More educational inequality than in Chile - IDESA

Report Nº: 83823/12/2019

More educational inequality than in Chile

The PISA 2018 tests confirm, once again, the deep and persistent decline of the Argentine educational system. This is the consequence of the education policy focusing on teachers’ salaries and not on school results. Those most affected by the decadence are the youngster from poor households. The PISA test is taken by 15-year-olds in secondary […]

The PISA test is taken by 15-year-olds in secondary school. The aim is to assess their ability to develop in social, economic, and working life. It does not evaluate what they learned in school but how they can extrapolate the school knowledge to life experiences outside school. Reading, maths, and science skills are measured every three years, the last one was in 2018, and nearly 80 countries participated.

In reading, Argentina scored 402 points out of 500 points, which is the benchmark for developed countries. This would be a slight improvement over 2012 (in 2015, Argentina was excluded for irregularities), which was 396, but -according to PISA- the improvement is not statistically significant. Argentina, which was at the forefront of South America in 2000, is now behind Chile (452), Uruguay (427), Brazil (413), Colombia (412), and equal to Peru (401).

Given that averages hide differences between segments of the population, another important dimension that PISA makes possible to evaluate is the gap between socioeconomic levels. Concerning this point, it can be observed that in 2018:

  • In Argentina, 20% of young people with the lowest socioeconomic status scored 366 while the 20% with the highest socioeconomic status scored 481.
  • In Chile, 20% of young people with the lowest socioeconomic level scored 418 points, while the 20% with the highest socioeconomic level scored 518.
  • This means that while the learning gap by socioeconomic level in Argentina is 115 points, in Chile it is 100 points.

These data show that Argentina’s education system not only performs worse overall but is also more unequal than Chile’s. According to PISA, a difference of 40 points is equivalent to 1 year of studies. In the case of Chile, young people from the poorest households have a level of learning that would be about 2.5 years less of study than a young person from a higher-income household. In the case of Argentina, a young person from a poor household has skill levels as if he had done 3 years less of studies than a young person from a high-income household.

The comparison with Chile is very pertinent. On the one hand, Chile is suffering intense and prolonged conflicts questioning its social inequality. On the other hand, there is a high consensus in Argentina that the education system would be much more egalitarian than Chile’s thanks to strong State intervention. The evidence shows that this perception is wrong: the inequality in education in Argentina is worse than in Chile. The reason is that, in Argentina, the middle and upper class have access to privately run schools, while lower-income families have no other option than State schools, which provide lower quality education.

The reasons why poor young people receive more mediocre education quality respond to the vested interests in State schools. While the speeches emphasize that State schools are the guarantee of education for lower-income families, the reality is that these schools are conditioned by vested interests that have nothing to do with the education of the students. The most determining factor of low educational quality is labor regulations. Teacher labor standards reward mediocrity and discourage commitment to student education.

State schools in Argentina are generating social inequality. Young people from low-income families receive a worse education than in Chile, which is in a severe inequality crisis. In these conditions, defending State schools is not to support the education of the poor, but rather the interests of corporations entrenched in the education system. Progressivism would be to add in the salaries discussion the measurement of results in State schools.



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