Schoolchildren's performance on the decline in Western Europe
An increasing number of studies are highlighting the fact that students are achieving poorer and poorer results every year in school. Among the weakest subjects are mathematics and German language.
Boys are ahead of girls
The overall performance of fourth-graders has declined every year over the past decade, a study titled ““MINT Nachwuchsbarometer 2023” by the German Academy of Science and Technology (Acatech) and the Joachim Herz Foundation suggests.
In mathematics, the results of fourth-graders decreased from 500 points in 2011 to 462 points in 2021 at a test, a result roughly equivalent to a school year’s gap, experts say. Boys have a performance advantage over girls in the 4th grade in maths, the results suggest.
22 per cent of the fourth-graders are in the so-called “risk group” in mathematics in 2021, a two-fold increase since 2011. The risk group is the smallest in Bavaria with 13 per cent and the largest in Bremen with 35 per cent.
Another aspect is also quite telling: the academic results of children with immigrant background are far worse than those of their German peers. In mathematics, the performance difference between first-graders with and without an immigrant background was equivalent to nearly one and a half school years. Specifically, the performance in mathematics of pupils from non-migrant backgrounds decreased from 515 to 487 points between 2011 and 2021. The performance of pupils from second generation migrant backgrounds (i.e. born in Germany) decreased from 461 to 434 points. Meanwhile, the performance of pupils from first generation migrant backgrounds (i.e. born abroad) decreased from 460 to 400 points.
Schoolchildren are also falling behind in other subjects in Germany
Educational researchers urge immediate action as many fourth-graders are falling behind not only in mathematics, but Germany language skills, and a lot of them have behavioural problems. The alarming findings of these studies must be interpreted as a wake-up call, reads a report made a few months ago for a standing commission of German state-level educational and cultural ministers. The study was compiled by an advisory body consisting 16 educational researchers, which regularly provides expert reports for educational policy in Germany.
The document reveals that in many cases, primary schools fail in teaching the basic competencies. The authors cite a previous study suggesting that
one in five fourth-graders are unable to meet even the minimal requirements in German language and mathematics, and almost every fourth student of age 7-10 are at elevated risk of psychological problems.
Experts say that the issue of primary school education is one of the most pressing in education policy at the moment, alongside teacher shortages, because of the threat of long-term negative effects.
The primary school students who have difficulties with reading, understanding, counting and writing will experience problems as they progress with their studies, up to the school leaving examination and probably also in life. However, in the era of labour and skills shortages, society depends more than ever on young people receiving good education and training.
the researchers say. They, however, do not place the blame solely on the primary schools. The report adds that the framework of institutional education has changed significantly in the past years.
This applies, for example, to the growing proportion of children whose families speak languages other than German. According to the report, this is the case with one in five children between the ages of three and six. The inclusion of children with special educational needs and the integration of newly immigrant children also place new demands on primary school teachers
the report reads, implying that the most heavily affected are the schools attended mostly by children with immigrant backgrounds. The experts propose a number of measures to reverse the negative trend in maths and German language skills seen in recent years and to counter the development of behavioural problems among pupils. These include, for example, stopping the negative trends with preschoolers and focusing more seriously on the acquisition of different skills.
“We simply cannot accept that a growing proportion of students are not meeting minimum standards. Primary school urgently needs to focus on basic language and mathematical skills. This requires not only individual measures, but a strategy that takes responsibility for the entire system, from the school to the school supervisory authority and the ministries of education.”
– writes Felicitas Thiel, one of the authors of the study. The experts recommend more in-service training programmes for teachers and warn that the shortage of teachers in education needs to be addressed as soon as possible. They also suggest that schools should increase German language and maths lessons and monitor the extent to which pupils’ results are improving – if at all – several times a year.
According to the report, measures should be taken “in the coming months and years” to ensure that primary school pupils in Germany acquire basic competencies and minimum standards are guaranteed.