April 20, 2014
Sunday, December 8, 2013

Progressive Inclusion, Slumping Academically

In Argentina the urgent forever crowds out the important and it is not surprising that the Córdoba looting preceded by a ferocious tornado should overshadow news of Argentina’s faltering performance in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results or that even on the educational front this news should be subsequently upstaged by the student violence against the new University of Buenos Aires (UBA) chancellor’s election but in many ways PISA is the real problem for Argentina’s future. Ranking 59th out of 65 countries globally is already disastrous but Argentina even trails within its own region, the world’s weakest in educational terms — only topping Colombia and Peru (both improving fast) among eight Latin American countries. If misery loves company, Argentina is not alone —thus Britain is midway down this table while the United States (with its huge capacity to import brainpower) is lodged in the bottom half. Indeed the whole world is changing — if in the last century such comparisons sometimes triggered racial controversy between black and white (even if this could never justify discrimination), the superiority over yellow over white would now seem the issue.

But let us focus on Argentina. These results are especially dispiriting because they suggest that throwing money at the problem is not the solution — Argentina has now been spending over six percent of its Gross Domestic Product on education for well over the five-year secondary school cycle with no visible return on the investment in terms of average instruction. Questioning the relevance of the mathematical, linguistic and scientific skills evaluated by PISA to the modern technology permeating the culture of today’s youth (perhaps boosted by the millions of netbooks given schoolchildren) is no excuse because that truly global trend applies to all countries — nor are maths or comprehension superfluous in even the most advanced technology.

Perhaps the real problem is that a bigger budget is no substitute for an active interest in education (conspicuously absent as an issue in the recent election campaign) and attention to quality from government and society alike. The rewards system has changed drastically since the “m‘hijo el dotor” generation a century ago with education no longer valued as a path of upward social mobility — underpaid teachers more or less function as glorified baby-sitters while steadily deteriorating as educators. No decade is truly won with the PISA blot on Argentina’s copy-book.

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