Born to Be: the Deutsche Bank youth engagement programme
An uneven landscape
Talented young people are the future of our society. Yet for many, hopes of fair and equal opportunities end in disappointment. In Germany, all research points in one direction: young people’s educational success still depends to a very large extent on their background. The parents’ education or immigration history influences the educational path taken by their children. The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s 2014 Opportunities Survey ranks the school system as the “toughest obstacle” for children from non-academic families. Its conclusion: “Germany too often fails to compensate for the background-related disadvantages of pupils.”
The hurdles are complex. There is a lack of information available to students from non-academic backgrounds on how to choose the right subject to study and financing options for higher education. So it is hardly surprising that while almost 80 percent of children from academic families stay on at school to prepare for higher education, only 40 percent of children from non-academic families do so (Federation of German Student Unions, 2013). The disparity is even greater at university, where there are three times the number of first-year undergraduates from academic families than students whose parents who did not attend university (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research). Children from immigrant families are especially affected: on average, they are four times more likely to have parents with a low level of educational achievement and fewer financial resources (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung).
Everyone should have the same opportunities
It's time this landscape changed. STUDIENKOMPASS (COMPASS OF STUDIES), which Deutsche Bank Foundation co-founded in 2007, makes young people from non-academic backgrounds aware of the educational opportunities and helps them to plan their future careers.
The programme runs in 30 regions throughout Germany and supports students for three years as they make their way towards university. Deutsche Bank employees support the project as mentors. They advise, inform and provide contacts for the students, and share their own experiences of studying and working.
The programme’s success rate is high: 95 percent of participants begin a degree course. Just like Esra Yaman, 22, from Berlin’s Tempelhof district. This determined young woman is in her seventh semester studying law. She also works as an assistant in the German parliament and volunteers with Schülerpaten Berlin, a community organisation that provides mentors to students from immigrant backgrounds.
The wrong direction
Esra’s parents came to Germany as immigrant workers from Turkey and separated soon after her birth. Esra stayed with her mother, a trained architectural draughtsperson who now works as a secretary. As Esra neared the end of her primary school education, the school recommended that she attend a Gymnasium, a secondary school that would put her well on a pathway to university. However, Esra’s mother decided against sending her to the Gymnasium so that Esra could enjoy a childhood without the pressure to achieve. Her mother faced the same choice when Esra reached Year 6 when Esra’s class teacher recommended that she go to a Realschule, a selective secondary school – despite her good grades.
Esra can still remember her teacher’s words: “She said I wouldn't do well at a Gymnasium anyway, as I am Turkish. She wanted to save me and my family the humiliation.” Esra’s mother left the decision to Esra, who switched to the Gymnasium so she could pursue her ambition to become a lawyer, to stand up for people’s rights.
Esra has encountered prejudice throughout her educational life, and not just from teachers. Classmates did not always react positively to Esra’s ambition. She was plagued by doubts: “At times I didn't know myself if I could study law.” But Esra did not give up, as so many pupils do when there is a lack of support from those around them. Instead, she took up the opportunity offered to her in Year 10 by her maths teacher, who introduced Esra to the STUDIENKOMPASS programme.
“My English teacher wrote the recommendation I needed in order to apply,” she recalls. Esra passed the acceptance test with flying colours: “Even the selection interview went well,” she remembers. Even so, she was still surprised to be accepted: “I had never been a straight-A student. Ultimately, it was my extracurricular activities that made the difference.”
For three years, STUDIENKOMPASS supported Esra on her journey. Her Berlin regional group met regularly. At the start of the programme, the students voiced their goals. Later on, lecturers explained courses, universities and financing, and offered feedback on students’ preferences: “You need to know whether the course you are aiming for is the right one,” explains Esra. And finally, they could ask the questions that nobody in their families could answer. They spoke to professors and students and they visited universities. “Back then, I would never have attended a lecture by myself,” Esra laughs.
An achievement to be proud of
Esra compared notes with a law student, discussed her plans with her mentor and talked to her mother about her chosen career. “My mother was, of course, proud of me,” she says.
Esra continued to attend meetings and workshops with her STUDIENKOMPASS group during her first year as an undergraduate. The regular contact helped her manage the progression to higher education. Three and a half years on, she’s never regretted her decision to read law. “There are students who have it easier, who don't have to work and who can buy an expensive book without thinking about it”, she observes “but when I finally get my degree, it will be worth more to me because of the hard work and effort that has gone into it.”
There is still huge pressure on Esra: as well as the financial cost of a university education, she has to contend with the attitudes of people who do not want her to succeed. “When I have doubts, I remember the tips my mentors gave me,” she says. Just recently, she chose to spend a semester in Istanbul. “It doesn't help towards my degree, but my mentors always said you should never lose sight of your personal development.”
Esra can easily picture herself as a mentor in the future, supporting young people looking for the right educational path – just as STUDIENKOMPASS did for her.
Only 5 percent of STUDIENKOMPASS participants drop out of university, compared to the national average of 28%. (Deutscher Bildungsbericht, 2014)
About this project
Support from STUDIENKOMPASS helps students from non-academic backgrounds to pursue a university education.
STUDIENKOMPASS supports 1,600 students each year