How to attract a smart girl

Early childhood education

Felix Berth

To person

M. A., born 1966; Journalist, supervisor, advisor to the director of the German Youth Institute, Nockherstrasse 2, 81541 Munich. [email protected]


Germany's children are doing well. It doesn't make a headline in a daily newspaper, but it's true anyway. Most of the children in the Federal Republic think that school is okay; they say they get along well with their parents and have friends with whom they enjoy being. Most of the children live in economically at least acceptable circumstances; you do not have to do without one of the parents, because very often mom and dad - contrary to other theses - still live together after all. So are you all right?

These findings are true; you can read them up in many serious and methodologically clean surveys, such as the World Vision children's study. And the reader of "Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte" will probably meet some of these children in his or her circle of acquaintances: bright three-year-olds who find a treasure in the forest behind every bush and lovingly count the ladybug's points. Clever five-year-olds who can retell the clever and funny children's books by Kirsten Boie in clean German. Cool ten-year-olds who might piss their parents off with their prepubescent behavior, but amaze their grown-up acquaintances with their independence. Ironic 16-year-olds, for whom mum and dad are no longer heroes - but still people with whom you like to go on vacation because firstly they pay everything, secondly they still grant freedom and thirdly they are not that uncool at all. So no problems?

Most children in Germany are doing well - but it is high time to see how much the living conditions of young people are drifting apart. The problem is not that "the family" is falling apart, as has long been a common topos of fearful-conservative thinking. The problem is that a minority of children today grow up with maximum difficulty. As a reader of "Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte" you will probably rarely meet these children in your private everyday life; if you are a social hotspot teacher, you may encounter them in large numbers in the classroom - otherwise you may still perceive them as objects of sensational media coverage. But these children hardly or not at all appear in the everyday life of the German middle class. You don't have to travel far to meet them. In the larger cities, it is only a few kilometers that separate the affluent world from the precarious one. From Munich-Harlaching to Munich-Hasenbergl there are only twelve underground stations, and from Berlin-Zehlendorf to Berlin-Neukölln it takes less than an hour.

There you see children from socially disadvantaged families who are only sent to kindergarten when they are five years old. Some immigrant children come into their classrooms on their first day of school and speak two languages ​​that they neither speak properly. They almost never leave their neighborhood, and at some of the schools 90 percent of the parents are "exempt from paying additional fees for learning materials," as it is called in the official language. This means that almost no parent of the children in this school has a regular job. The teachers there tell of an everyday life in which children sometimes come to school on time at best, often simply pulling their jeans over their pajamas. "They often have nothing to eat, at most one bag of Burger King; because the only thing their mother or father managed to do the night before was to put down a five-euro note," says Neukölln District Mayor Heinz Buschkowsky in his own drastic form Art.

Neukölln's problems also exist in the rest of the republic - perhaps less drastic, but in principle similar. Every old industrial city has its difficult quarters: Duisburg-Marxloh, for example, the north of Dortmund city center, the Lichtenhagen district in Rostock or the southern part of Nuremberg. In the decades of industrialization these were often working-class quarters, in the 21st century they have become the unemployed quarters. Children live here more at risk than their peers in the middle-class streets.

In a poor quarter of a city in the northern Ruhr area, which the sociologist Klaus Peter Strohmeier examined, only every eighth child was completely healthy when they started school; around a third of boys of Turkish origin were severely overweight by the age of six or seven. It was different in the affluent south of the same city: Here four out of five children were healthy when the school doctors first examined them. There was hardly any overweight, not even among children of Turkish origin. "It is not the nationality of the children that makes the difference, but their address," stated Strohmeier. [1]

Vulnerable childhood

Social scientists have documented the risks these children grow up with very precisely in recent years, for example with the KiGGS health survey. This long-term study by the Robert Koch Institute asked about the physical and mental health of thousands of children and at the same time recorded the socio-economic status of families. It was found that in the "lower class", the lowest socio-economic group, every third expectant mother smokes - a phenomenon that hardly exists in the "upper class", where only one in 13 pregnant women smokes. The birth weight of babies from the "lower class" is significantly lower than the birth weight of the rest of the babies. In the "lower class" every fifth young girl takes a cigarette herself, in the "upper class" it is three times less. There are also almost no fat children there, only about every 25th child of wealthy parents is obese. Quite different when their parents earn little and have bad jobs: in the "lower class", one in seven teenage girls and one in nine boys are obese. Obesity, also known as obesity, does not just mean a few pounds too much, but starts very high on the scales: A girl who is 13 years old and 1.70 meters tall is only considered obese when she is more than 70 Weighs kilograms. According to the KiGGS, every sixth boy from the "lower class" is considered to have behavioral or psychological abnormalities, in the "upper class" it is only every 20. Among the girls, the difference is even clearer. [2]

Such findings indicate a division in German society. The PISA researchers also find that the skills of 15-year-olds in Germany differ extremely. Almost one in five students by the age of 15 has got stuck in their math skills at primary school level; The picture is similar for reading skills - although these young people are supposed to start working a few years after the test. The lack of competence is often followed by failure in the school system. The Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs found that around 53,000 young people left German schools without a secondary school certificate in 2010. That is a minority - but one that has unsettling dimensions: it was just under seven percent of all school leavers, according to the ministers of education.

Even this quota should shake up politicians, educators and parents. But the number doesn't tell the whole truth. In addition, there are those who manage to complete the secondary school, but then cannot find an apprenticeship position and are parked in the so-called transition system with its many courses. Half a year after the end of school, almost 40 percent of the young people with no more than a secondary school leaving certificate began such a "transitional career"; another 20 percent have no training place at all. Two and a half years after leaving school, their problems are still far from being resolved: Then around half of all young people with no or only secondary school leaving certificate have not yet found a job - or have already terminated their employment contracts, as Heike Solga from the Berlin Science Center has found. [3 ] Overall, it can be assumed that one in five young people has great difficulties entering the world of work.

To be fair, one has to admit that the situation has changed a little over the past few years. The PISA results of the worst students were slightly better in the most recent study; The number of early school leavers is also falling slightly. Nevertheless, school leaving certificates and PISA results are pieces of the puzzle: one in five children fails at school, one in five fails in simple tasks, and almost one in five children lives in poverty. The different groups - school failures, test failures, poor children and children with health risks - are not completely identical. But the overlap is likely to be very large, and there are certainly too many for a country facing demographic and economic challenges.

The German political debate has been at least partially aware of these problems for a number of years. Often, however, this happens with the wrong focus: "We need better schools to support disadvantaged children," they say. But that falls short - because the most important decisions in a child's life are made long before they start school.