Learning gaps threat prosperity

Two primary school pupils scribble in a school book

The academic results achieved by elementary school children in Germany are alarming. The current decline is unprecedented and threat the prosperity.

10/31/2022 · News · ifo Institut Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung an der Universität München e. V. · Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Raumwissenschaften · Forschungsergebnis

ifo education expert Ludger Wößmann is deeply troubled by the academic results achieved by elementary school children in Germany. “The pronounced gaps are alarming because the fundamentals taught in school affect both the opportunities these children will have later on and Germany’s future prosperity,” Wößmann says in response to the latest results on trends in education published by the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement (IQB). “The current decline is unprecedented.”

Each third of a school year lost translates into an average drop in earnings of around 3 percent over a person’s entire working life, Wößmann continues. In terms of the economy as a whole, this could lead to an average reduction in GDP of 1.5 percent over the remainder of the century. He says that the decline in results is due only partly to the coronavirus pandemic and reflects a long-established downward trend. 

“These considerable learning gaps aren’t simply going to go away. Without immediate action, the subsequent costs will be high. As a society, it is imperative that we take steps to improve the academic results of our children and young people,” Wößmann adds. Attending school and gaining skills increases prosperity, both for the children themselves and for society as a whole. Economic research has yielded more evidence for this correlation than for virtually anything else. 

Wößmann notes that Hamburg was the only federal state that managed to maintain standards compared to ten years ago. This could be connected to the fact that Hamburg carries out regular performance tests and has implemented a strategy of data-driven improvement. “These measures should serve as an example to other states and to Germany as a whole,” Wößmann says. Since losses in learning are particularly large among disadvantaged children, inequality has increased further. Nevertheless, children from families that are better off and who do not have an immigration background have also lost out. 

The results collected at the end of elementary school for the subjects German and math were between one-fourth and one-third of a school year behind the level recorded five years ago. The ten-year comparison reveals a loss equivalent to half a school year. With the exception of Hamburg, all federal states show significant losses. 

Further information and contact 

Press release - ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich