Virtual online courses that can be used via networked devices are, in principle, comparatively easy to access. Nevertheless, 53 percent of those surveyed in the Munich Ifo Institute’s latest education barometer fear that digitalization as a whole could lead to greater inequality in the education system in this country. Only 14 percent do not expect this. Even 56 percent of German citizens agree with the statement that increasing networking in private and working life is leading to greater social inequality in Germany. The background to this concern is that digitalization could lead to job losses among low-skilled people, which could increase the gap between rich and poor.
Internet as a “social equalizer”: growing pessimism
The company Talk Online Panel conducted the survey on behalf of Ifo from May 17 to June 5, 2023 among a total of 5,636 people. It was designed to provide representative results for seven regions in Germany. In 2017, the mood was much more balanced: the proportion of those who did not expect any major social cracks due to digitalization was 46 percent, 32 percentage points higher than now. Five years ago, only 44 percent agreed with the statement that networking increases unequal conditions in the education system. In general, Germans have become much more pessimistic that the Internet will act as a social equalizer in the institutional transfer of knowledge.
According to the current results of the annual barometer, 62 percent of participants consider unequal opportunities between children with and without a migration background to be a major problem. Almost as many (61 percent) see unequal distribution of opportunities between children from good and difficult social backgrounds as critical. In order to combat educational inequality, 69 percent of German citizens are in favor of targeted financial support for schools with many disadvantaged children. According to them, an “opportunity budget” should be introduced, as provided for in the traffic light coalition agreement for innovative projects. Only 20 percent of those surveyed are against this.
Again, 69 percent are in favor of limiting the proportion of students with foreign citizenship and inadequate language skills to 30 percent per class. 20 percent also have concerns about such a measure. 65 percent of Germans are in favor of introducing an index to show whether schools are facing particular problems due to the social environment of the student body. 55 percent support salary supplements for teachers at schools with many trainees from disadvantaged backgrounds. 31 percent are against it. In order to catch up on the lessons missed during the corona pandemic, clear majorities are in favor of compulsory remedial lessons and holiday courses for disadvantaged groups of students.
The researchers emphasize that the chances of educational success should be independent of a person’s external circumstances. Otherwise, there would be a risk of individual losses, since less education, for example, goes hand in hand with less income from work. As a result, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are denied important options for their own development and social advancement. Furthermore, there are inefficiencies in society as a whole, “since children from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot fully utilize their performance potential.” Concerns about young people from different social backgrounds not having the same opportunities at school “have increased in recent years,” comments Ludger Wößmann, head of the ifo Center for the Economics of Education. Above all, he sees a need for politics: “The Germans want something to be done about it.”
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