2 out of 3 public school students have low proficiency in reading - IDESA

Informe Nº: 04/02/2014

2 out of 3 public school students have low proficiency in reading

The 30 years of democracy are being celebrated in one of its worst moments. The institutional degradation reached such a point that police mutinies spared along the country that led to grave acts of vandalism are tolerated. The malpractice in public administration drives to growing taxes and a worsening quality in public services, such as education. Facet to vulnerability generated by the lack of the state some families have recurred to the private sector, but this is a partial solution which raises inequality.

PISA is an international test taken to teenagers (15 years old) across 65 countries every 3 years in order to assess their reading, mathematical and science skills. While no single indicator can summarize the multiple factors that involve education, PISA has the advantage of having broad technical recognition and allows comparisons over the years. The last test was conducted in 2012 and Argentina was ranked between 58° and 60° depending on the subject.

Taking the level 2 assessment in reading skills (which is considered the minimum threshold of capabilities to achieve a successful future in the labor market) in 2000 44% of young Argentineans were about below this level. In 2009 this proportion had risen to 52% and in 2012 it reached 54%. This means that in the last 12 years the proportion of adolescents which do not understand what they read has greatly increased.   

Disaggregating the PISA information by geographic area and type of school it is found that:

· In the City of Buenos Aires, 56% of the students in state schools do not reach the level 2 in reading while in private schools only 15% of the students do not reach this level.

· In the Pampas, Cuyo and Patagonia regions, 67% of the students in state schools do not reach the level 2 and in private schools this proportion falls to 26%.

· In the North East and North West regions, 66% of the state schools students do not reach level 2 while in private schools 49% of the students do not reach this level.

This data shows that the educational degradation process in Argentina is intense and heterogeneous. In the City of Buenos Aires those who can afford sending their children to a private school (about half of the students are in this condition) obtain results similar to those achieved in Australia or Denmark. In the Pampas, Cuyo and Patagonia regions (which concentrate 70% of all the elementary and high school students) those families which are able to afford a private school get results similar to those obtained in Israel or Slovakia, on the contrary, two thirds of the students which attend public schools (69% of the students attend this type facilities) do not develop reading skills. The same disappointing results were achieved in the public schools in the north region (with 84% of the students attending this type of schools), and in the few existing private schools only half of the students exceed level 2 in reading.

Clearly that educational deterioration is widespread, but its severity increases in the weakest segments of society. While in the city of Buenos Aires many well endowed families reach good levels of education, in the more neglected regions these possibilities are forbidden even for the wealthiest families.

Paradoxically, this deterioration occurs in the context of a massive increase in public spending (including education). This process is sustained by an unprecedented growth in the tax burden, which increased from 21% of GDP in 2000 to 37% in 2012, making Argentina the Latin American country with the highest tax burden. Of these fiscal resources, 6% of GDP is devoted to public education which puts Argentina among the countries that spend the most on education, but the results are among the lowest in the region.

That the recent PISA results show the degradation of the Argentinean education system in parallel with images of a country being torn up by violence is no coincidence. It is the result of a mismanagement of the state guided by an unrestrained struggle for the appropriation of public funds without the slightest consideration of the public interest. Example of this is the increases in the public sector wages which are intended to overcome the chaos experienced in the last two weeks. It is extremely evocative that in the debate in which it is decided that the population will have to make more sacrifices (in order to finance wage increases) there is no any clue about improving the quality of public services.

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