Overconfidence isn’t all bad

IOn average, students with a migration background belong to the weaker groups in the German education system. According to the assumption of educational sociology, your poorer performance should also have a negative effect on how a student assesses himself. One should be able to expect a connection between the actual performance of a student, as expressed in grades and degrees, and this self-concept. But it is not that easy. This is countered by the already known observation that especially students with a migration background rate their performance more positively than students without such a background. At least that’s been observed for elementary school students. With regard to ethnic differences in the school self-concept in the secondary level, i.e. up to year nine, little is known about Germany so far. Does this overconfidence also apply to older students, and what is the cause?

Ambitious educational goals

Manuel Siegert and Tobias Roth have now been able to use data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) from 2010 – newer data are unfortunately not available – to examine the school self-concept of ninth graders at grammar schools, secondary schools, secondary schools and comprehensive schools, including those of Turkish origin So parents immigrated while they were born in Germany. It is already known from them that they often have very ambitious educational goals and often pursue more demanding educational paths at the transitions than comparable classmates without a migration background.

It has been assumed up to now that these clearly more optimistic goals were caused by the equally ambitious educational goals of their parents. Migrants’ willingness to move up and the corresponding pressure on their own children are known from all immigration societies. The positive influence of parental expectations should therefore be stronger than the rather negative influence of the feedback from the school environment – if this feedback actually exists and if it is used at all to correct the self-concept. Finally, it would also be possible that foreign children tend to ignore correspondingly unfavorable performance feedback from school in order to protect their self-confidence, which is already not particularly stable.

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Who influences whom here?

The study confirms the discrepancy between performance and self-concept of ninth graders with a Turkish background: Their performance is significantly worse, but their self-concept is significantly more positive than that of students without a migration background. This difference is highest at grammar school and lowest at secondary schools. These results suggested that young people of Turkish origin are able to maintain a relatively positive school self-concept until the end of secondary school, despite comparatively adverse circumstances. Are there ambitious parents behind this? Of course, there is a positive correlation here between the parents’ perceived educational desires and the self-concept of their children, the authors write. But that is not enough for an overall explanation. There must be other causes.

It would then have to be clarified whether it is perhaps a reciprocal effect. The NEPS data can only demonstrate a connection between the parents’ educational wishes and the young people’s self-concept, but not the direction of this connection. It is quite possible that the parents here are more likely to be influenced by their children and that their overestimation of themselves increases the parents’ expectations.

However, the social environment outside of school should also be taken into account. The high self-concepts of the young people of Turkish origin could also come from “beneficial comparisons” with other relatives or other “self-ethnic contacts” with a correspondingly low level of education. That too can lead to unrealistic expectations of yourself. But it can also motivate – after all, according to the authors, it can be assumed that the “optimistic self-concepts of these young people have positive effects”, as they face the “danger of a downward spiral of low self-concept, low motivation, poor academic performance and less ambitious educational decisions” counteracted. Perhaps they would even be strong enough to set in motion something like an upward spiral that would lead to actual academic success.


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