language group with each ECEC type to our regression model. For hypothesis (3), we compare the incremental variance explained by each ECEC type.
Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
We expect our outcomes to show that attendance in both ECEC types have positive associations with Luxembourgish listening comprehension in first grade, in line with many findings on the topic. Additionally, attendance in formal ECEC is expected to explain more variance in Luxembourgish listening comprehension than attendance in nonformal ECEC as Luxembourgish is the main instruction language in formal ECEC. In nonformal ECEC institutions, language policies are usually less rigid and more plurilingual. We also expect significant moderations of this effect by home language background: We do not expect a strong effect of both formal and nonformal ECEC on listening comprehension for children who speak only Luxembourgish at home, as they are expected to have developed these skills at home. Children who do not speak Luxembourgish at home are, on the other hand, expected to benefit more from ECEC attendance. This would then indicate that more time spent in ECEC institutions fostered their basic skills in the instruction language and helped gain better listening performance. Being competent in the instruction language is essential for further learning. Without the language skills, children are unable to connect to the school’s input (Schleppegrell, 2001). All in all, the findings might help to understand the effects of two different ECEC types in Luxembourg for children of different language backgrounds – indicating for whom ECEC attendance should be explicitly encouraged. It might also give us valuable hints towards characteristics of ECEC that are especially helpful to further language skills and thus, later school performance. Implications on possible policy decisions with the goal of closing achievement gaps and furthering educational equality will be discussed.
Ansari, A., Pianta, R. C., Whittaker, J. E., Vitiello, V., & Ruzek, E. (2021). Enrollment in public-prekindergarten and school readiness skills at kindergarten entry: Differential associations by home language, income, and program characteristics. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 54, 60–71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.07.011
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