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A dramatic education situation

Without cross-party consensus, Spanish students will never bridge the gap that separates them from the best performers

Time and again, the PISA report has warned that the educational level of Spanish students is far from what it should be. If earlier testing yielded mediocre results in mathematics, science and reading proficiency, the latest evaluation shows that results are even worse when it comes to practical skills.

Faced with questions that measure one’s ability to deal with everyday things such as programming an air conditioner or purchasing a combined public transit ticket, Spanish 15-year-olds scored 23 points below the average for OECD countries and 30 points below France, Italy and Germany. This is a dramatic situation about which the relevant officials do not seem fully aware.

Too much time has been lost —for too many years— on sterile ideological fights regarding the role of religion at school or the values it should teach, instead of seeking the necessary consensus to produce the changes that education in this country really needs. No reform has been able to redress the situation, and it remains to be seen whether the latest one will bring about any substantial changes.

Too much time has been lost —for too many years— on sterile ideological fights over the role of religion

What is needed is a “radical change in teaching methodology,” said the state secretary of education, to move beyond “old-fashioned” models based solely on memorizing content. What the PISA report suggests is that students must be given the necessary skills to apply the knowledge that they gain; the important thing is not how much you know, but what you are able to do with what you know, and being capable of learning what you still do not know.

But with a dispirited, decimated teaching community that has few options for career reinvention, it will be difficult to overcome the inertia that has led to the current results. Education once required – and still does – the kind of cross-party consensus that will pave the way for a reliable diagnosis of our system’s shortcomings and required changes.

In the first place, we urgently need much more of an educational focus on developing personal abilities and creative skills. Secondly, we need measures to reinforce the teachers’ work through programs aimed at improving their own teaching abilities and helping student stragglers meet class goals. Without extraordinary measures, it will be difficult to bridge the gap separating us from the best performers.

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