The poor results obtained by Basque students in the final year of compulsory education (4th ESO) in the PISA 2022 report have sounded the alarm. It is true that the global decline has been general (17 points compared to the 2018 test) and that Euskadi is in the middle of the table, but the decline in Mathematics, Reading and Science is worrying, because it is not of a specific event. The deterioration began in 2012 – three years before the Basque Country obtained the best marks – and, since then, with the exception of a positive peak in mathematics in 2018, the curve has been descending.
Another worrying fact is that Basque students of foreign origin can be up to two years behind their classmates in the same class, which is the largest gap in the entire state. The report refers to the pandemic – tests were delayed for a year because of Covid – as one of the causes explaining the poor results.
The Basque Ministry of Education has clung to this argument to justify the decline of Basque students, in addition to the fact that “the decline has become widespread throughout Europe”, said councilor Jokin Bildarratz. DV asked experts who know the education system in depth to analyze the possible causes of the PISA failure and how to turn the situation around.
“We must not dramatize the results,” warns Nélida Zaitegi. “It’s as if when we did an analysis, they told us what we had and now it was time to fix it,” explains the pedagogue and former president of the Basque School Board. “That doesn’t mean I don’t value them. They have it, but to the right extent, because PISA is a still photo of a certain moment,” he says. “And the timing of this latest test is very important. “With the pandemic, we were all bad: students, teachers and families.”
Zaitegi has analyzed all the PISA studies carried out in Euskadi and what worries him most is “the downward trend”. He recommends “asking how values and learning habits are evolving. This is why teaching needs to be changed to reach students. What matters is what they learn, not what we teach them,” he says.
“It’s good to compare yourself to others but that can’t be a conclusion. The important thing is what we get out of it. We must analyze what schools are like, what the school climate is, what happens in the family environment, how resources are distributed…”, he lists. “But PISA analyzes part of teaching; yes, in three very important areas, but not in education. Furthermore, I fear that this is a test from the OECD, an “old” organization. “To work today you need to have different skills, which are not just those examined.”
According to him, he does not believe that it is necessary to invest more money. “It’s not a question of investing more, but of seeing how it becomes profitable. We need to seriously rethink the things we teach, the things children need for their future, of course languages and mathematics, but many other things too. The teacher is not there to teach, but to facilitate student learning. That’s the difference.”
He defends that education is a collective task. “The administration with the plans and the means, and the schools with their educational projects. But how do they work on inclusion? What methodology do they have? And then there are teachers and families. Students are asked to read, but how many parents open a book at home?
“Be careful when using the pandemic as an excuse. The downward trend has been very clear since 2012, the year when the massive digitalization of schools began in all European countries and in the Basque Country, with the Eskola 2.0 program”, explains Telmo Lazkano, a teacher trained in social networks, who is referring to the “digital frenzy” that has occurred in recent years to understand “cognitive decline in classrooms”.
“This is the main change that happened just when the results started to deteriorate,” says Lazkano, in favor of a “rationalization” of digitalization. “We need to see what the educational goals and needs of each location are and then we will see why, how and when we can help use this technology. This is what must be adapted to pedagogy and not the other way around”, he defends. This teacher is not too surprised by the results of the PISA report since this “slump” is observed year after year in classes “Most teachers agree that over the past decade, speaking and writing have declined significantly, as have vocabulary, ability to concentrate, motivation, effort, and frustration tolerance.”
Lazkano draws on the PISA 2015 tests which reinforce this perception. “In the report from that year there is a very clear graph. The countries that have invested the most in digitalization have had the worst results. This does not mean that all the academic balance lies there, but it is one of the fundamental pillars to analyze, and this is what Sweden has done, for example. In this sense, he believes that it is necessary to reflect “if in primary school, a stage in which the fundamental skills of attention, motivation and vocabulary must be consolidated, we should use ‘chromebooks’ as we do. And when we move on to secondary school, we’ll have to see if the core subjects actually taught on laptops bring improvement or not, because there’s no strong academic evidence to support it.”
