How scholarship programmes can identify and assist gifted and talented children


By Tanja Kiziak, Vera Kreuter, Reiner Klingholz

The German school system has so far not succeeded in compensating for the educational disadvantages associated with social origin - in other words, in helping children from families without much formal education do well at school. A child of parents with tertiary education and a high professional standing is five times more likely to attend the academically-oriented Gymnasium after primary school than a child of parents with no professional qualification. Even when two children show the same level of educational achievement, a child who comes from a more educated background is still twice or three times more likely to go to Gymnasium than a child who does not.

This problem has been public knowledge for about a decade now, and demographic change is making it an increasingly pressing issue. For not only is it unjust that children are unable to realize their potential because of the lack of education and low income of their parents, it is also – viewed in economic terms – a waste of resources. As the overall workforce declines over the next decade, we will face a massive shortage of skilled and professionally qualified labour and ultimately a decline in prosperity if we fail to make proper use of the potential of the tens of thousands of students leaving school each year. The Berlin Institute’s new Discussion Paper shows how scholarship programmes can help disadvantaged children become more successful at school and obtain higher qualifications – particularly those who are gifted and talented.

Even today some sectors in certain regions are already experiencing difficulties finding qualified staff. Over the next decade two developments may well lead to a full-blown shortage of skilled labour. First of all, when the baby-boom generation retires, many young skilled employees will be required to replace them. Yet as the birth rate continues to decline, the number of people of working age is actually decreasing steadily. As of 2015 the number of graduates will also start to decline.

Secondly, more and more fields of work now require an Abitur (the exit exam required to apply and enrol in a university), if not a university degree, and this trend is set to increase. In the past students leaving school without any qualification or with only a Hauptschulabschluss (general secondary school certificate) had a good chance of obtaining a trade or manufacturing apprenticeship. Nowadays, many firms offering apprenticeships prefer to take students with an Abitur because an all-round school education as a prerequisite for the ability to process knowledge has taken on a greater significance. In other words, a labour shortage seems to be looming at all levels of professional qualification, but it is likely to be greatest in the most highly skilled segment. This presents a special challenge, as making up the shortfall will require long-term strategies.

Undiscovered and untapped potential is often found among children from families where education is not highly valued. They receive little support from their parents in their schooling because the parents themselves have a low level of education and are therefore unfamiliar with the education system, and its options and requirements. This has an impact on their children’s educational achievement. Yet even when these children show the same level of achievement as those from more educated backgrounds, they have less self-confidence, set lower goals for themselves and are less informed about the opportunities that a higher level of education may offer them. For these reasons they are less likely to try to obtain the Abitur and tertiary education.


Whose children do not take Abitur?


This is where foundation-sponsored scholarship programmes come in. These generally offer financial support, such as money to buy a computer or books or for other education-related expenditure. Although this kind of support is important for children, the key obstacles for disadvantaged children are not in fact of a material nature. Therefore most scholarship programmes focus on providing intellectual support, such as courses or workshops where children learn key competencies like time management or study techniques and are given help in negotiating the education system. Children also receive one-to-one support from programme staff or mentors. Some programmes also explicitly aim to involve the parents in information sessions or other school events.


How social origin influences a child’s school career


Children in scholarship programmes thus learn more about the many different options they have for shaping their own school career and later professional life. In addition, they receive individual support while working towards their Abitur or studying at university. The scholarships open up major opportunities for many young people – yet seen in relation to the amount of talent that is estimated to be wasted, the scholarships currently offered are still only a drop in the ocean.

So far, the scholarship programmes have only partially succeeded in reaching their target group, and most of them are limited to particular regions or federal states. The Discussion Paper presents options for extending individual support of school students into a federal programme and involving actors from politics, business and industry, and civil society.

The Discussion Paper "Greater Opportunities for School Students" was funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Click here to view the full German version of the Discussion Paper.

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