YEAR 2020

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LIfBi Lecture: The Reproduction of Social Inequality in the Educational System


The first hybrid LIfBi Lecture focused on how educational systems contribute to the reproduction of social inequality. During his visit to the Leibniz Institute in Bamberg, Professor Fabrizio Butera, Ph.D., from the University of Lausanne presented results of various analyses on the role of structural factors in the academic achievement gap between social classes.


To understand the structural factors that contribute to the achievement gap between social classes, the research team around Fabrizio Butera examined structural barriers in the educational system. Specifically, they looked at merit-based selection practices, along with grading and tracking as selection tools (tracking means the performance grouping of students, such as into different types of secondary schools).

The meritocratic ideal describes an exchange principle of individual performance for corresponding social positions - equal opportunity being an essential prerequisite in this process. Contrary to this presumption, Fabrizio Butera showed in his LIfBi Lecture on May 10, 2022, that the selective function of grading and tracking in the educational system can lead actors in the educational system to produce inequalities even when performance is equal.

In the underlying studies, pre-service teachers and students were asked to take on the role of a teacher and score tests in a variety of contexts. The central finding was that teachers' assessment of achievement and recommendation for a secondary school type can be influenced by knowledge of the students' socioeconomic background. This is particularly found in contexts that emphasize the selective function of schooling. In contrast, when the educational function is emphasized, it weakens the extent to which students' socio-economic backgrounds are considered in assessment and tracking.

The discussion that followed addressed numerous facets of the debate about the reproduction of social inequalities in the educational system. Lively discussions were held, for example, on the focus on the selection function of schools and the role of the binding character of teachers' recommendations in the transition to secondary education.

Link [external] to the profile of Professor Fabrizio Butera at the University of Lausanne