The OECD has prepared a harsh diagnosis of the Spanish education system, has recognized that the ongoing educational reform tries to address a large part of the problems, which generally come from afar, and has proposed five actions, subdivided into 44 measures, to improve it. These include identifying socioeconomically disadvantaged educational centers, concentrating abundant resources on them, rewarding the teachers who choose them, and extending the hours that vulnerable students remain in school.

The starting point of the report is early school leaving, one of the great historical disadvantages of Spain compared to its neighboring countries, which is measured by calculating the percentage of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who have completed Compulsory Secondary Education at most. and they do not follow any type of study or training. At the beginning of the last decade, its level in Spain was enormous and unusual for a developed country: it reached 28.2% of young people of that age, and it made their future much more difficult in multiple areas, from work to life. health. The percentage has since declined sharply and is now at 13.9%, but still above the EU average (9.3%).

Selectivity Exam at the Pablo de Olavide University, in Seville, on Tuesday.
Selectivity Exam at the Pablo de Olavide University, in Seville, on Tuesday. Maria Jose Lopez (Europa Press)

In 2020, the Ministry of Education requested advice on how to reduce it to the Directorate General of Support for Structural Reforms of the European Commission. This contracted the OECD, the organization that brings together developed countries, which has one of its most relevant branches in education (it is responsible for the largest international evaluation, the PISA Report), to carry out an x-ray of the case Spanish. And on Tuesday, the OECD, together with the European Commission and the Ministry of Education, which have helped to prepare it, have published the document, entitled Proposals for an action plan to reduce early school leaving in Spain.

The educational level of the mothers

The report begins by recalling the serious consequences of early school leaving. Young people who leave school early are at greater risk of “suffering from social exclusion, as they often find it difficult to get and keep a job” and “tend to be socially and economically disadvantaged in the long term”. The formative disengagement generates negative consequences in the field of “job insecurity, lack of motivation to participate in the labor market, personal health and self-esteem”. And it also entails “large economic costs” for society, by fueling youth unemployment and poverty. There are factors that help explain the Spanish rate, among them the social and economic structure of the country (with, for example, a high weight of tourism in some areas). And, on an individual scale, the home in which one is born. Students whose mothers have at most primary studies are 10 times more likely to drop out of school early than children whose mothers have tertiary studies (university and higher vocational training).

After interviewing a large group of entities linked to education, teachers and students, the report puts on the table the weaknesses of education in Spain that contribute to early educational dropout, which are the following.

Missing Common Definitions

There is “no common definition or measurement at the level of the entire country that allows us to know what makes an educational center vulnerable”, and the different territorial interpretations “endanger the equitable allocation of resources to centers in different areas from the country”. Colleges and institutes collect a good amount of data about their students, but “often lack information about the environment of the students, individual learning needs and progress on which to base a supporting diagnosis”. There is also no “clear and commonly accepted definition and measurement of truancy”, despite the fact that its level in secondary school is significantly higher than the OECD average. Nor is there a consensus on what the term “students with a specific need for educational support” means, which causes unjustified differences in the regional statistics: in Navarra, for example, the kids thus considered represent 21.6% of the total, while in the neighboring Aragon only reached 3.9%. The Ministry and communities, the document states, have begun to work on common definitions.

Precariousness of the teaching staff

Teacher instability is very high (33% in secondary compared to 18% on average in the OECD), “which undermines the ability of schools to form stable teams, which are essential to foster the skills necessary to detect, prevent and coping with early school leaving. The percentage of secondary school teachers who start out feeling well trained to teach their subject (48%) is well below the OECD average (79%). The University does not take socio-emotional aspects into account when admitting aspiring teachers, as is the case in Finland or the Netherlands (the deans of Teaching proposed it a few months ago, but neither the rectors nor the Ministry of Universities they were about to implement it). The centers lack sufficient specialized support professionals, such as “counselors, social workers and school psychologists”. The repetition rate, an instrument that the report forcefully advises against, except in very specific cases, continues to be high. And “the percentage of disadvantaged students who repeat a course is one of the highest in the OECD,” says the study, which highlights the commitment of the current educational reform to reduce it.

Many of the centers have assumed “an intensive schedule focused on the mornings”, when “it has been shown that spending more time in the educational center allows higher graduation rates and improves learning and other social and behavioral indicators”, especially ” in disadvantaged students. And, at the same time, the report continues, almost half of the households pay extracurricular fees in the afternoon. In the case of those hired by low-income families, they mainly consist of support classes for curricular subjects.

Overqualification and segregated schools

40% of workers under the age of 35 say they are overqualified for their job, and despite the shortage of labor in areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, “enrollment in technical programs at FP continues to be low”, which the report attributes to the lack of good guidance in the centers. Poor students or students of immigrant origin tend to be concentrated in the same schools ―“the percentage of poor students in subsidized schools is less than half that in public schools”, for example―, “thus aggravating inequalities and the vulnerability of these centers and the students”. The education law, the Lomloe, has created tools to avoid segregation, the report says.

Public spending on early childhood education, which can help reduce school failure in the medium and long term, “is notably below the OECD average”, although the document indicates that the Government has launched a plan to create 65,000 places from zero to three years. Vocational training also has less weight in Spain than in other developed countries, although the OECD admits the effort made in recent years, with the approval of the new law and the financing by the Ministry of Education for the creation of 245,000 new places. The report also applauds the itineraries of curricular flexibility that Lomloe has introduced so that students who are doing poorly can finish secondary school. It regrets that many centers relegate Vocational Training to afternoon hours, leaving the mornings for ESO, considering that this “negatively affects student motivation, contributes to segregation and aggravates the stigmatization of Vocational Training”. For similar reasons, he criticizes the fact that adult education is often given at “night time”, which makes it difficult for young people between 18 and 24 years of age to re-engage. And he lacks more evaluation of educational policies, more collaboration between the communities and the ministry, and a greater exchange of information “about what works and what doesn’t.”

guide resources

The report proposes five major actions to improve the system and reduce abandonment. The first is to establish a common definition of vulnerable students and centers that allows “orienting resources” towards them. Some initiatives of recent years, such as the PROA+ program of the ministry, can be used for this, he points out. Once identified, the OECD proposes a wide range of measures to support vulnerable students and their families, ranging from “food vouchers” to classrooms with very few students and additional reinforcement classes. Vulnerable centers should also receive guidance and direct support from the ministry and the autonomous communities.

for teachers

The OECD proposes strengthening teachers in several ways. Those who work in vulnerable centers should obtain benefits in their professional career. Training at the University should guarantee that new teachers “are aware of the cultural and linguistic aspects related to learning and evaluation”, and access to the career, value socio-emotional skills of applicants such as “empathy, confidence, mental openness and resistance to stress”. The oppositions to professor should not prioritize so much “the knowledge of the subjects on the pedagogical competences”. The document considers it appropriate to “encourage people of various origins to enter the teaching profession.” And increase the number of people with professional profiles other than the teacher in the centers.

School places by lottery

The third action covers measures such as reducing the repetition rate, with the possibility of carrying out a “national communication campaign to raise awareness about its negative effects”. Limit school segregation, going so far as to opt for centralized enrollment systems at the municipal level that use “a lottery system to allocate places in centers with high demand.” Or reinforce the connection between the school and the local authorities, so that the educational centers receive the support of other municipal public services.

The fourth proposal includes continuing to promote vocational training and adapted curricular itineraries, and promoting formulas to re-engage students who left the system early, such as adult education centers. And the fifth focuses on improving the exchange of information between centers and autonomous communities, increasing external evaluation and self-evaluation of schools and institutes, as well as educational policy measures.

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