Change Edition

Students dropping out of school on the rise in Luxembourg

Students dropping out of school on the rise in Luxembourg

by Heledd PRITCHARD 3 min. 24.05.2022 From our online archive
Country's complex language mix posing problems for pupils, with non-Luxembourgish or German speakers increasingly falling behind
Luxembourg pupils during a school exam
Luxembourg pupils during a school exam
Photo credit: Anouk Antony

The share of pupils in Luxembourg who drop out of school without any qualifications has risen constantly for the past three years and has not fallen in the past decade, two new reports have found.

Luxembourg was one of just eight EU countries that did not see a decrease in the share of pupils leaving school early, according to a report published on Monday by the bloc’s statistics agency, Eurostat. 

A total of 9.3% of pupils dropped out of school without a qualification last year, a rate slightly below the EU average but above the bloc’s target level for the first time.  

One of the main challenges that schools in the Grand Duchy face is the increasing number of pupils whose native language is not Luxembourgish or German, and whose reading and mathematics skills suffer as a result, a separate report by the European Commission said on Monday.

Pupils’ basic reading and maths skills are below the EU average and their educational attainment remains strongly linked to their economic status, the Commission concluded.

In the 2019-2020 school year, only 34% of primary school pupils and 40% of secondary school students spoke Luxembourgish as their main language at home, according to a national education report published in December.

Language mix causing problems 

Luxembourg has long used that fact to justify its low performance in the global assessment of education systems, the Pisa study. 

Skill levels are “significantly lower” than the EU averages in reading, writing and mathematics, and the country has one of the largest gaps in reading between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, the Commission said.

While kids speak Luxembourgish in preschool, they first learn to read and write in German and continue in that language until their fourth year of secondary school, when they switch to French. 

The complex language mix may pose problems: while children are accustomed to Luxembourgish, German is often a new language for them when they start school, even if the two languages are grammatically close. 

The national report published looked at the performance of children from Portuguese families – the country’s largest immigrant population, who make up 28% of pupils. It showed that at nine years old, almost 60% have not reached the required level in German reading. 

“Pupils need to be fluent in German to go through primary school and that’s really a problem for children who don’t speak Luxembourgish or German at home,” Thomas Lenz, a researcher at Luxembourg University’s centre for educational testing (LUCET) who helped write the education report, previously told The Luxembourg Times. 

“In the first two years there is already a huge gap and this gap does not close, it widens as the school career moves on.” 

Gaps worsen with age

Learning gaps observed in the first years of schooling remain stable or even increase during later years, the Commission found.

Pupils with a non-Luxembourgish or German language background are disproportionately more often oriented towards the lowest track of secondary education than expected, based on their academic performance, the report said.

The multilingual school system, bad relationships with teachers, issues at home and being victims of bullying were all factors why pupils left school early, according to a study by the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) published last year. 

While young Luxembourgers said they had difficulties with the French language, students of immigrant backgrounds said they had problems with German or Luxembourgish.

One pupil, in an anonymous interview with the researchers, said he or she had to resit the fourth year of secondary school because of French. “I still had huge problems with French,” the pupil said.

The Luxembourg Times has a new mobile app, download here! Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.

More on this topic