How can a meritocracy society be sustained
Prof. retired Dr. Wulf Hopf, born in Wildeshausen in 1944, was a professor at the Institute for Educational Science at the Georg-August University in Göttingen. Main focus of work and research: Social inequality and education; political socialization of children and young people, especially right-wing extremism. Most recently published: "From the equality of educational opportunities to educational justice for everyone - a farewell to the ideal of equality?", In: Meike S. Baader, Tatjana Freytag (Ed.): Education and Inequality in Germany. Wiesbaden 2017 (Springer VS), pp. 23-37.
Dipl.-Pol. Benjamin Edelstein, born in 1983, is a doctoral scholarship holder from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and a research fellow at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). His research focuses on school policy research and institutional analysis. He recently published: Edelstein, B. (2016): Stability and Change in School Structure from a Neo-institutionalist Perspective. Reflections on school policy under conditions of path dependency. In: B. Hermstein, N. Berkemeyer, V. Manitius (eds.): Institutional change in education. Facets, findings and criticism. Weinheim / Basel: Beltz Juventa, pp. 47-70.
All children and young people should have the same opportunity to educate themselves and to achieve something professionally - this demand is in the programs of all parties, it is reminded us almost every day through newspaper articles, radio reports, talk shows and the like. Everyone should get the same chance - who would contradict that today? In spring 2017, it was important to 78% of Germans "that everyone, regardless of their social background, race or gender, has the same opportunities in terms of education and work." (Kantar Emnid 2017, p. 10). Even in comparison with other political priorities, equality of opportunity in education and work follows with 69% approval right after the even more highly valued material-economic objectives (e.g. securing pensions, reducing unemployment, price stability) (see Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach 2013, p. 13 f.). But what exactly is meant by equal opportunities? And to what extent has it been implemented in Germany?
What does equal opportunities mean - a few basicsGenerally speaking, the principle of equal opportunities means that all citizens should have the same chance to make as much as possible of their lives. In all those areas and situations of social life in which coveted resources, positions or living conditions are scarce and therefore people compete for them, nobody should have an advantage or because of their social origin, their gender, their skin color, their religious affiliation or because of other personal characteristics To be in the wrong.
This demand is based on a very specific understanding of social justice: inequality between people is seen as just if the better-off finds his advantage in one fair Competition - in a competition at the beginning of which all other participants also had a real chance of being among the winners (this is why one speaks of "equal starting opportunities"). A better position achieved in this way would not be arbitrary (as in the past the privileges of a nobleman who was "lucky" to have been born in the right place), but rather "earned" through effort and performance and therefore legitimate. This principle is also valid Called the “meritocratic principle” and refers to the Latin word “meritum”, which translates as “merit” or “achievement.” In this respect, equality of opportunity is closely linked to another principle of justice: equity based on achievement.
These are all considerations in the realm of the Should (normative considerations). Whether the coveted resources, positions and living conditions indeed being achieved in fair performance competition among equals is another question that can only be clarified empirically.
Equal opportunities in education and workThe fact that everyone should have the same opportunities in education and work regardless of their social origin, race or gender, connects three very central cornerstones in the course of life:
- The origin from a family: At birth, certain conditions are simply given, on which children and adolescents have little or no influence. In addition to gender, origin from a certain social class and "descent" or ethnic affiliation, this also includes religion and the region in which one grew up. These living conditions, which are "socially ascribed" at birth, are more or less unevenly distributed in society. According to the norm of equality for all people, it is considered unfair that the growing up of children and adolescents is determined by these differences: their education, their opportunities for contact with one another, their leisure activities, their health, well-being and nutrition, to name just a few.
- The education: The education system plays a key role in modern societies because it is the first and therefore probably the most important control point for the future social status of a person. Which professional positions, which income prospects, which degree of social security - in short, which standard of living - one can achieve in the course of life depends to a large extent on the level of education. Modern societies have a diversified ("differentiated") education system with various educational programs that open up very different opportunities for their graduates for further education and life. Therefore, there is also a wide range of inequality in education: The educational qualifications range - with different learning times - from the simple vocational qualification (secondary school qualification) to the doctorate ("Dr.").
- The professional activity: Once the initial training at school, vocational training or university has been completed, they start working, and the world of work is also characterized by great inequalities. Because the professions differ extremely according to income, job security, independence of work, prestige and stress. The professions in the well-paid, prestigious professional segments can be understood as scarce, coveted "goods". The simple jobs, on the other hand, often mean a life with financial restrictions and considerable stress (such as heavy physical work, monotonous work processes, night work and shift work). They are avoided if possible.
What about equal opportunities in Germany?
Equal opportunities in the sense of "fair performance" are obviously not given in the transition from primary school to secondary school; the strong bias in favor of children of the upper and middle classes makes it clear that a child's school career is also determined to a considerable extent by social factors that have less to do with performance.
About the change in educational opportunities in the individual social groups - for example from children from the working class - this report of success says nothing, however, because the "societal value" conceals very different chances of success depending on the social class. The probability that an academic child will end his school career with the Abitur in 2015 is undoubtedly well over 50 percent, while that of a child of unskilled workers is considerably lower. In order to be able to obtain more meaningful information about the distribution of educational opportunities in society, one therefore needs information on the educational success of the various social groups to which the individual belongs. A clearly mixed picture emerges here: some of the children and young people recognized decades ago as disadvantaged are still there today: the children of members of the lower social classes (albeit to a lesser extent than 50 years ago) and children and young people from the countryside.
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