Why Spain is failing in maths and science teaching

The latest PISA results reveal Spain's education system to have a gaping north south divide.

Why Spain is failing in maths and science teaching
Photo: spaces/Depositphotos

Spain earned its worst ever result for science in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old students across the world.

According to the report published on Tuesday, Spanish students scored an average of 483 points in the science tests, plummeting 13 points since the last study in 2015 to score the lowest results since the PISA test began in 2000.

They didn’t fare much better in maths, dropping five points to score 481 and falling below the OECD average of 489 which puts the nation on  a par with Hungary and Lithuania.

The breakdown of scores reveals the huge north-south divide when it comes to educational standards across Spain. Students in the northern half of the peninsula scored much higher in mathematics and science, in the extreme cases showing students who studied in the north had proficiency of more than one school year above their peers in the south.

The OECD suggests a 30 point difference represents a year’s study but students in Navarra held a 43 point lead over those in the Canary Islands for Mathematics while in sciences top scoring Galicia held a 40 point lead over the Canary Islands.

The lead stretched to over three times when comparing top of the league Galicia and Navarra to lowest scoring communities of Ceuta and Melia which fell behind 92 points in maths and 95 points in Science – effectively indicating that students in the north are three school years ahead of their peers in Spain’s North African enclaves.

“Socio-economic status is a strong predictor of results in mathematics and science in all countries, and explains 12 percent of the variation in results in mathematics and 10 percent in science in Spain,” explained a spokesman from the Ministry of Education during the presentation of the 2018 PISA Report.

The results revealed that while boys in Spain performed better than girls in maths, they achieved the same results in science. 

Spain was not included at all on the reading literacy results after the OECD detected “anomalies” in the data collection. Madrid’s education board also requested that the science and maths results be omitted after concluding anomalies also appeared in the collection of those results.

Madrid dropped 29 points in science and 17 in maths compared to three years ago, while Catalonia saw a loss of 15 points in science and 10 in maths.   

Spanish newspaper 20 Minutos produced a map to compare all the regions across Spain.

El Pais explained the poor showing as the result of austerity cuts in education brought in under the conservative PP government of Mariano Rajoy.

While the head of PISA, Andreas Schleicher, recommended that Spain change its teaching methodology focusing less on rote learning and memorizing and more on critical thinking and analysis.

On a positive note, Spanish students expressed high than average satisfaction with their lives. Some 96 percent of students in Spain reported sometimes or always feeling happy and only about 4 percent of students reported always feeling sad.

Overall, Spain ranks among the top 13 in the list of 79 countries, a position that has not significantly changed.


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Swedish chain banned from opening new schools for ‘serious failings’

One of Sweden's leading free school chains has been banned from opening new schools or otherwise expanding after the schools inspectorate identified "serious failings'.

Swedish chain banned from opening new schools for 'serious failings'

Thorengruppen educates 15,000 pupils in Sweden through its chain of primary schools, upper secondary schools, SFI language schools and professional training schools. It currently has applications outstanding to open 28 new schools or other educational establishments in the country. 

“We have judged that the shortcomings in the applicant’s existing establishments are so serious that in the current situation the conditions are not in place for them to run additional ones,” said Carin Clevesjö, the head of the inspectorate’s school permits division.  

According to Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT, the inspectorate discovered in the spring that pupils at the group’s Thoren framtid primary school in Älmhult had not received any tuition at all in Geography for two years, with schools in Sundsvall and Solna showing similar severe failings. The group has been ordered to pay a total of half a million kronor in fines. 

In its decision, the inspectorate said that this demonstrated that the company did not have the “wherewithal to follow the relevant requirements”. 

In an email to SVT, the group’s head of new schools, Christina Runesdotter, said it was wrong to judge the quality of the group as a whole from a few individual cases. 

“We consider that one cannot judge the quality of a huvudman [an entity responsible for a school] from individual cases,” she wrote. 

According to SVT, the inspectorate has rejected applications from the company in Munkedal, Ale, Östersund, Växjö, Södertälje, Nyköping, Karlstad, Halmstad, Falu, Eskilstuna, Helsingborg, Borås, Norrköping, Solna, Skellefteå, Uppsala, Gävle, Umeå Jönköping, Kristianstad, Sundsvall, Malmö, Västerås, and Lund.