Disadvantaged kids make big leap in educational achievements, study finds

At the start of the millennium, Germany was lambasted by the OECD for the inequality that was prevalent in its schools. But a new study by the organization has found sizeable improvements in German schools.

Disadvantaged kids make big leap in educational achievements, study finds
Photo: DPA
According to a new PISA study, socially disadvantaged school pupils have made up for lost ground in Germany.
After only one in four pupils in the study achieved a good performance in 2006, almost one in three of these pupils (32.3 percent) performed solidly in 2015, as OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said on Monday in Berlin.
The proportion of strongly performing pupils from a difficult social and economic situation grew more than in almost any other country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
A decade and a half after PISA gave Germany a scathing report in 2001 due to below-average performance and social injustice in schools, the result makes for encouraging reading. Nevertheless, according to the study, Germany still remains below the OECD average in terms of equal opportunities.
“Social background is still a barrier,” said Schleicher.
The PISA results clearly set out how more opportunities could be created for disadvantaged pupils, listing more all-day schools, the merging of Realschulen and Hauptschulen, the establishment of more early childhood education at daycare centres and stronger support for pupils from migrant families.
“We must continue along this path,” said Schleicher, adding that “the last train is leaving the station. People who fail due to a missing out on a good initial education will hardly have a chance later on.”
Schleicher said that a positive school climate with a stable roster of teachers and a motivating leadership style are central to improving standards. The OECD Education Director said that teachers should be given time to address the different learning needs of individual students and groups of pupils. Pupils should be able to promote and address their talents and weaknesses outside the classroom as part of full-day activities.
“Class sizes and technical equipment do not in themselves create better learning conditions. The number of computers and tablets also says very little about the working atmosphere,” said Schleicher.
PISA is the world's largest school performance study and records the competencies of 15-year-olds in 80 countries.
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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.