Poster Paper: Educational Inequalities and Formal Mentoring in the Swiss Canton of Ticino

Monday, June 13, 2016
Clement House, Ground Floor, Hong Kong Theatre (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Giovanna Zanolla, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland
In his recent work “Our Kids” Robert Putnam (2015) highlights the immense investments in their children of American college-educated parents. Although most of the parents aspire today to attentive parenting, the more educated and affluent among them have been more able to put these ideals into practice. According to Putnam this contributes to increase the gap in childhood experience between kids of well-off families and those of disadvantaged groups and the result is that the former do better across a range of outcomes among which grades and educational career. Another advantage that characterizes upper class children is that they get substantially more and better informal mentoring, which has a positive impact on their educational achievement and helps them to climb the ladder of opportunity.

Although Switzerland is different from US, similar traits are easy to recognize. Combining the results of a few studies conducted by the authors in the Swiss canton of Ticino this contribution analyses the role played by social origin in the educational outcomes and, more precisely, its primary and secondary effects. The former are explored through a research aimed at monitoring the grades of the whole student population from the primary to the upper secondary school and through the analysis of the results in two standardized tests in mathematics and in Italian which we administered to an entire cohort of primary school pupils (approximately 3,000 individuals) living in the canton. The two kinds of evaluation, the first one partly influenced by the teacher’s preferences and the second one typically perceived to be more objective, put into evidence the strong association of school results with social origin, sadly visible from the infancy. The secondary effects are explored through a longitudinal study that has involved a cohort of over 3,000 students which was examined in the transition from the compulsory schooling to the further education: not surprisingly working class students are over-represented in less (or perceived to be less) ambitious educational paths and exhibit a more fragmented school career.

After having mapped the institutional initiatives intended to support and accompany the youth during the transition to post-compulsory education, we can conclude that differently from US in Ticino the formal mentoring is well developed. However, notwithstanding every effort is made to help young people to achieve an upper secondary school diploma, a small percentage of them is not successful in making the transition and remains at a standstill. The interviews we have carried out with the key players involved in formal mentoring reveal that, besides lacking of the soft skills and the social capital that would enable them to apply for a traineeship and succeed, children of economically and culturally deprived families show more difficulties in orientation in the network of institutional support system and constitute therefore a particularly vulnerable category. Analogously to their American peers described by Putnam, they have a lower capacity “to understand the institutions that stand astride the path to opportunity and to make those institutions work for them”.