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A lack of equal opportunities due to insufficient writing skills

Vocational school students often have inadequate reading and writing skills. A new study carried out by the ZHAW confirms that there is a need to take action and, for the first time ever, sets out the academic foundations for the needs-based promotion of writing skills in vocational education.

Illustartion Schreibkompetenz

Writing is a key skill that is needed to participate in both social and political life. Without satisfactory written language skills, it is not possible to exercise your rights, take part in educational programmes or enter the world of work. And for young people lacking adequate written language skills, in particular, there is the risk of being marginalised on the labour market and in society as a whole.

Young people with a migration background are not the only people affected

The new study carried out by the ZHAW in collaboration with the University of Education Weingarten and the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences clearly shows that vocational school students achieved only half of the possible points in all of the assessment criteria related to text quality (e.g. linguistic accuracy, text structure, communicative effect). The trainees that most frequently demonstrate insufficient writing skills are those from families with underprivileged educational backgrounds as well as those who immigrated in their late childhood years or as a teenager and thus only began learning German as a second language at a relatively late stage in their lives. However, vocational school students that speak German as their first language and who have grown up in Switzerland also frequently demonstrate limited writing skills.

Motivating young people with realistic reading and writing scenarios from everyday life

Representatives from business, companies and trade associations to whom the research results were presented are critical of the lack of writing skills possessed by trainees. One possible solution helps students to improve both their reading and writing skills at the same time. Upon reading the texts, students can work on and develop their vocabulary and text structures, which can in turn be used when they write their own texts. Realistic scenarios in which reading and writing skills are used in a social or professional context (e.g. objecting to an excessive bill) are ideal for motivating students to improve this part of their repertoire. These scenarios allow for different approaches to literacy to be taken. For example, verbal discussions can be used to help students prepare their written texts and thus relieve the pressure exerted on them.

Only a very small number of students have an advanced competency profile

For the study, a total of 1,472 texts written by vocational school students in their first year of training in 13 different professions were collected in the trinational Lake Constance region. The texts were evaluated by two independent experts. The study revealed that the vast majority of trainees in vocational education had a low (48.84 percent) to average (43.02 percent) competency profile. Only a very small number of students (8.14 percent) had an advanced competency profile. There is thus a considerable need for support in this area.

The study also confirms that the reading and writing skills of the vocational school students are very wide-ranging. This is reflected in the vastly different level of skills in individual classes, which presents teachers with fundamental challenges: teachers and headteachers say that there is often not enough teaching time and an insufficient number of teachers who are qualified to teach German as a first and second language to be able to cater to all of the students and their individual linguistic skills.


Deborah Harzenmoser, ZHAW Kommunikation Angewandte Linguistik, Telefon 058 934 49 75, E-Mail: