LOG IN
BlogNewslettersPublicationsNewsCalendar
Me and My City – an Experiential Method for Learning Economics for primary school studentsHelping students to think rationally about migration21st European Economics Education Conference, Kufstein, Austria

Helping students to think rationally about migration

Author: Steve Hurd, Senior Lecturer in Education, Research in International Teacher Education (RITES) Group, The Open University,United Kingdom
September 2, 2016

This blog provides some ideas for making use of the attached PowerPoint on the migration issue, which I presented at the 21st European Conference on Economics Education in Kufstein, Austria.

Migration PowerPoint Slides

If you teach economics in any context, do you discuss the issue of migration with your students? It is potentially emotive and complex and, as teachers of economics and social studies, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is addressed in a rational and empathetic way. The PowerPoint slides can be used selectively to provide a context for further investigation and discussion. migration_boat

Migration can be used to illustrate economic principles such as the workings of the labour market. The simple approach is to use migration as an example of a rise in the supply of labour having a depressing effect on wages. More insight may be gained by asking in which segments of the labour market are wages more likely to be depressed – the less skilled sections such as low level work in the service sector, fast food outlets, hotels or in horticulture. Highly skilled migrants e.g. doctors and nurses may help to stem staff shortages in hospitals. The workers most likely to face competition from new migrants are previous waves of migrants.

It has to be noted that many migrants are entrepreneurs. They set up their own businesses, create jobs for others and so increase the demand for labour. So economic theory tells us that migrants put both downward and upward pressure on wages. So we need to look to the empirical evidence before reaching a conclusion. In the UK, for example, there is relatively little evidence of systematic downward pressure on wages from migration, but there are local and sectoral effects. The more detailed our study the less likely it is that students will feel that migration is a black and white issue, and the more likely they are to develop a nuanced approach.

The presentation explores the origins of the fortress mentality, which leads people to want to put up barriers to all migration. Countries have fought hard over centuries to establish stable borders and safe spaces in which to foster the growth of commerce, develop their social infrastructure and foster a common culture in which their people can live safely and happily. The incursion of newcomers, especially those who question the status quo provide a dynamic for change but they may also pose a threat to the established order. A fruitful way of examining this is through the economics of clubs. It postulates that (a) it is rational and not racist to limit the number of migrants, (b) we should accept more migrants so long as their marginal social benefit exceeds their marginal social costs. The only problem is that if it leads to the creation of a closed society then we will deny ourselves the social richness and new ideas that migrants bring and, in some way, fossilise our societies.

The presentation gives reasons (economic and other) why people migrate. War and civil strife create a refugee problem. This is something that all countries should help with, through United National Agencies, by facilitating resettlement and alleviating the causes of distress in those countries from which migrants are fleeing. People also migrate to improve the long-term life chances for themselves and their families. This is motivated by the prospect of higher wages, better job and promotion prospects and advancement through education and training. The existence of a diaspora of kith and kin plays a facilitating role in migration. So a first wave of migrants makes it easier for a second wave by providing information and help with settlement. This poses difficult policy choices for receiving nations. Should they respect kinship ties and allow families to reunite or not allow family ties as grounds for migration? There is much scope here for discussion in class.

In order to understand migration fully we need to realise that it is a two-way flow. All countries gain and lose people through migration. Migrants’ remittances substantially boost the incomes of source countries. Many migrants return home after a time with new skills and with capital to start businesses. So migration can be an important factor promoting economic development in poorer countries. When designing teaching programmes, therefore, we need to examine:

  • What motivates migrants to move (security, wages, employment, long-term life chances and opportunities for family – all aided by the diaspora of people who have already made the move)
  • The impact of migration on receiving countries (wages, employment, housing, health and social services, dynamic growth effects)
  • The impact of emigration from countries losing people (loss of skilled and educated workers, receipt of remittances, more highly productive returnees who boost growth and development).

Case studies that present migrant stories as well as of receiving communities are very helpful for promoting understanding and empathy. These appear in newspapers and books. Two interesting books with migrant stories are:

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson “Cast Away”, and

Patrick Kingsley “The New Odyssey”.

A good book on the economics of migration is:

Paul Collier “Exodus – How migration is changing our world”.

The PowerPoint presentation summarises policy options, which are discussed fully in Collier’s book. These include:

  • Border controls and ceilings on numbers
  • Selectivity (e.g. points-based systems vs ballots)
  • Measures to foster the integration of migrants
  • Legalisation of illegal immigrants
  • Treatment of refugees

These provide considerable scope for student investigation, attitude surveys in the local community and discussion.

At the end of the presentation there are 4 migrant stories and 5 tasks. These are designed to promote group work.

I urge teachers to find time in class to address the issue of immigration. I encourage you to find time to go beyond the superficial and give students an opportunity to understand some of the complexity. Please feel free to use the PowerPoint slides – adapt them to your needs and use them selectively.

Please find time to give your views on the ideas presented and tell us about your own teaching suggestions and experiences on the AEEE Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145607098803006/.