Neighbourhood Ethnic Diversity Buffers School Readiness Impact in ESL Children

Chassidy Puchala, Lan T.H. Vu, Nazeem Muhajarine


Objectives: Contextual factors, as measured by neighbourhood characteristics, shape the experiences children have and affect their “school readiness”, i.e., whether they are well or poorly prepared for the transition from home to kindergarten. This study assessed the independent effects of individual and neighbourhood factors on school readiness; specifically, it examined whether and to what degree neighbourhood factors modified children’s language ability and thus their school readiness in a population of children in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Method: The study included all children attending kindergarten in 2001, 2003 and 2005 in Saskatoon. School readiness and child characteristics were measured by the Early Development Instrument (EDI). The EDI measures child development at school commencement in five domains: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, cognitive and language development, and communication skills and general knowledge. Data from the 2001 Census were used to characterize Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods. Multilevel modeling examined the independent and buffering or exacerbating effects of individual and neighbourhood factors on the relation between English as a Second Language (ESL) status in children and EDI domain scores.

Results: ESL children had significantly lower scores on all EDI domains compared with non-ESL children. Certain factors (e.g., younger age, male, Aboriginal status, having special needs) were significantly related to lower readiness in terms of the emotional maturity, and communication skills and general knowledge domains. Importantly, children who lived in neighbourhoods that were highly transient (with a higher proportion of residents who had moved in the previous year) had lower EDI scores on both domains, and those in neighbourhoods with lower rates of employment had lower EDI scores on communication skills and general knowledge. Neighbourhood ethnic diversity mitigated the negative impact of ESL status on school readiness for both domains. ESL children from neighbourhoods with a high degree of ethnic diversity had higher EDI scores than ESL children from neighbourhoods with low ethnic diversity.

Discussion: The current study provided insight regarding the impact of contextual factors in addition to individual factors, such as ESL status, on school readiness outcomes. Future research should continue to examine contextual factors related to ESL status and early child developmental outcomes, particularly focusing on the mechanisms of influence.

Key words: Child development; child language; residence characteristics; neighbourhood


School readiness, English as Second Language children, neighbourhood effects, multilevel modeling