Böckler Impuls 02/2012


Success for migrant children: what France and Germany can do

In France and Germany, the educational and professional development of migrants is often uncertain. A comparative study shows that the educational systems in the two countries have differing strengths and weaknesses. It also looks at what contributes to a successful start in working life.

Young adults from migrant families are less likely to work in graduate occupations and more likely to be in precarious employment than their peers who do not come from a migrant background. This is one of the results of a study carried out by the Centre Marc Bloc (CMB) and the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). It shows, however, that a significant number of migrant children are able to integrate successfully into working life. The researchers, Ingrid Tucci, Ariane Jossin, Carsten Keller and Olaf Groh-Samberg, have therefore looked more closely at the institutional and social factors that influence the success of second generation migrants at school and at work. They compared the progress through education and the entry into working life of young adults of Turkish and Arab origin in Germany with the situation of young people from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa in France.

The researchers used quantitative analysis and qualitative interviews to establish the influence of educational and training institutions. The qualitative interviews also helped to investigate which were the social factors that provided educational stability.

The qualitative analysis was based on longitudinal data from existing sources in the two countries, the socio-economic panel (SOEP) in Germany, and the panel of secondary school children (Panel des élèves du second degree) and the survey of those starting employment (Enquête Génération) in France. This makes it possible to track the typical patterns of progress through education and into working life of 11 to 18-year-olds and 18 to 25-year-olds, as well as identifying the impact of educational and training institutions on the development of migrant children. The researchers found a clear “ethnic separation” in the two countries, although it occurred at different points. In Germany, they found that the biggest problems were in the school system. In France, on the other hand, it was frequently the move into work that went wrong. Crucial for this were inadequate initial and further training, as well as discrimination at the job seeking stage.

Germany has the biggest problems in the school system, France in the move into work

Progress through education. Children in Germany start school at six, relatively late compared with other countries. Immediately after primary school children are divided between different school types. Many researchers see this early division as one of the major reasons for the educational inequality between children of different ethnic origin. The study undertaken by the DIW researchers also shows that around half of the children with a migration background go to a Hauptschule (the lowest of the three levels of secondary school) and subsequently have problems in moving into work. This applies to only 15% of the young people with a non-migrant background. Only something over 11% of children of Turkish origin either do all their education in a Gymnasium (the highest of the three levels) or move there during their school years. In contrast, the comparable figure for school children with a non-migrant background is 34%.

In France, children begin school aged three, when they go to pre-school and, until they are 15, they all learn together at the Collège. It is only then that there is a division between the vocational arm of the system and the academic arm, which in turn leads to a qualification giving access to higher education. Although migrant children are over-represented among those in the less prestigious vocational arm (and among those who do not complete their education), the study shows that France has a clear advantage over the German system. Significantly more second generation migrants – over 40% – try for the entrance qualification for higher education and more than one in five goes to university.

Progress through work. However, for young people with a migration background, in France the move into work is often problematic. The study shows that more than 50% of migrants experience repeated and longer periods of unemployment or at least precarious employment. The researchers see one of the reasons being that vocation education is of a relatively low standard and enjoys little social prestige. Without a baccalaureate (the entrance qualification for higher education) it is frequently only possible to obtain precarious employment, despite a lengthy period of education. Although this is also a problem for many French people from non-migrant backgrounds, young adults of migrant origin are particularly affected. In addition there is no opportunity outside school to gain further qualifications, no “second chance” for young people who leave school early or have less prestigious qualifications.

The researchers found that in some ways the position in Germany was similar. Those of migrant origin, without the German equivalent of the baccalaureate, were less likely to get a trainee position than those from non-migrant backgrounds, and even if they completed their training they were more likely to be employed afterwards on an uncertain basis. However, the researchers noted that the model of consistently precarious progress, in which the move into work ends in unemployment, was found less frequently in Germany than in France. They therefore conclude that, compared with France, the German vocational training system opens up occupational perspectives for many people from migrant backgrounds. There is, however, a large group of people in Germany who have experienced only a short period of education and who are not economically active. Of these a quarter have a migrant background, overwhelmingly women of Turkish origin. The researchers presume that a particular view of their role prevents these women from becoming economically active.

Mentoring, moving and the access system all improve chances

The researchers from CMB and DIW based the second, qualitative part of the study on findings from international educational research. These show that, along with educational institutions, social factors can be crucial to the educational and occupational success of migrants. These include, for example, discipline, a social network and whether the family sees higher education as desirable. To get a better picture of the social factors, the research group conducted detailed interviews with 175 individuals, who were the children of migrants in disadvantaged districts of Berlin and Paris. The young adults were asked about key turning points and influences that had marked their lives in a negative or a positive way. Aged between 18 and 35 those interviewed belong to the same generation as those for whom quantitative data has been collected.

Many of those with a successful educational experience identified the influence of other people as a positive factor. Frequently it is teachers who act as mentors. They offer young people support, motivation and self-confidence while they are at school and in periods when they are finding their way at work. According to the researchers, it is noticeable that such individuals normally come from a different social milieu, and thus can open up alternative perspectives for the young people.

Those interviewed overwhelmingly come from city districts which have a high proportion of migrants and increased unemployment and poverty. With hindsight, they often see the switch to an area which is socially and culturally heterogeneous, for example through changing school or moving house, as a crucial change, which for them opened up new possibilities and ways of seeing. Without this switch these are things that are scarcely available to many second generation migrants, as the researchers discovered. This is because the geographical mobility of the young people interviewed is often very limited and they frequently have no experience outside their own milieu.

The third factor is the possibility of catching up on the school and vocational qualifications they have missed. This “second chance”, which the German system offers through the access courses provided to those who have not completed their school qualifications but do not have a training place, has a supportive and stabilising effect at a difficult phase of life, according to those surveyed. The interviewees identify shortcomings in these courses, but, as the researchers conclude: “While the courses do not always correspond with the preferences of the young people and often do not offer a clear occupational perspective, they are certainly a much better alternative than the street”. The lack of a similar system in France means that young people with difficult educational and occupational histories are left more to themselves and develop a substantial emotional distance to state institutions, including to school.

In Germany, the children of migrants find it easier to get into the labour market through the training system, and they can and often successfully do make use of a “second chance” when they are in difficult situations either at school or at work. These are all seen by the researchers as benefits of the German system. This contributes to the fact that many of the children of migrants in Germany have a more open attitude to state institutions than in France. The researchers recommend that more use should be made of this openness to integrate young people with a migration background into the German system of combined work and college-based training as well as into higher education.

Source: Ingrid Tucci et al.: Erfolge trotz schlechter Startbedingungen, Was hilft Migrantennachkommen in Frankreich und Deutschland? (Success despite poor starting conditions; what helps those migrant origin in France and Germany?), in: DIW Wochenbericht 41/2011




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