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Did you know that religiosity plays a role in the educational success of immigrant children?

December 2018

In the past, different studies have come to the result that in Germany, children with an immigrant background have lower achievements than children without migration background. Less than 25 per cent of students of second-generation Turkish background finish their Abitur (secondary education degree allowing university entrance) in Germany. For children without a history of immigration, this rate is at over 40 per cent. Previous research has tended to focus on the ethnic background, educational level and socio-economic status of the parents.

In a recent study, ISS researcher Sarah Carol and Benjamin Schulz (WZB) instead focused on the significance of religiosity for school achievement and as a motor of educational mobility. They used data collected by the German National Education Panel Study (NEPS) to test their hypotheses regarding Muslim and Christian children with a migration background. As indicators for educational achievement, the study relied mostly on the results of math tests. The degree of religiosity and belonging to a religious community was gauged using a questionnaire.

The study shows that religiosity does not hinder educational success per se. In the case of Christian as well as Muslim pupils, under certain circumstances religiosity does not stand in the way of good school performance. However, religiosity is more relevant for the educational success of Muslim children. For Christian children, religiosity hardly plays any role. As far as the correlation between engagement in an Islamic community and school performance is concerned, the authors had to consider an additional factor: If students live in non-segregated neighbourhoods, there is a positive correlation between religious involvement and math competence.  If, however, they live in segregated neighbourhoods, these children no longer have this advantage. In that case, religious involvement can even be an obstacle to school success.

High frequency of prayer also goes hand in hand with better school performance. Regular praying indicates self-discipline and intrinsic motivation. Both are also key factors for success in school. But this does not apply to Muslim pupils who regard themselves as highly religious, and to those who do not regularly practice their religion. This group of pupils is more likely to leave school early without completing secondary education (earning only a Hauptschule degree) or to drop out. To summarize, subjective religiosity can be an obstacle to educational success, but other facets of Muslim religiosity do not necessarily hamper pupils’ school achievements.