Export world champion Germany is in need for well trained professionals to maintain and to increase its wealth. At the beginning of September, the OECD report "Education at a glance" was published containing good and bad news for Germany. The good news is that German students are among the best in Europe. However, there are as many (very) good students as students with (very) low education. How can these two results, namely high performance and great disparity, be combined?
Family and school as well as their interaction are the most important factors. The Centre of European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, in cooperation with the Leibniz research network "non-cognitive skills: acquisition and economic consequences", is conducting research why there is such a large disparity in Germany. Dr. Friedhelm Pfeiffer, deputy head of the department "Labour Markets, Human Resources and Social Policy", explains that the family background’s impact on the disparity of students’ performances was underestimated until now, while the school’s influence was overrated.
In the end, the psychosocial and emotional family background is more important than educational success, says Pfeiffer. The research findings indicate that the factors helping the development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills in preschool are also significant for success in school. The basic cognitive and non-cognitive skills are, for example, memory, mathematical logic skills and problem solving skill in general, as well as language skills. These skills are encouraged by a responsive family background where children experience emotional support as well as the necessary freedom as infants and toddlers. Children with a family background where repulsion, violence at home or neglect is the case cannot develop existing skills. They have to deal with handling these negative images and are left alone in class.
Education is a cumulative process. All steps are important and all are interlinked. Students miss out on the further development of cognitive skills, which are measured by PISA. According to Pfeiffer, school has to support children with disadvantages because of their family background better. On the one hand, programmes for the development of non-cognitive skills have to be improved. Stamina, motivation, persistence and self-efficacy can be improved significantly in school with some help. In the long term, this would have high individual and social benefits. Furthermore, high performing children would also benefit.
However, schools cannot perform magic, says Pfeiffer. Family life is essential for a good foundation. Basic skills for lifelong learning are founded long before entering kindergarten. The bad news of these findings is that early learning failures lead to more failures. Children who have disadvantages because of their psychosocial family background experience failures at a very young age, for example because they do not receive any emotional support although they wish to develop competences. Therefore, there have to be more public funds in (very) early years. Provision is the economic key.
The ZEW provides information and recent findings of educational research on its website.
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