Is learning C good for going back to work?

Corona school closings: do underperforming students lose touch?

April 6, 2020 - In order to limit the spread of the corona virus, schools across Germany were closed from March. Since then, the pupils have mainly been supposed to study at home - the exact form in which they take is handled very differently from school to school. This analysis shows that schoolchildren differ significantly in school motivation, domestic conditions and the support options provided by their parents, depending on their level of performance. Since these factors are more important than ever for learning success in the current situation, educational inequalities and performance differences threaten to increase. For example, when underperforming students are less motivated and have poorer learning conditions at home. Against the background of imminent, important transitions from pupils to secondary schools, offers should therefore urgently be created that enable all children to learn effectively at home and receive individual support in catching up. This also applies to the time when the schools are open again and regular classes are taking place.

Schools currently support their students in home learning in very different ways: While some schools offer parts of their lessons, learning status queries and support via special online media, others send their students tasks by email. Still others distributed a whole catalog of tasks on the last day of school and left their processing and learning success entirely in the hands and self-motivation of the students and parents.

How well can home learning be successful and what factors does it depend on? In addition to the support provided by the schools and teachers, the support options provided by the parents, the motivation of the children and the conditions at home also play a role. In the case of exit restrictions, contact blocks and the closure of libraries and meeting places for children and young people, they are all the more dependent on the domestic conditions and their self-motivation. A great danger of school closings is that underperforming pupils lose touch during this time, which cannot easily be caught up without additional, demand-oriented offers in the time after the school closings.

Data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) were used for the following analysis. [1] In this repeated representative household survey, parents, especially mothers, are asked about the school performance of their children, school motivation, support with homework and aspects of the home learning environment. The analyzes are based on statements on 2,167 nine- and ten-year-old children that were collected between 2015 and 2018. Children in this age group are in focus here because they have a higher need for care than older children and are about to transition from primary school to secondary schools. This transition or the decision about the type of school a child will attend in the future has a major influence on the further educational and later employment biography. Once this decision has been made, it is rarely changed in the further course of school.

Two groups of pupils are compared, high-performing and low-performing. Based on the average school grade in the subjects of German and mathematics, students with an average grade of 1 to 2 are considered to be more efficient and students with an average grade above that are considered to be less proficient (the median of the average grades is 2).

Higher performing students are significantly more motivated

Overall, around every tenth child does not enjoy going to school or feels that school is a waste of time. Every seventh child does not take school work seriously and almost every fourth child does not like to learn. About seven percent of children find it difficult to keep up in class.

If a differentiation is made according to the school performance of the children, there are strong differences between these two groups in terms of school motivation (Figure 1). While only four percent of the high-performing students tend not to like going to school, the proportion among the lower-performing students is almost 14 percent. It is similar with the perception that school is a waste of time. While only about five percent of the higher-performing students perceive it this way, it is more than 15 percent among the lower-performing students. About eight percent of the high-performing students say no when asked whether they take school work seriously. The proportion of underperforming students is more than twice as high at almost 19 percent. Around 13 percent of high-performing students tend not to like learning, but more than 38 percent of less-performing students. And when it comes to the question of whether children have problems keeping up with the class, almost none of the higher-performing children agree with the statement, while over 13 percent of the lower-performing children report difficulties.

In short: There are significant differences in school motivation between high-performing and low-performing students, which are also likely to be related to the success of home learning.

Illustration 1: School motivation after school performance
Shares in percent

Note: The figure shows mothers' agreement with factors of school performance and motivation of their nine- and ten-year-old children. Based on the average school grade, a distinction is made between high-performing (grade 2 and better) and lower-performing students.
© DIW Berlin / Source: Own calculations based on SOEP v35.

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Note: The figure shows mothers' agreement with factors of school performance and motivation of their nine- and ten-year-old children. Based on the average school grade, a distinction is made between high-performing (grade 2 and better) and lower-performing students.
© DIW Berlin / Source: Own calculations based on SOEP v35.

Inferior students study at home under less favorable conditions

In addition to factors related to school motivation, the support options provided by parents, opportunities to retreat and the learning environment at home are likely to play an important role in children's learning success when schools are closed (Figure 2). School performance is also significantly related to the education of the parents. While 35 percent of mothers among high-performing students have an academic degree, the proportion among lower-performing students is 13 percent.

Weaker performers need help with homework much more often: 47 percent of underperforming children receive help with homework from at least one parent every day. It is 30 percent of the more productive children. With regard to the domestic infrastructure, 90 percent of children have their own desk. Children without a desk of their own are more likely to be underperforming. 88 percent of all students have their own room. [2] Among those who do not, learning could be impaired in particular if parents have to work from home themselves, for example due to the lack of care in schools or daycare centers or on the recommendation of the employer. At least there are hardly any differences according to the school performance of the children. However, one third of the apartments in which lower-performing students live are judged by their parents to be too small or even far too small. This applies to a quarter of families among the high-performing students.

Internet access and access to a PC or laptop are currently very important for many students, especially if contact with the school and the lessons are partly continued online. Overall, more than 96 percent of the students examined have access to the Internet and 88 percent have a PC or laptop in their household. However, in times of Corona it is not said that the students can use all of this. The capacities are likely to be at least partially occupied by the parents' home office activities. Once again, there are slight differences in these equipment features if a differentiation is made according to the level of performance of the students. For example, while less than two percent of high-performing students do not have internet access at home, this is true for a good six percent of lower-performing students. Likewise, 13 percent of the underperforming students do not have a PC or laptop in their home, whereas the proportion of the higher performing students is 11 percent.

