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No present, and no future in sight

The number of young people neither studying nor working means something is wrong

Almost two million Spanish young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are neither studying nor working. These people are the so-called ninis (from ni/ni, neither/nor). The figure — 1.9 million, more exactly — comes from a recent report prepared by the OECD, and refers to the year 2010, so it is not going too far to suppose the situation is worse by now. In any case this is a panorama that shows — apart from the shortcomings of the labor market — the lacunae that are still chronic in the Spanish education system and that the new law now being prepared by the government addresses only tangentially.

The official rate of youth unemployment in Spain is 53.28 percent, a percentage which, in Europe, is comparable only to that of Greece. The fact that the percentage of those who are not enrolled in any course of study either, however, is even higher, and indicates that in this country there are educational deficiencies in urgent need of correction.

One of these is the deficient extent of vocational training. The other is the lack of coordination between schools and companies over youths entering the labor market. The report says the higher the participation in vocational training, the less the unemployment among the young. Among OECD countries Spain, together with Turkey, has the lowest percentage of people with vocational training diplomas. This is aggravated by the difficulties in finding a job encountered by young people once they have left school in a country which, in spite of some recent improvement, still has a record rate of early school leaving.

The reforms included in the draft of the Improved Educational Quality Law are hardly going to touch this problem. The draft includes mainly changes of a political nature with a clear tendency towards the recentralization of education. The beefing-up in language, mathematics and sciences is moderate, and was a clear necessity.

Regarding vocational training the draft incorporates a new early cycle, but there persists the problem of streaming. To return to the system of high-school entrance exams, and to lower the age at which students must choose between academic and vocational streams, is a controversial option that does not ensure quality in education — so seriously threatened by the cutbacks decreed by this same government.

While in France the education system has been exempted from the recent adjustments in public spending, and is aiming to create 60,000 new jobs in this area within the next five years, in Spain the shears have been ruthlessly applied in disregard of the fact that education is essentially a productive investment, on which the country’s competitive position depends.

The high percentage of ninis registered in Spain coincides with a growing exodus of young or youngish Spanish citizens to other countries (40,625 in the first half of this year; some 44.2 percent more than in the same period of the previous year) — which means, in part, losing the benefits of the investment that Spain made in their education. The decapitalization is obvious and the lack of alternatives, dramatic.

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