What causes a lack of education

secondary schools

Christina Anger

To person

Christina Anger, Dr. rer. pol., born 1974; Consultant at the Institute of the German Economy (IW) Cologne, work area "Employment and Labor Market Policy" IW Cologne, Gustav-Heinemann-Ufer 84-88, 50968 Cologne.
Email: [email protected]

Axel Plünnecke

To person

Dr. rer. pol., born 1971; Deputy head of the research area "Education Policy and Labor Market Policy" at IW Cologne.
Email: [email protected]

Susanne Seyda

To person

Graduate economist, born 1972: Consultant at IW Cologne, work area "Demography and Family Economics" in the academic field "Education Policy and Labor Market Policy".
Email: [email protected]

There is a close connection between socio-economic origin and education. To combat educational poverty, students need better support.


In Germany there is a considerable degree of educational poverty, the emergence of which is largely due to deficiencies in the educational system. The proportion of people who do not have a higher secondary qualification (no completed vocational training) or who belong to the risk group according to the PISA test can be described as poorly educated. Educational poverty can therefore be measured on the basis of missing certificates (as a collective term for certificates of formal educational qualifications) or on the basis of low skills. [1]

Statements about the extent of educational poverty in Germany can thus be inferred from the results of competence tests such as the PISA test. In Germany in 2003, around 22 percent of students in mathematics were at risk at PISA.

In the test, you only reached the lowest level of competence: Your skills are not sufficient to learn a trade without special assistance. From an international perspective, Germany is in the lower third of the OECD countries (see Table 1 of the PDF version).

If the pupils are divided according to school type, then 0.5 percent of the high school students, 12 percent of the Realschule students, 23.4 percent of the students of the integrated comprehensive school and 49.9 percent of the secondary school students belong to the risk group. [2] Every second secondary school student can therefore be described as poorly educated in terms of their mathematical skills.

Some of these young people still achieve a professional qualification. This is mainly due to the dual training system, in which some young people can acquire the necessary skills to acquire vocational training afterwards. In an international comparison, Germany's situation is somewhat better if educational poverty is measured using certificates. 16 percent of the German population between the ages of 25 and 64 have no qualification from upper secondary level - for example, they have not completed vocational training. In the age group of 25 to 34 year olds, the corresponding value is 15 percent (see Table 1 in the PDF version). [3] This puts Germany well below the OECD average of 33 and 23 percent, respectively. The problem is that the proportion of people without an upper secondary education has stagnated in recent years. In contrast to many other countries in Germany, there is no reduction in educational poverty.

Overall, it becomes clear that the educational potential in Germany is currently not being used sufficiently.

In the following, the effects of educational poverty are described in more detail. This is followed by a root cause analysis. Finally, various reform measures are proposed with which educational poverty can be reduced. The focus is on reform considerations in the area of ​​school education, as this is where, as Table 1 (cf. PDF version) shows, the problems seem to be greatest in an international comparison.