I come from Germany, the country where education depends more than anywhere else in Europe on the parents’ income.
No one has to pay for their primary and secondary education, and even universities are free of charge in many German regions. And still being poor means that your chances to get a good education and hence a well-paid job are extremely low.
It seems as if the path for the rest of your life is decided on when you’re 10 years old. The first four years of school everyone goes to local primary schools. In my class I had children from many different social backgrounds. Working class and academic parents, children who just arrived in Germany as refugees or children whose grandparents were born in Turkey and came to Germany to work here (in Germany their grandchildren are still considered to be foreigners).
But then, after four years, we were split into three different levels for our secondary school, and suddenly most kids in my secondary school were from the same middle-class background. There is the Gymnasium, where you can acquire a degree allowing you to go to university (and where most middle-class kids go). There is the ‘Realschule’, once supposed to be the ‘regular’ school for most children and today with a rather bad reputation. And there is the Hauptschule, which basically leads automatically into unemployment. It’s very rare that children move between these schools. Primary school teachers give recommendations to which school you can go. When you have a foreign name, many teachers automatically think that you don’t belong to a Gymnasium. The pobability that your parents are poor is high, so they assume that they are not well educated and that you also can’t have an academic degree. If you have a German name, but the teacher knows that your parents are unemployed and never went to a good school, it might be exactly the same. Parents don’t have to follow these recommendations. But it’s mostly parents from higher social classes who make the effort to get their kids into Gymnasium despite the teacher’s lower recommendation.
There are lots of other reasons for these inequalities. For example you have to pay for a kindergarten place, so poor parents often don’t send their children there although it would make their start in school much easier. One thing is clear: Poverty exists also in Germany, particularly for children, and it is extremely difficult to get out of it.
How many people live below the poverty line in your community?
14% – particularly households with children, mostly single parents
How high are the general and the youth unemployment rate?
- Youth unemployment rate 2011: 9,1% (15-24 years)
- General unemployment rate Nov 2011: 6,4%
Is there a ‘safety net’?
There is a safety net – a benefit that combines unemployment benefit and ‘social benefit’ that is also paid to people who work but do not earn enough. This does not mean that no one is poor – there are still many people who are relatively poor (meaning they earn less than 60% of the average income) and are excluded from the way of life that is considered as a ‘minimal way of life’.