This Tuesday, all the alarms went off in Catalonia when they learned that we have achieved the worst results in history in the PISA report. Catalan students have lost the equivalent of an entire year in mathematics and reading comprehension, a drop in level that is three times greater than that suffered by Spain as a whole. We analyze the decline in results with the pedagogue, teacher and philosopher Greogorio Luri, who in recent years has focused on analyzing the fine print of the results of the various educational assessments.
How would you define Catalonia’s decline in the PISA reports?
— As disturbing as it was predictable because it had been announced since 2018. Catalonia has reached a milestone that will be difficult for some sectors: we are at the same educational level as Extremadura. The decline is very worrying. It is a very considerable blow, but I do not think that any conclusion can be drawn from it.
To what extent can this drop in points be attributed to the pandemic?
— For dignity, the administrations cannot say that this disaster is due to covid. We have all experienced the pandemic and each autonomous community has had different results. We closed the schools for forty days. They are the same as Ireland and they beat us with an extraordinary level of reading comprehension.
Education has pointed out a possible error of “overrepresentation” of newly arrived students in the sample of the report.
— This message is outrageous. If this has happened, the problem is even greater, because from the OECD, before the tests are carried out, the sample that will be used is sent to the countries and they review it to give the go-ahead. Here the Generalitat should have been attentive: if there is an error it is their fault.
However, students of foreign origin are two grades behind natives according to the PISA tests. Are we not able to welcome them?
— If the Catalan school deserves unconditional congratulations, it is the fact that it has welcomed immigrants very well. Without school, how many problems would they have had? What we do have to take into account is that part of our school failure is a linguistic failure that is even more accentuated in the case of newly arrived students for obvious reasons. But we must not fall into demanding less of the immigrant or disadvantaged student just for that reason. Precisely because of the difficulties he has to face, we have to demand a lot from him to help him integrate.
What have we failed to do to drop three times as much as the whole of Spain?
— If you go to the schools, you will find a burden of bureaucracy so great that it eats up the time to work with the students and that it limits the possibility of correcting the details. In addition, a remarkable disorientation is perceived because the teachers have been asked to apply methodologies in which they do not believe. There is a bonism that has eaten up professionalism.
What does this mean?
— In the fact that there are no debates that help to improve. Just by looking at the courses offered to teachers you can already see it. It is easier to find a course on emotional stability, techniques to introduce leisure in the classroom or how to work on projects than on the teaching of mathematics or how to teach how to analyze a sentence.
Have we rushed to introduce project-based learning?
— The problem is that working on projects is very demanding and does not consist only of grouping the children together to do a work on dinosaurs with what they find on the internet. Projects must be made that produce some modification in the student’s long-term memory. But if you put five children with a poor vocabulary to work on projects, do you think we will enrich them? Rather, we will impoverish our colleagues. The result is that today we have children who are not able to understand Pitus’ Zoo.
In a decade we have lost 24 points, the equivalent of two courses. Have we made too many changes or too few?
— More than a matter of quantity, the problem is that we have confused improvement with innovation. We’ve replaced what’s good with what’s new. In Catalonia, if something is considered new and innovative, it seems that we have to open the doors to it. Now PISA shows that this does not work. He does this, for example, by explaining how using an hour of screens can be very good for the student, but nothing more. In Catalan schools, we have classrooms full of screens.
In the PISA reports, the excellent Catalans are getting smaller and smaller and we have already reached 30% of suspended students. Have we relaxed when it comes to being demanding?
— It’s obvious, any teacher and all parents will tell you. We have fallen into an equitable mediocrity by overprotecting students, deciding that they no longer suspend, but tell them not to advance. We’re not supposed to make them repeat because that can traumatize them and there are teachers who say, “I’m not suspending you because you’ve got enough problems in your life,” and we don’t see that we’re not doing them any favors. There comes a time when you have to stop and concentrate on working. There is no more effective method than doing elbows.
And the parents?
— Overprotection is a general sin. You only have to see that today all children have dirty knees. This means that they are not very independent… They have run out of spaces to live their experiences independently and they do not go anywhere without the strict supervision of an adult. For me this overprotection is a form of abuse because it prevents these children from facing reality.
The difference in results between students in public schools and those in private and charter schools is abysmal. What does the private sector do that the public sector does not?
— It’s honestly hard to say. What is clear is that the data is not deceiving and that we are increasingly seeing more and more families who have to dedicate extra resources to complete their children’s education because school is not enough for them. Note that, despite the drop in the birth rate, private schools are not having enrollment problems. I don’t know if it’s a fad that will last a short time or if it will be maintained, but it seems that the public school does not have enough arguments to defend itself, and this should make us alert. The public can no longer relax thinking that its students are guaranteed.
The level of Catalan students has been falling for ten years. Should we think that we can still get worse?
— No, by no means. However, we must leave room for optimism. There are very good schools in Catalonia. Falling into pessimism would be an atrocity. We have to believe that we are capable and that the administration will take note, not make excuses and do everything necessary to correct this situation.
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