Teachers look down on teaching assistants

Social change in Germany

Rainer Geissler

Prof. em. Dr. Rainer Geißler is a sociologist at Faculty I - Seminar for Social Sciences at the University of Siegen. His research and teaching focuses on social structure analysis and social inequality; Educational sociology and socialization research; Migration and integration; the society of Canada; Sociology of Mass Communication and Sociology of Deviant Behavior.
His address is: University of Siegen / Faculty I / Adolf-Reichwein-Straße 2/57068 Siegen / email: [email protected]

The so-called educational expansion is one of the most noticeable manifestations of social change since the 1950s. The educational opportunities of children from different classes are still very unevenly distributed, and the educational disadvantage is difficult to alleviate because of its highly complex causes.

Education expansion - school attendance at different types of schools (& copy own graphic based on data in the yearbook of school development 6/1990; Federal Statistical Office 2012)

Educational expansion



Modern societies are rightly often referred to as "knowledge societies", because knowledge and education have become increasingly important for the development and contours of a modern social structure. "Educational expansion" is used to describe the enormous expansion of the educational system in the past few decades, in particular the expansion of secondary schools, comprehensive schools and grammar schools as well as technical schools, technical colleges and universities. More and more young people are attending higher education institutions, acquiring intermediate or higher educational qualifications and staying longer and longer in the education system.

This trend becomes drastically visible if one compares the current distribution of young people among the various types of school with the situation in the 1950s. The elementary school of that time was a real "secondary school" in the first post-war decades. In 1952 it was still attended by 79 percent of the 7th grade students. Only about a fifth of young people went to secondary schools at the time - 13 percent to grammar schools and 6 percent to secondary schools. In 1960 the high school graduates were still a small, exclusive group; only 6 percent of a school age group acquired the general university entrance qualification.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the grammar school has become the most popular type of school. In 2012, 37 percent of fourteen-year-olds went to grammar school, 24 percent attended secondary school and 20 percent integrated schools. In 2011, 35 percent of the corresponding school year graduated with the Abitur. The secondary school, on the other hand, has not lived up to its name since the 1970s. In 2012 it was only attended by 15 percent of eighth graders, and in many large cities the attendance rate is considerably lower. In some of the new federal states, the secondary school was not even established in the course of the restructuring of the socialist education system, and in many states it is currently being combined with the secondary school to form integrated schools with different names. These figures illustrate the boom in grammar schools, secondary schools and integrated schools and the associated crisis in the secondary school.

The universities have expanded even more dramatically than the grammar schools. In 1960, only 6 percent of a year went to university and a further 2 percent to a university of applied sciences. By 2010 these proportions had risen to 23 percent and 15 percent respectively.

The other side of the qualification spectrum marks the problem area of ​​educational expansion. Although the proportion of young people who leave the school system without a secondary school leaving certificate fell from 17 percent in 1960 to 8 percent in the 1990s to 5 percent in 2012, many young people do not acquire a vocational qualification and have correspondingly poor chances of doing so the job market. Overall, 15 percent of 25 to 34 year olds in Germany had not completed any vocational training in 2010, and among young foreigners it was as much as 38 percent.

From the point of view of society as a whole, the educational expansion presents itself as a continuous higher qualification of the population. The qualification structure of society improves slowly but steadily because the less qualified older cohorts die away and better educated younger cohorts grow back. In terms of social stratification, the higher qualification of the population can be interpreted as "shifting upwards": lower levels of education are shrinking, while middle and higher levels of education are expanding.

Until the 1960s, the typical employed were unskilled workers; in the 1950s these made up large parts of the working population. In 2001 they only formed a small segment of the labor market, with 21 percent in the old and 11 percent in the new federal states. Contrary to some optimistic forecasts, the proportion of low-skilled workers has not shrunk any further in the past decade. In 2009, workers with a migration background made up one third of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in Germany.

The typical workers of today are the trained, partly also semi-skilled workers; In 2010 these accounted for 53 percent of the working population in West Germany and 60 percent in East Germany. At the same time, more and more people have acquired above-average qualifications. The proportion of technical college graduates, technicians and masters in 2010 was 8 percent (West) and 13 percent (East). The growth in university graduates was particularly strong: the proportion of those in employment with a university degree rose from 3 percent in the 1960s to 11 percent (west) and 10 percent (east). And another 7 percent (West) and 6 percent (East) have completed a degree at a technical college that did not even exist in the 1960s - with the exception of a few forerunners such as engineering schools. The educational expansion began in the Federal Republic as early as the 1950s, but then did not proceed evenly, but alternated between thrust and stagnation. There was a strong boost in connection with the educational policy debates of the 1960s. Education economists emphasized the benefits of education for economic growth ("education as human capital"), and many education researchers and politicians pointed to the socio-political importance of educational opportunities. For example, "Education is Citizenship" is the title of an influential work by Ralf Dahrendorf from 1965. The call for better educational opportunities then fell silent in the late 1970s, and the 1990s marked a phase of stagnation in West Germany. The proportion of young people who acquired a higher education entrance qualification and who began and completed a degree increased only very slightly or not at all.