In addition to technology, Lazkano sees ratios as another change to improve the education system. “The fewer students there are per teacher, the better the teaching provided,” he concludes.
“The results are absolutely bad, but the Department preferred to hide behind the generalized harm of the pandemic and its harmful effects on the performance of almost all countries,” says Gonzalo Larruzea, doctor in School Organization, who highlights two elements that show that “there are reasons to be concerned and to rethink educational policies.” The first would be the downward trend recorded over the past decade. “We are not talking about a specific result, but the downward trend is constant throughout a whole decade (2012-2022) and this is reflected in all diagnostic assessments of the department as well as other international ones ( PIRLS; TIMSS, etc.). )”. The second key aspect, according to this expert, is that there is no correlation between educational spending and results. “The Basque Country leads in spending per student. In public education, expenditure per student in 2020 was 10,214 euros. The average for Spain is 6,540.
In explaining the reasons that can influence these “bad results”, Larruzea launches five main hypotheses, including the pandemic; in terms of linguistic policy, “there is a coincidence between the exponential growth of the most Basque linguistic models, notably D, and the decline in results”; segregation, “the Basque Country occupies the first places in the ranking”; lack of support for teachers and “the influence of technology”. He believes, however, that the PISA tests, although they constitute a “valuable source of information”, must be dimensioned since “it is only a specific photograph”.
“The Education Law will soon be approved. They wanted to make it the talisman that would solve our problems, but from its content, it does not seem that it will change the course of our education,” he warns.
“The data from the Basque Country are sad. It is true that there has been a general decline across the OECD area, but over the last ten years there has been a strong and continuing decline in Euskadi in reading, science and mathematics. Jenaro Guisasola, a visiting researcher at the Elgoibar Machine Tool Institute and an international reference in science education, believes that the poor PISA results statewide are due to “multifactorial reasons “, among which “there have been five state education laws in recent decades” and, also, that in the development of these laws, “teachers, who are stone guests, were not requested.
“In the specific case of the Basque Country, the design of the basic curriculum is consistent with what PISA evaluates, but it would be necessary to see whether or not teachers pay attention to this curriculum,” explains Guisasola, who is quick to point out that “That’s not the case. It means we have to blame them for the bad results, because maybe they want to but they can’t because there is a structure that prevents them.
Among the causes of the decline, Guisasola does not attach particular importance to education in Basque. “Most studies conclude that bilingualism has no influence. Furthermore, what we say is that students who master two languages generally have better results,” he explains.
Did bad data cause disenchantment among Basque teachers? According to this researcher, at least in Sciences, young graduates who enroll in educational adaptation courses to teach secondary or baccalaureate courses “are enthusiastic”. But he recognizes that “they are enormously disoriented because they have had years of training in their discipline, but they only have five months of training to give courses in that same discipline.” Guisasola regrets the lack of existing information on the situation of teachers. “No one asks them,” he insists. “We don’t have surveys, we don’t know what 40- or 45-year-old teachers think, we don’t know if they became disillusioned along the way, and maybe that’s the key. “
“Even though there is significant investment to address this problem, it is not being met. What is happening? »p. Rodríguezsan Sebastian. The PISA report “teaches us things that we have known almost since the beginning of the 20th century, such as the influence of the socio-economic and cultural index. That the differences between vulnerable and non-vulnerable students remain and even increase is not acceptable in an education system like that of the Basque Country, because our investment and our concern are very high. This should give better results and this problem is not resolved,” he emphasizes.
Another aspect that has changed in the education system, according to Luna, is that “the percentage of immigrant students in our system has increased. Repeatedly, the distance between immigrant and native students continues to be maintained and it is obvious that we cannot resolve it despite the many care programs we have.
Despite everything, he considers that the Basque education system “continues to function” and considers that it is important not to confuse that Basque education is “the result that we obtain from an external evaluation because the educational reality of the centers is much richer than what these centers present. reports,” he adds.