Extended Education and Social Inequality in Switzerland: Compensatory Effects? an Analysis of the Development of Language Achievement with Regard to Structural and Process-Related Aspects of Social Background

By Schüpbach, Marianne | Journal for Educational Research Online, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Extended Education and Social Inequality in Switzerland: Compensatory Effects? an Analysis of the Development of Language Achievement with Regard to Structural and Process-Related Aspects of Social Background


Schüpbach, Marianne, Journal for Educational Research Online


1. Introduction

In Switzerland, the issue of social inequality has been discussed for decades, even though legal equality is laid down in the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, Art. 8 Equality before the law: "Every person is equal before the law. No person may be discriminated against, in particular on grounds of origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, way of life, religious, ideological, or political convictions, or because of a physical, mental, or psychological disability"1. Social inequalities are connected with values and with conceptions of distribution and (social) positions. Especially the "linkage with relatively stable social relations and positions distinguishes social inequalities from other types of inequalities" (Hradil, 2005, p. 29). According to Bourdieu and Passeron (1971), mechanisms of reproducing social inequality operate through education in modern (post-)industrial societies. For Switzerland, despite the educational efforts in recent decades, many studies have documented an impact of social background (Coradi Vellacott, 2007).The PISA studies, in particular, provide evidence for an association between social background and 15-year-old students' performance in reading, an association which has remained stable over the past decade (Konsortium PISAxh, 2010). With respect to social inequality, reading performance in Switzerland corresponds to the OECD average (OECD, 2010). However, children's linguistic skills differ already when they enter kindergarten or primary school, due to their social background and in particular due to the different promotion of development provided in the family. This finding is documented, for example, in the evaluation of Grundstufe and Basisstufe [2] by Moser and Bayer (2010), a school experiment conducted at the school entry level in German-speaking Switzerland. Grundstufe or Basisstufe are organizational forms that combine preschool and the first years of primary school in Switzerland: The Grundstufe combines the two preschool years with the first year of primary school, Basisstufe the two preschool years and the first two years of primary school. The Moser and Bayer (2010) study also showed that the reading improvement of disadvantaged students largely parallels that of privileged students until the end of Grade 2, but that the difference in achievement increases towards the end of Grade 3. Findings such as this have triggered debate on schooling and the educational system as well as on the impact of primary and secondary effects of social background. Various studies demonstrate that the educational system is not able to decrease background-related primary disparities of educational participation, still less to compensate for them (Moser & Bayer, 2010). In research, social background is measured using different indicators, including structural aspects, such as socio-economic status (SES) of the family, and process-related aspects, such as the familial learning environment and promotion, which characterize social background. Social background is multifaceted. Thus, a more adequate picture of social inequality is revealed when both types of familial aspects are taken into account at the same time (Baumert & Maaz, 2006).

Traditionally, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland differ from most (European) countries and the United States in the length of the school day and in curricular and extracurricular activities, also called extended education in the afternoon. In response to social changes and the unfavorable results of the PISA studies, allday schools are now starting to be established (Schüpbach, 2010). This means that schools are now offering extended education in addition to the regular hours of school instruction and extending the school day. In the education literature, the Ganztagsschule, or all-day school - the common name for a school offering extended education in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland - is widely considered to provide educational opportunities to improve the situation in the education system (Holtappels, 2006). …

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