While half of six to 12 year olds have heard the word 'Jew', only a third can explain what it means, even though the topic is part of most primary school curricula.
Children whose parents don’t have a university education are even less likely to piece together the meaning, the study found.
Although half of 8-9 year-olds and almost all 12-13 year-olds (94 percent) know that Jews were persecuted during the Second World War, the study revealed, only just under one in five (18 percent) of 8-9 year-olds stated they are certain of this historical fact.
The conclusions of the study are controversial, says IZI Director Maya Götz because primary school is regarded as the decisive phase in the development of prejudices, she said.
The more prejudices children have accumulated by the end of their childhood, the more persistent they become, says Götz.
Among the twelve to 13-year-olds, 58 percent are certain that Jews were persecuted during the Second World War. “These are indications that there is an urgent need to impart more knowledge about what happened,” explained Götz.
According to the study, knowledge about the Roma people is even worse. Half of six to 13-year-olds have never heard the term 'Roma' before.
“While many have age-appropriate knowledge on the subject of 'Muslims', only a minority know who 'Roma' are,” said Götz.
The term 'gypsy' was – if known at all – only thought of in a derogatory way by the young survey takers.
“From an educational point of view, these figures are worrying because the lack of knowledge and contact with these groups can contribute to the formation of prejudice,” said Götz.
As part of the study 'Prejudices, Racism, Extremism', the Institute interviewed 840 children between the ages of six and 13 throughout Germany about their knowledge and associations with these terms.
In further studies, the IZI wants to find out to what extent well-produced film and television products for children can help to break down prejudices, Götz stated.