Individuals can only live up to their full intellectual and social potential if they have access to optimal learning environments throughout the entire course of their development, which ranges from birth to death. The working group focused on developing evidence-based measures to provide effective early support to children – especially those with immigrant backgrounds or from socio-economically disadvantaged families – in developing their skills and potential. The goal of such early intervention is to facilitate integration and enable society to harness the full potential of all its members.
Public debate on the reasons for differences in intellectual and social development is generally waged along the lines of “nature vs. nurture”. In other words, our personalities, abilities and social traits are generally deemed to be either genetically determined or shaped by environmental factors. The research of the past 50 years provides convincing evidence that things are not quite so black and white: human development is actually shaped by the complex interplay of both genetic and environmental factors.
Beliefs on how cognitive, emotional and social skills develop are of direct significance for policy. Scientific findings have that supporting children at an early stage, when they are in nursery school and in the first years of school, is the most effective way of promoting aspects of development such as language skills and self-direction – and thus, ultimately, of promoting successful integration. But that is not enough. Supportive measures are particularly effective if they are offered during the right phase of development. Corrective measures taken later on are not completely ineffective, but they require a lot more effort and are more costly for society.
ML = member of the Leopoldina
Was Hänschen nicht lernt. Panel discussion on socialisation in early childhood, Hamburg, 3 December 2014 (recorded by DRadio Wissen, broadcast on 11 January 2015; German)