Forty researchers in the field of education belonging to some thirty public and private institutions warn in a report published this Wednesday that Spain collects educational data on a large scale, but, unlike what happens in other neighboring countries, afterwards it does not uses them. The Spanish educational administrations hardly exploit the massive information available to them, despite the fact that, when anonymized, the data could be used to design better teaching policies and help centers, teachers and families to make decisions. The signatories assure that doing so would allow the creation, for example, of alert systems for students at risk of dropping out of school to try to stop it before it is consumed; address the effects of school segregation, or better plan the adaptation of the system to the large drop in the school population that has already begun to occur due to the drop in birth rates. “The lack of improvements in learning outcomes,” the researchers warn, “may have in part to do with poor use of data.”
The problem goes back a long way, says the report, titled Eight proposals for the education system not to be left behind in the data revolution, whose main authors are Lucas Gortazar, from EsadeEcPol, which is the institution that publishes the article, and Álvaro Ferrer, from Save the Children, and who has been joined by educational researchers from fields such as sociology, economics, pedagogy and psychology from Spanish and foreign universities, as well as from other public and private institutions. The deficiencies have, however, been very visible with the pandemic. Spain has not measured the educational consequences that the covid, with school closures, confinements and blended learning, has had on children and adolescents. An analysis that would have helped to more precisely design the measures to mitigate learning losses. And that many surrounding countries have done, such as Portugal, France, Italy, Germany or the United Kingdom. Or, on a regional scale, territories, such as the Basque Country.
The researchers mention several reasons that, in their opinion, explain why Spain is losing the opportunity to better understand its educational reality and thus decide its policies with more criteria. A train that in many other countries is being boosted by technological advances and new methodological approaches in the social sciences. The first is the “culture of opacity”, not justified by the current Spanish regulation, which means that the data is seen as a “monopoly of the administrations”. The second, the lack of human and material resources in the educational administrations, the ministry and councils, to exploit the data themselves and to manage the access of researchers to them. And third, the fact that these data have traditionally been little demanded, due to the fact that Spanish educational research has tended to be rather “theoretical”.
Among the many data that the administrations collect, store and, according to the signatories of the document, are later underused, there is socioeconomic and geographic information on families (through the student admission and scholarship application processes); the educational progress of the student body (with grades, repetition or attendance data); the payments of concerts and salaries to the teaching staff of concerted education; salary information and teaching hours for teachers; public investment in infrastructure and purchase of materials, and the allocation of resources for reinforcement programs.
Among the data that Spain does not even collect, the fact that state diagnostic evaluations are not even carried out in primary and secondary education stands out especially. During the Government of the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Ministry of Education carried out an evaluation at each stage, in 2009 and 2010. After coming to power, a year later, the PP changed these tests for revalidations, and which had no diagnostic purpose , but consequences for students. They were not applied due to the opposition of the educational community and the autonomous governments, but the previous tests were not resumed either. And although the Lomloe has recovered them, they have not yet been launched. This lack of own information has made Spain the best client of the PISA Report, the international test carried out by the OECD, due to the expanded samples that more and more autonomous communities have been requesting for their respective territories. The authors warn that neither PISA nor other international tests are completely adapted to the reality of the country, but they highlight their usefulness and the fact that they avoid “the absurdity” that holding the educational debate “in the dark” would mean. The authors mention that some territories, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, do have established diagnostic tests.
While the Spanish educational administrations drag their feet in the generation and exploitation of educational data, other developed countries accelerate. Some have been evaluating their students for decades ―this allowed, for example, the United States to register the dramatic setback that the coronavirus had caused in the mathematical knowledge of its students―. Meanwhile, others like Italy have given (with the governments prior to the current one led by the far-right Gloria Meloni) a great boost to the collection and analysis of data in order, among other objectives, to be able to take additional measures in the centers with lower performance. Italy has financed the initiative with the European recovery funds and the authors urge the Government to do the same with the rounds of the same that have not yet been approved. “Technology companies are advancing at exponential speed in the generation and use of educational data,” the document adds, “and public authorities cannot waste the capital they have through their own administrative data, and that, compared to private data, have important advantages in terms of reliability, universality, safety and quality”.
The report proposes expanding the information of the State System of Education Indicators managed by the ministry, incorporating the equity dimension. Improve coordination between the Government and the autonomous communities, creating a “framework of educational objectives and indicators” similar to that of the EU, where countries cooperate in educational matters and the “Commission monitors”. Connect the data from the various administrations based on the new student identification number (which will accompany them throughout their educational career) provided for in Lomloe. Develop “early detection systems for educational disadvantage”. Strengthen the National Institute for Educational Evaluation and the regional agencies of its kind. Create, as President Emmanuel Macron has done in France, a scientific education council to advise the ministry. And create a state agency that puts different existing organizations under its umbrella, aimed at promoting, financing and transferring “educational research towards policies and practices”.
The report is also signed by Miquel Àngel Alegre; Miguel Almunia; Xavier Bonal; Brindusa Angel; Andreu Arenas; Samuel Bentolila; Antonio Cabrales; Mar Canizares; Hector Onion; Lucia Cobrebros; Nuria Comas; Elena Costas; Sarah of the Rich; Alfonso Echezarra; Mercedes Esteban; Maria Fernandez Mellizo-Soto; Martha Ferrero; Clara Fontdevila; Claudia Hupkau; Jose Garcia-Montalvo; Nagore Iriberri; Marcel Jansen; Matthew Kraft; Francisco Lopez Rupérez; Oscar Marcenaro; Elena Martin; Eva Flavia Martinez; Monica Martinez-Bravo; Xavier Martinez-Celorrio; Mauro Mediavilla; Jose Montalban; Juan Manuel Moreno; Monica Nadal; Peter King; Toni Roldán; Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela; Miguel Angel Sancho; Pere Taberner, and Antoni Verger, Adrián Zancajo, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
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