Education does not reach the poor

poverty in Germany
A good education is always something for high earners

Child poverty is at the root of education poverty – nowhere in Europe is this clearer than in Germany. The new federal government also wants to address the issue. And there are some clever ideas to improve the poorest people.

At the turn of the millennium, the shock is great. In 2001, in the first international study of school performance PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), published every three years, Germany ranked 21 to 25 depending on the area of ​​competence – out of 32 countries examined. The shock of Pisa was profound. Particularly noteworthy is the extent to which good results are linked to social background. This has not changed much to date, although Germany has improved markedly in the latest study published at the end of 2019 in the rankings and is slightly above the OECD average in all three areas of skills such as reading, mathematics and the natural sciences.

Unfortunately, in 2018, with regard to reading, Pisa showed that the dependence of reading skills on the socio-economic background of parents was increasing. Pupils from particularly privileged social backgrounds are 113 points ahead of their peers from particularly disadvantaged social backgrounds. Only in three OECD countries is the gap between origin groups greater. Assuming that school education is the cornerstone of vocational training and success in working life, German children not only lag far behind in terms of equal opportunities, but also little chance of breaking the vicious circle: those who grow up poor stay poor.

But where is the cause? Is education not reaching the poor? Or do the poorest not receive an education? After all, children from wealthy families rub shoulders with children from disadvantaged social backgrounds in the same school class.

The fact is, early childhood support, special hobbies and linking up with clubs is all about the wallet. Low-income families can do less for children. However, it is not only a question of external appearance, but also of internal approach. The lack of money makes you unfree, in your concrete way of life, but also in your way of thinking. “think big!”, think big, is simply not possible with a small parental income, or only as a daydream. This applies to the school years, during which motivation and determination can vary among teenagers. This applies in particular to the crucial transition phase: the start of your career.

A problem that starts much more abstractly: research shows that young people often cannot foresee the consequences of their decisions, for example with regard to their graduation certificate, says Professor Ute Klammer, director of the Institute for Labor and Qualifications of the University of Duisburg-Essen. “Basically, financial education or economic lifestyle should already be on the school curriculum. Today, people are much more obliged to design their CV independently – but they are often not well prepared, ”explains the expert.

Overall, access to higher education is still highly dependent on origin, above all higher education with the prospect of better paid jobs. “We’ve been working on this for years – with scouting programs for students from non-university households, mentoring programs, special counseling services and alternatives to overseas projects if, for example, you don’t have not the money for a stay abroad, “explains Klammer of many initiatives, the problem has been recognized, but much of it is still too impenetrable.”

Indeed, the new government’s coalition agreement literally specifies that it is a question of “improving the permeability of vocational and academic education”, of “specifically promoting” vocational training and “introducing the enhancement talent in vocational training”. Much remains unclear, for example on crafts and the shortage of skilled labour: work-study training must be “strengthened”, people with an immigrant background must also be “empowered” through a funding initiative, just like women in crafts. The fact that the government wants to drastically reduce the costs of master classes and letters for participants is a start. It remains to be seen what will actually be implemented to ensure equal opportunities regardless of social status.

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