Countries like Argentina urgently need to improve the quality of their education system.
BY ESTEBAN BULLRICH AND
GABRIEL SANCHEZ ZINNY
Several months after the publication of the PISA test results (which measure performance in reading, science and mathematics), it’s no secret that Latin American countries rank significantly below average. According to the 2009 PISA tests results, Argentina has significantly worsened in comparison to its Latin American counterparts. The country’s total score fell from 418 to 398 points during the past decade. Of the 65 countries tested in PISA in 2009, Argentina ranks 58, despite minor improvements in its score since the test last took place in 2006. This means that the country is below the OECD average (496 points).
In the past few years, the education debate was centered on the same actors and the same issues. The debate left the quality of education, contending opinions, and the trends that led to success elsewhere on the side. Through our recently published book Ahora… CALIDAD, Apuntes para el Debate sobre Política Educativa en la Argentina we seek to add another voice to this debate, asking permission to dissent, to disagree with the status quo of our education system, which during the past few decades has not achieved many advances regarding the quality of learning.
“More of the same” will not be enough to improve the education system. Repeating over and over the same formulas for reform doesn’t appear to be working, nor will it work in the future. It seems that what is lacking is new ways to do things in education systems. More innovation is needed; and urgently so that Argentine children will be able to compete for jobs in a world that is more demanding every day, where they will be competing not only with our Latin American neighbors, but also with India, China and Turkey.
In order to regain lost territory, Argentina needs to constantly evaluate the performance of its schools and teachers, place greater emphasis on policies that foster early childhood development, improve teacher training, and ensure that the curriculum followed in its schools helps prepare students to overcome the challenges they will face in the future. Several of these reforms have already proved successful elsewhere, in countries such as Finland, Singapore, some states in the US, Chile and places in Brazil.
Argentina should learn from these successful experiences abroad and implement reforms that suit its needs and abilities, like Race to the Top in the US, or the Institute of Teacher Formation in France, or Bolsa Família in Brazil.
But quality of education should be everybody’s concern. We need more social demand in order to improve our schools. In countries with successful reforms we find committed political leaders, but also parents, social and business leaders that demanded better education.
There are many examples of organization advocating change in the education system, that has led to more commitment from the politicians, and finally better results. For example “Student First”, led by former Secretary of Education of Washington DC Michelle Rhee, or Todos Pela Educaçao, in Brazil, that groups business leaders and corporations interested in improving learning and teaching standards in their country. They understood that a more competitive country needs a more competitive labor force.
Our book looks to refocus the debate in Argentina toward quality of education, toward student learning and achievement. For decades, the focus has been elsewhere. If we want to compete in the global markets of the 21st century, we need to get an education system up to the challenge.
Esteban Bullrich is Minister of Education of the City of Buenos Aires. Gabriel Sanchez Zinny is managing director of Blue Star Strategies, LLC.