A newly published PISA study reveals that children of immigrants have fewer chances to succeed in German schools than they do in almost any other industrial state.
Children of immigrants receive little support in German schools
The results of the latest study by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which were published on Monday, show that Germany is by far and large failing to help children of immigrant families integrate into society through education.
The study "Where Immigrant Children Succeed" drew evidence from the 2003 tests conducted with 15-year-old students in 41 countries, which covered mathematics, reading comprehension, science and problem-solving skills. It focused, however, on 17 countries with large immigrant populations, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Hong Kong and the US.
According to Barbara Ischinger, Director for Education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the difference in school performance between immigrant children and native German students was more pronounced in Germany than in almost any other country covered by the study.
"Something needs to be done about this urgently," Ischinger said.
From bad to worse
Integration of immigrant students is failing in Germany
While in some countries, second-generation immigrant children stayed on the same level of their first-generation counterparts, or, in some cases, recognizably improved their performance, Germany and, to a much lesser extent, Denmark and the Flemish part of Belgium, were an exception in this respect.
On average, 15-year-olds with an immigrant background trailed behind their native counterparts by 48 score points, an educational deficit worth about one whole year of study. In Germany, the gap between second-generation immigrant children and native students was twice as big: 90 score points.
Forty-seven percent of immigrant children born in Germany failed to achieve the minimum proficiency in mathematics, whereas in the case of first-generation immigrant children, who spent one part of their schooling in their country of origin, the deficiency in the knowledge of mathematics was shown by only 25 percent of students.
Not their fault
The report spotlights the enormous challenge facing the German educational system as it grapples with the problem of integrating immigration children.
Immigrant children show more interest in school than their German counterparts, the study said
The mere fact that Germany has a large immigrant population cannot adequately account for the fact that immigrant children underperform in German schools. Traditional immigrant societies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example, show significantly better results than Germany. Second-generation 15-year-olds with an immigrant background in Canada, for example, have scored 111 points more on average than their counterparts in Germany. That amounts to almost three years of study.
Language and the geographical origin of immigrant children may present additional factors, according to the report. But this is not sufficient to explain variations in performance between the countries. For example, immigrant students whose families come from Turkey tend to perform poorly in many countries, but they do significantly worse in Germany (405 score points) than they do in Switzerland (436 score points).
The performance of immigrant children in Germany can't be blamed on their lack of interest in school, either. On the PISA index of interest in and enjoyment of mathematics, for example, German immigrant students score significantly higher than native students. This also holds for the PISA index of instrumental motivation.
Missing language skills
German Minister of Education Annette Schavan
In the countries which have well-established and well-structured language support programs for immigrant children, especially in early childhood, the performance of second-generation immigrant children tends to be much closer, if not equal, to that of native children. In Canada and Australia, for example, immigrant children perform as well as native Canadians and Australians.
In Germany, the gap between native and immigrant children is particularly pronounced in those cases in which immigrant families do not speak German.
Additionally, the problem lies in German primary schools, which are ill-equipped to deal with socio-economic and cultural problems facing immigrant children. Immigrant children tend to be directed to schools with lower performance expectations and dominated by disadvantaged student population.
According to German Education Minister Annette Schavan, German schools addressed the problem of integration "too late." Schavan announced that a general integration strategy was currently under development by the German government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to host a summit dedicated to the topic at the end of June. Language programs, starting with kindergarten, are expected to perform an important role in the new government strategy.