Figure 2: Home learning environment based on school performance
Shares in percent

Note: Information on factors of the home learning environment is shown. Based on the average school grade, a distinction is made between high-performing (grade 2 and better) and lower-performing students. * Information based on information provided by children between the ages of eleven and twelve.
© DIW Berlin / Source: Own calculations based on SOEP v35.

clear

Note: Information on factors of the home learning environment is shown. Based on the average school grade, a distinction is made between high-performing (grade 2 and better) and lower-performing students. * Information is based on information provided by children between the ages of eleven and twelve.
© DIW Berlin / Source: Own calculations based on SOEP v35.

School performance is not related to the systemic importance of the parents' profession

Finally, it is examined how school performance is related to the systemic importance of the parenting profession. [3] If the parents have systemically relevant jobs, they can request emergency care for their children of kindergarten and school age. This results in problems for parents in non-systemically relevant professions in particular to reconcile their own professional activity with childcare and learning support. However, children from households with at least one parent in a systemically important occupation show no differences in performance compared to other children. Both around 40 percent of the high-performing students and 40 percent of the lower-performing students have at least one parent with a profession that is defined as systemically relevant. There are also no significant differences when other factors are factored out, such as the level of education or the academic qualification of the parents. While other analyzes have shown that systemically important occupations are associated with lower income and lower occupational prestige, [4] it should be noted at this point that the separation according to systemic relevance does not show any significant correlation with the school performance of the children.

Conclusion: educational inequality will increase if students are not given targeted support

Higher and underperforming students differ significantly in terms of their school motivation and the home learning environment. Both aspects influence the learning success of children when schools are closed. Due to the data situation, it was not yet possible to take into account the current learning support provided by the schools and teachers of the respondents. How large is the number of students who are currently de facto suspended from learning, there are still no estimates or even reliable figures. With a high degree of probability, however, it can be assumed that the current learning at home is not as effective for many children as learning at school - and this particularly affects the underperforming students.

When school operations are resumed, both teachers and pupils will face a major challenge - because then it is important to catch up on content. A temporary increase in school hours would be an option, but that alone will not be enough. The G8 reform [5] has taught that a compression of the teaching content has increased the performance differences between high-performing and low-performing high school students. Low-performing students have greater problems processing content with a fast curriculum. [6] It should therefore also be assumed that learning goals are more often not achieved or not fully achieved, especially by those with lower levels of achievement. Other research also shows that performance differences tend to increase further in the further school career. [7]

Since it cannot be foreseen whether the schools will reopen after the Easter break, various scenarios should be taken into account in order to enable all children to learn successfully and to offer special support to those with lower achievements. If the schools reopen after the holidays, free learning offers during the summer holidays and tutoring options in the sense of summer academies (possibly via e-learning) would make perfect sense in order to provide children with individualized offers to catch up.

If the school closes after the end of the Easter holidays, one should orientate oneself on “lighthouse” examples: Schools that have managed to cover most of the lessons online within a very short period of time. Since, unlike in the classroom, there is no shortage of space with e-learning, the federal states could create coordinated central online learning offers. In this way, electronic learning formats could also be made accessible to pupils who are less motivated, find a less favorable learning environment at home or whose schools hardly offer their own solutions. Particularly against the background that many children decide which type of secondary school they will attend in the future, individual household situations and needs should be given special consideration - also in the following years.

Footnotes

[1] For further information on the data set see Jan Goebel et al. (2018): The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Yearbooks for Economics and Statistics, 239 (2), 345–360.

[2] Information on one's own desk, room and the availability of a PC or laptop in the household is collected for the children previously examined in the questionnaire of eleven to twelve year olds. The presented analyzes of one's own room and one's own desk include 733 observations.

[3] The classification of systemically relevant professions in the Corona crisis takes place at the state level. The lists previously published on the websites of the federal states differ slightly and change due to ongoing updates. The present analysis refers to the list of the Berlin Senate Administration, as of March 23, 2020 (available online). Occupational groups are defined on the basis of the 3-digit level of the classification of occupations (KldB 2010) of the Federal Employment Agency and the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). This classification follows Josefine Koebe, Claire Samtleben, Annekatrin Schrenker and Aline Zucco (2020): Systemically relevant and yet hardly recognized: The wage and prestige level of indispensable professions in times of Corona. DIW aktuell No. 28 (available online).

[4] See Koebe et al. (2020), loc. Cit.

[5] "G8" refers to reforms in the various federal states that have shortened the time at high school to obtain the Abitur from nine to eight years. In the remaining school years, the teaching hours were increased and the curriculum redistributed.

[6] Cf. Mathias Huebener, Susanne Kuger and Jan Marcus (2017): Increased instruction hours and the widening gap in student performance. Labor Economics 47 (C), 15-34.

[7] Cf. For example, Sophie Horneber and Felix Weinhardt (2018): High school students from parental homes with a low level of education lose significant ground over the course of their schooling. DIW weekly report no. 23, 477–483 (available online).

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Abstract

In order to limit the spread of the corona virus, schools across Germany were closed from March. Since then, the pupils have mainly been supposed to study at home - the exact form in which they take is handled very differently from school to school. This analysis shows that schoolchildren differ significantly in terms of their motivation to go to school, the domestic conditions and the possibilities of support from their parents, depending on their level of performance. Since these factors are more important than ever for learning success in the current situation, educational inequalities and performance differences threaten to increase. For example, when lower-performing students are less motivated and have poorer learning conditions at home.Against the background of imminent, important transitions from pupils to secondary schools, offers should therefore urgently be created that enable all children to learn effectively at home and receive individual support in catching up. This also applies to the time when the schools are open again and regular classes are taking place.

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