In the past decade, the educational expansion received another significant boost, which was triggered by the public debates on two problem areas that have continued to this day: On the one hand, the internationally comparative educational studies of the OECD made it clear that the higher education sector in Germany is less developed than in most of the others OECD countries. However, the educational differences are not as great as the statistics suggest, because the level of higher education in the various countries is only partially comparable. On the other hand, education, labor market and migration experts discuss the increasing deficit of skilled workers and academics in some areas of the German labor market. Serious forecasts assume that the existing shortage will increase in the coming years. According to a study by the Basel Prognos Institute in 2009, there will be a shortage of around 3 million workers in Germany in 2015, around 1 million of them with a university degree. In this context, the chairman of the Federal Employment Agency, Frank-Jürgen Weise, called the high rate of school and university dropouts a "terrible waste".

Causes and consequences



The structural engine of educational expansion are two interlinked strands of social development, both of which lead to a steadily growing need for better qualifications.
The sociologist Helmut Schelsky described one strand as early as 1961 as the development of the "scientific-technical civilization". Scientific and technical progress are increasingly permeating daily life in the world of work and leisure, in public and in private life. The rapid triumph of the computer and the "digital revolution", as the increasing networking of communicative and social processes is called, make it clear again that technical innovations increase the demands on people's skills. The use of new social technologies requires special knowledge in order to be able to better plan, control and manage the increasingly complicated economic, political and social processes.

The second line of development can be identified with keywords such as "increasing complexity", "increasing interdependencies" or "increasing division of labor". Scientificization and mechanization go hand in hand with increasing specialization and differentiation of the social structure as well as with the emergence of ever larger connections through which the life of the individual is determined. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim described this long-term trend of increasing complexity and professional specialization as early as 1893 in his classic "On the social division of labor". One aspect of the increasing interdependence is discussed today under the heading of "globalization", that is, the increase in global interrelationships and global competition. The central importance of knowledge and education in a modern society - scientific, technical, differentiated, comprehensively interwoven, globalized - is obvious: They are an essential prerequisite and driving force for economic and social development.
The upskilling of the population has influenced social life in many areas:
  • For half a century, the economic term "human capital" has indicated that the growth of economy and prosperity is closely related to the "human resource", that is, to the level of education of the population, their knowledge, skills and abilities. In recent empirical growth research there is agreement that the education sector plays a key role in the prosperity of a society.
  • Better qualified people demand more participation. Therefore, the expansion of education puts pressure on the structures of power and rule to democratize.
  • The increasing acceptance of migrants can in part be attributed to the rise in the level of education.
  • Girls and women were able to make particular use of the new opportunities for a better education and gradually eliminate previous educational disadvantages. The expansion of education thus makes a contribution to reducing social inequality between the sexes.
  • The expansion of technical colleges and universities influences the age-specific differentiation of the social structure. More and more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are staying in the education system and only starting work relatively late. Since these people no longer belong to the youth group, but also do not yet clearly belong to the adults in terms of their living conditions, they are called "postadolescents" or "young adults"; they are in a transition phase from adolescents to adults.
  • A higher level of education is associated with more reflection, self-discovery and self-control and promotes the tendency towards individualization. Well-educated people think more than others about well-established traditions; in search of their individual style, they tend to question traditional values ​​and norms and tend to deviate from what is usual. More education therefore promotes the tendencies towards individualization and pluralization in the area of ​​values ​​as well as in lifestyles and lifestyles.
  • While the consequences of the educational expansion listed so far can certainly be viewed as "socially desirable", there are also unintended effects on private life. As the educational expansion contributes to the differentiation of the forms of private coexistence, it leads to the "loss of monopoly" of the bourgeois family with corresponding "demographic side effects". The following developments are demonstrably related to a higher level of education: later marriage for women and men and later time for the birth of children, increasing childlessness, increased use of day nurseries or child minders for small children, decline in marriages and an increase in illegitimate births, increase in new forms of private life such as non-marital partnerships, shared apartments or single households in the younger generation.