Inequality in school: should the summer holidays be abolished?

The fact that education in modern society cannot be left to the families alone, the pandemic-related school closures should have made it clear to the doubters o

Inequality in school: should the summer holidays be abolished?

The fact that education in modern society cannot be left to the families alone, the pandemic-related school closures should have made it clear to the doubters once again. Parents lack not only the time, but also the professional and didactic competence to comprehensively prepare their children for life outside the family. However, social expectations of school education go beyond the transfer of knowledge. Schools should not only complement family education, but also ensure that everyone benefits from education in the same way. But families prepare their children differently well for school requirements. That is why, according to a critique of the sociology of education, the usual equal treatment at school boils down to a preference for those strata that offer their children the best starting conditions. Against the perpetuation or even intensification of such inequalities, many educators have committed themselves to the ideal of a "compensatory education", which is intended to compensate for a disadvantage due to socio-economic origin.

But is the school even able to compensate for social inequalities? This question can only be verified by using empirical data in a roundabout way. This is due to the fact that it is difficult to isolate the influence of the school: school and non-school influences are next to each other in the curriculum vitae and interact with each other. An experimental arrangement that could compare children who are educated at school with those for whom this does not apply is not conceivable due to the general compulsory education. However, it is possible to compare phases of school attendance with the holidays: the rather long summer holidays, especially in the USA, can be understood as a kind of natural experiment, where primarily school and primarily family phases of education can be compared. The evaluation of performance tests came to the conclusion that children from socioeconomically better-off families improved their performance levels during the holidays, while the others stagnated. Less holidays, more school would therefore be a strategy to reduce the influence of origin.

Achievements in German are rather age-dependent

However, a recent study reports doubts about this message – which is certainly encouraging for educators: on the one hand, the compensation effect of school education was apparently overestimated due to incorrect calculation, on the other hand, the summer holidays do not just mean missing lessons, so they are not meaningful as a contrast foil. In addition, such studies can hardly be carried out in countries with shorter holidays. The conclusion, which is actually due, that the summer holidays should be shortened or abolished, is unlikely to find much acceptance in practice among those who should benefit from it anyway.

This study therefore chooses a different way to analyze the relationship between schooling and socioeconomic status. It uses data from the German National Education Panel (NEPS) on more than 6000 children enrolled in autumn 2012. The researchers take advantage of the fact that the standardized performance tests contained therein took place at different times during the school year and thus represent a whole range of length of stay in the education system. In this way, it is possible to determine the influence of the duration of school education on performance and how it interacts with socio-economic factors. It should come as no surprise that a positive impact of school attendance on performance can be demonstrated. However, this is more pronounced in mathematics and natural sciences than in German, where almost half of the improvement in performance is due to age, i.e. cognitive development and external circumstances. In addition, it can only be shown for the calculation skills that socioeconomically related differences are reduced by the first year of school, even if only to a small extent.

Updated Date: 15 November 2021, 00:01

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