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NEPS data in 8th National Report on Education reveal: Education still depends on social background

In cooperation with the Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education (DIPF), the German Youth Institute (DJI), the Centre for Higher Education and Science Studies (DZHW), the Sociological Research Institute at the University of Göttingen (SOFI), the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the statistical agencies of the Federal Government and the States (Destatis, StaLä), the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) has completed the 8th National Report on Education in Germany “Bildung in Deutschland 2020“, which was presented on June 23, 2020. A particular concern in the education report is the presentation of trajectories, risk factors, and conditions for success in education, thus providing insights into educational outcomes and returns. The current report increasingly uses longitudinal data from the National Education Panel Study (NEPS), which is based at LIfBi and has been conducted by a nationwide network for around ten years. The following seven results are examples of NEPS findings in the current Education Report.

Social background determines the course of school education

A comparison based on NEPS data of the trajectories of students with low, medium, and high socioeconomic status shows that social origin not only shapes the transition to secondary school but also plays an important role in their later school career. Compared to their peers with low social status, high-status students (79%) are almost three times as likely to enter upper secondary school at Gymnasium level [type of school leading to upper secondary education and Abitur] and continue their education until the end of secondary education. However, it is also noteworthy that 16% and 13% of young people of low and medium social status, respectively, still enter a higher course of education during or after lower secondary education.

The NEPS data show that the vast majority of students (81%) follow a linear course of lower secondary education at the school where they started. Children who transfer to a Gymnasium or Realschule [intermediate secondary school] after elementary school revise this educational decision significantly less often than those attending other types of schools. However, 11% of lower secondary school graduates still switch to school types offering higher qualifications and/or courses of education (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Section D2).

Development of math competence can be a good indicator of upward or downward mobility

In the case of Realschule students starting out on the same competence level, NEPS data show that it is particularly students who have previously made substantial progress in their mathematical competence that will continue their school careers attending a Gymnasium. Even in schools with two educational tracks, it is more often young people who have shown the greatest improvements in their performance in lower secondary education that are entering a higher-qualifying course. The opposite applies to downward mobility at upper secondary schools: Students who leave Gymnasium prematurely for lower-qualifying school types start and finish lower secondary level I with inferior performance in mathematics than those who pass through the Gymnasium without transferring. (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Chapter D7).

Even two years after graduation, not every young person has a place in vocational training

In the case of graduates from Grades 9 and 10, representative data show that 52% are in dual or full-time school-based vocational education and training three months after leaving school. Also, 17% of school leavers transfer to a new school. Furthermore, another 21% are taking career preparation measures, and about 7% are registered as unskilled workers, job seekers, or unemployed. 3% of the young people are on parental leave, doing military service, or information on their educational path is unknown. 58% of young people are in full-time vocational training 24 months after leaving school. At the same time, however, the data also show that 30% of graduates have not entered qualified vocational training or another further education program at this point in time. (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Section E4)

Sociostructural characteristics determine the transition processes to vocational training

The higher the level of one’s school-leaving certificate, the easier it is to make a swift transition to vocational education and training: 34% of adolescents with a basic leaving certificate of the Hauptschule start training immediately after leaving school, compared to 56% of adolescents with a leaving certificate of the Realschule. Graduates without a migrant background are more likely to make a seamless transition to the dual system and are less likely to be found on unstable training paths than young people with a migrant background. Adolescents with a high status are more likely to go to a secondary (vocational) school to obtain an entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences. On the other hand, however, they are less likely to end up in in-company vocational training than adolescents of lower status (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Section E4):

Deficits in IT skills at the beginning and in advanced studies

One-fifth of prospective higher-education students fail to acquire a basic level of IT skills at the end of their school career that would be required at the start of their studies. In this regard, the NEPS data do show that a significantly higher level of expertise is evident after the first three years of their studies. However, if one assumes that information-, computer-, and technology-related skills (ICT) at a higher level are a prerequisite for successful studies, approximately half of the students fall short of these requirements (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Chapter H5).

Few changes in field of study among higher-education students

According to the NEPS data, the decision regarding higher-education studies is highly stable: Only 15% of the surveyed students change their field of study, and if they do change it, it is relatively early on after starting their studies. The change rate at universities (20%) is significantly higher than at universities of applied sciences (8%). In medicine, there are hardly any transfers and in teaching only in a few cases. There are frequent changes from specialist studies to teaching professions as well as from the natural sciences to engineering. (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Chapter F4)

Children’s increasing educational attainment compared to their parents

An examination of the educational attainment of parents and their children using NEPS data shows that offspring at the age of 30 have obtained a higher level of education than their parents: They are more likely to have a university degree, a degree from a university of applied sciences or cooperative education, or college of public administration. The majority of 30-year-olds (63%) are intergenerationally mobile in education when directly compared with their parents—that is, they either acquire a higher or a lower educational qualification, with upward mobility being higher than downward mobility. (Source: National Report on Education 2020, Chapter I4).

Link to "National Report in Education" (German only)

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