How to Fix Spain’s Educational Fiasco

This article explains what for many readers would be quite an extravagant proposal: to bring One Hundred Thousand Indian Engineers to Spain and then Portugal on five year shifts to teach Math and Science in High Schools throughout the territory. For this purpose it is proposed that Spain’s three largest Universidades Politécnicas (Catalunya, Madrid and Valencia) open satellite campuses in three of India’s cities where an Indian Institute of Technology is already based (there is a total of 16 Indian Institutes of Technology where India’s elite students graduate with degrees in Engineering). I am an alumnus of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, one of Spain’s three elite institutions granting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Engineering.

Spain and Portugal oftentimes share many common weaknesses which have historically placed them as laggards and never pioneers in the European Union. Spain and Portugal copy what others do well, but seldom innovate. In this article I will focus on the weaknesses in the educational sector in both countries according to OECD Reports and World University Rankings.

First of all Spaniards are among the worst foreign language speakers in Europe. According to a 2013 report by Education First (www.ef.com.es/epi/), Spain ranks in the #23position in Europe, behind #17 Portugal and ahead of France and Italy.

Secondly, Spain and Portugal systematically rank at the very bottom of performers in OECD educational indicators. One first example is the PIAAC Report conducted by the OECD for the first time in 2013 (www.oecd.org/site/piaac/). This report measures the ability in math and language among adults in developed countries. Out of 24 countries analyzed, Spain ranks second-to-last in the overall literacy performance (only ahead of Italy) and last in overall numeracy performance. Portugal has not been included in the survey.

Regarding secondary education Spain and Portugal share two major weaknesses. First the percentage of drop-outs in High School is above 30%. Second the performance of High School students in both literacy and math can barely be worse. In its report Education At A Glance 2012, the OECD (www.oecd.org/site/piaac/country-specific-material.htm) ranks Spain in the bottom 8 out of 27 countries surveyed in the percentage of students who successfully graduate from upper-secondary programs. Portugal tops the ranking with 100% of success.

Spain and Portugal could significantly increase the number of foreign students as a percentage of the total number of students at the tertiary level (University). Out of 25 countries Spain and Portugal rank in the bottom 7 countries in the percentage of international students, at about 3% below the OECD average of 7%. Over 20% of college students in Australia are international, over 15% in the United Kingdom. These two countries represent the benchmark.

Spain and Portugal are among the bottom four countries ranked by the OECD where 25-34 years-old upper secondary completion rates are under 70% for Spain and under 50% for Portugal. Only Mexico and Turkey rank behind. About half of all incarcerated in OECD countries are High School dropouts.

The OECD PISA Report measures the performance of High School students in Language, Math and Science (www.oecd.org/pisa). The report is strongly criticized in Spain because Spanish students perform very poorly. Spaniards are unable to recognize that our policymakers have been extremely awkward and what is worse partisan (“patanes”). Spain’s performance is terrible, ranking “statistically significantly below the OECD average” across all categories, namely: overall reading scale and subscales (access and retrieve, integrate and interpret, reflect and evaluate, continuous texts, non-continuous texts), the mathematics scale and the science scale. Portugal’s performance is slightly better than Spain’s in the overall reading scale but still not promising. Korea, Finland, Canada and New Zealand top the rankings.

It is clear that we need better performance in language, math and science. It is also obvious that English has become the international language particularly for science and engineering. Everybody seems to recognize this fact except the myopic. Last but not least language skills particularly in English as first foreign language ought to be significantly improved.

See the comparison between Spain and Portugal. Whereas Spain’s three more recent Prime Ministers all earned a Bachelor’s degree in Law from a Spanish University and were not able to speak English fluently, Portugal’s current President of the Republic has earned a doctorate in Economics from the University of York in the United Kingdom. Television movies, sitcoms and soup operas are broadcast in its original soundtrack and subtitled in Portugal. They are most often translated into Spanish, Catalan or even Basque in Spain. Portuguese are better able to speak and understand foreign languages. Spaniards are not.

Universities in Spain and Portugal are simply mediocre, probably at the same level of those from Italy and Greece. Spain and Portugal rarely include a University among the World’s top 200 best. A majority of either country’s top 10 Universities typically ranks between the 200 and the 500 best. This is a very modest performance of Spain and Portugal’s Universities compared to countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and of course the United Kingdom. There is much work to do over the next 25 years.

I have spent the last four years interviewing over 700 Experts in Spain and Portugal, a part thereof are University Professors, who complain and are concerned about the fact that their entering classes in college are worsening year after year. High Schools are doing a very poor job at delivering well-rounded 18-year old graduates to Universities. The proposal to bring 100,000 Indian Engineers to Spain and Portugal could enhance language, math and science skills and boost the quality of entry-level students in college. University Professors would then have a much better raw material with which to work.

India is a vast, diverse nation and subcontinent. It is the World’s second most populated country and will soon become the World’s most populous. As a developing nation India faces many challenges today. Since the creation of the first Indian Institute of Technology in 1961, India has been doing a superb job at creating elite Engineering Institutions with graduating classes that are in addition fluent in English. It is this niche market of graduates that we should be targeting, not stealing the India’s brightest students who should remain in India, but helping to create new elite Institutions in Engineering whose graduates would reimburse the tuition working five years in Spain and Portugal for a fair salary that would cover travel and living expenses.

If I were running for President of Spain and then Portugal this proposal would be in my plan of action. I am personally moving to India to contribute to this effort over the next three-year period. The lesson is clear: invest in Education for the betterment of society.

One Response to "How to Fix Spain’s Educational Fiasco"

  1. Kelvin_David   July 2, 2016 at 2:07 am

    The debate over public education reform in Spain has largely become an exchange of clichés, of orphaned terminology searching for practical meaning. All sides are calling for school “restructuring,” though the architecture of the education edifice to be created from the ruins of the old is rarely defined. – 300-075 dumps