When students’ legacies weigh on their school careers

Two thirds (64.2%) of students in France from the most advantaged classes undertake higher education, but only a quarter (27.5%) of children from more modest categories do the same. A third (36.7%) of boys, but half (48.3%) of girls continue their education in post-secondary cycles. Among the batch of new university students, there is little difference between the children of natives (43%) and the children of immigrants (38%).

These Franco-French data are taken from the recent major statistical synthesis by the state think tank France Stratégie entitled Schooling. The weight of inheritance. The study and foresight organization is attached to the Prime Minister’s office, but is autonomous and without political ties. Most of his work is done on his own initiative on topics of current affairs or public interest. This is the case with the education survey.

“With comparable social and family origins and schooling contexts, the disadvantages of children of immigrants in terms of performance fade, or even disappear, whether measured by assessments of 6e or by the results of the patent,” concludes the investigation published in September. “It is therefore first and foremost social origin – particularly captured by cultural capital – which remains, as for other children, the major determinant of the trajectories of immigrant children. »

This observation allows us to ask if, ultimately, the children of immigrants (all grouped together, without distinction of racialized people, for example) are not poor like the others? The answer is yes, to a large extent.

“For an equivalent social category, the children of immigrants have trajectories extremely close to those of other children, children of natives,” explains to Duty Johanna Barasz, project manager and co-author of the survey with Peggy Furic and Bénédicte Galtier for France Stratégie. “It’s a statistical remark. In fact, the children of immigrants in France are more often poor than the average, and this phenomenon particularly impacts them. »

For an equivalent social category, the children of immigrants have trajectories extremely similar to those of other children, children of natives

She adds that she holds to this conclusion about immigrants because this group, like here, is the subject of incessant debates on their number or on their integration by school, or even their impacts on this institution. “The answer is clear: the problem comes from the social conditions which influence the trajectories of children, whether they are immigrants or not. »

Of educational immobility

Revelations of this kind abound in the 200-page document designed to measure the influence of social origin, migratory ancestry and gender on educational pathways. The data makes it possible to carefully evaluate the weight of the characteristics inherited by students in their long educational trajectory, from early childhood to the top of their doctoral studies.

“France has, in the end, after the redistribution of wealth, a system which is less unequal than in many countries”, adds Mme Barasz, herself a doctor of history and a former teacher. “But this system is very fixed, with very little social mobility. This situation does not explain in particular the fact that there is very little educational mobility. »

Social origin therefore takes precedence as a determining factor. We can say it differently: even if it does not use this good old category, the large and vast study recalls the evidence that social classes exist and that they must be taken into account to explain educational inequalities.

“What we say about social origins is true in gradients: the richest 10% have better academic results than the 10% below, and so on down,” says the researcher. “It’s quite linear. There is not just a problem with the very poor, but there is a particular problem with them: a combination of difficulties which make schooling very complicated. »

We need to qualify even more. In France, studies on educational careers place teachers with senior managers even if their standard of living differs greatly. In this case, the strength of cultural capital compensates for the weakness of economic capital, to use Bourdieusian concepts.

Poverty affects girls differently. Advantaged boys perform better than disadvantaged girls. Gender does not change this hierarchy according to social category. However, girls perform better than boys throughout their schooling. However, they end up making training choices for careers that are less valued on the education and job market. “A real work of stereotyping and discrimination is taking place”, summarizes Mme Barasz.

What is school for?

Each stage of schooling contributes to the creation of inequalities. Skills (literacy, numeracy, socio-behavioral skills) which have a lasting influence on future educational and professional trajectories are acquired in the family context, but also within the young child’s care settings.

Moreover, those who could benefit the most from support structures (daycare centers) use them the least. Many disadvantaged young people, including those from immigrant backgrounds, therefore arrive in kindergarten without having benefited from these services capable of reducing the gaps linked to their origins.

“Yes, a lot of things happen in early childhood, but a lot of things also happen afterwards,” adds the researcher. “It’s not true that in sixth grade everything is decided. Each level of education increases inequalities, but if we intervene, we can also reduce them. Our conclusions are not fatalistic. They say that you have to put in the resources from the beginning, and throughout the journey. »

Each level of education increases inequalities, but if we intervene, we can also reduce them. Our conclusions are not fatalistic. They say that you have to put in the resources from the beginning, and throughout the journey.

The fact that inequalities persist actually forces us to ask ourselves what school is for. If its role is to provide elites to the Republic, it succeeds very well, and has for centuries. But if it wants to equalize opportunities and mass-produce educated citizens, success is much less obvious.

“Our report at this stage says nothing on this very political question: we first wanted a diagnosis, quantified, indisputable,” says the researcher. “Our next work will ask what we can do now that we know what we know. The question of the function of the school will then be at the heart of the work. But it is not our job to draw a social model. »

With a little side step, when you force it a little, Mme Barasz adds that research shows that inequality is not conducive to excellence. The French system, famously elitist, whose foundations date back to the Napoleonic empire, is crumbling everywhere. Students in the Republic, including the strongest groups, perform relatively poorly in international surveys of student achievement, better known by the acronym PISA.

“Perhaps the two problems are not linked,” concludes Mme Barasz. “We perhaps have on one side a problem of inequalities and, on the other side, a problem of general level. In fact, we are going to see if the two realities are not linked. If, at some point, when the gaps become too great, it does not harm everywhere, including excellence. »

Bourdieu here, Bourdieu there

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