El fracaso escolar is a Spanish term that we might translate literally as "scholastic failure" and refers to people who do not obtain the basic or minimum education set down by the state. This issue is one that has plagued Spain for years as we were already being taught about in Spanish class back in 2009. Today's blog post is about drop-outs in Spain, my personal story of almost dropping out, and what on earth can be done about the issue!
UNESCO's EFA Report
Just two days ago, UNESCO published its "Education For All" Global Monitoring Report which put Spain as the top country for fracaso escolar in Europe. The report found that a startling 1 in 3 young people in Spain aged between 15 and 24 years had left their studies without completing obligatory secondary education, whilst the European average was 1 in 5.
What does this mean for a country in economic crisis? This lack of basic qualifications certainly doesn't help Spain's issue of youth unemployment (now over 50%). According to the report, fracaso escolar stops european youths from achieving their full potential and shuts down their employability/oportunities, thus impeding them from helping their respective countries out of recession, let alone aspire to become an information economy. The EFA Report claims that fixing the education problem can even "help tackle HIV/AIDS".
Some people might ask: how hard are these drop-outs trying to find work? Is it true that if they don't stick out a formal education then they are lazy? Statistics quoted from the report (that I haven't been able to verify) in La Vanguardia say that at least a quarter of Spanish youth that dropped out after completing the first stage of secondary education are unemployed and not job-seeking.
Why do people leave school unqualified?
The causes of fracaso escolar are of course, a myriad of subtle and sometimes interdependent factors that vary from person to person. But the factors can be broadly categorised by:
I had a rather rural upbringing, and my first "school" was very small. I was the eldest of a class of three, with my other two classmates being one and two years younger than me respectively. My earliest memories of this school include me hating to read, and devising all sorts of tricks to convince the teacher I could read better than I could. For example, when we'd read one sentence each in a circle from a book, I would try to work out which sentence would be mine, and try to decipher it before it was my turn. However this school soon closed down and became a hotel again. I briefly attended another school after that, but don't know why I had to leave. Looking back it was probably because I was too bad at reading.
I had to quickly join another state school, with larger classes, but still of mixed ages. I have two distinct memories of this school. One was that I handed in some writing to my teacher who admonished me for not using commas. I didn't know what they really were, so I went back to my desk and inserted them randomly throughout my story before resubmitting my work. Soon after joining that school, I had to take Year 2 SATS, throughout which I sat there without writing anything, practically clueless about what the questions were even asking. Needless to say, I was out of that school within weeks, as my mother says they couldn't give me the attention I needed, as it would be unfair on the other kids who were in line with the national curriculum. Either way, I was becoming increasingly aware that I was struggling in a normal school, which was stressful - I can definitely see why this would make someone want to drop out altogether.
My mother took me to an educational psychologist who tested me. I vaguely remember her prodding me with a stick to see if I would stop myself from falling over (balance problems are associated with non-verbal learning disabilities). Apparently, my IQ was high but my reading age was lagging nearly two years behind, and I was displaying "borderline dyslexic tendencies". After that, my mum spent that entire summer reading with me.
So in year 3 I joined a Catholic school in the city, that was specialised (but not exclusively) for children with dyslexia and learning difficulties (SEN), and even kids that had been expelled from neighbouring towns. It was a good learning environment and I even had one-on-one sessions with the headmistress just to read numbers out to her in words. A boy with a learning disability from my very first school even joined my class coincidentally, but after an incident when he ran around the classroom, locked himself in a cupboard and punched himself in the face until his nose bled, he left the school. After a few years, it was becoming obvious that I was advancing faster than my classmates, (and because the police were investigating my teacher for manhandling a classmate) my mother managed to get me back into a "normal" school again. The Catholic school has also been closed several times and changed names since I left, but is reopening soon as an academy. It was tough adjusting to the new school at first as I had been used to being the best in my class, and had gone to being the worst again - but this time only by an insignificant amount.
All in all, I went to five primary schools (and studied the Tudors three times in History!), but after the years passed, I went on to successfully pass GCSEs, then International Baccalaureate, then Warwick University. As you can see my story involved a bit of all three reasons, me and my dyslexic tendencies, the education system and its lack of aid to failing children, or even socio-economic factors such as none of my cousins having gone to University before me.
How can we help the situation?
The good news for governments is UNESCO estimates that every 1 dollar invested in education and training will see a 10 dollar return for the economy of the investing country!
However, as a humble exchange student, I am going to approach it from point 3, and volunteer with AFEV Barcelona, an organisation that aims to fight inequality. As of November, I will be accompanying a child at risk of social exclusion for two hours per week to be a buddy and a role model. Our mission isn't to help the kids improve their grades, but to promote their self-confidence, cultural openness/mobility and importantly, motivation to stay in school!
I've been telling everyone about AFEV and hopefully this blog post will convince a few Barcelonians to get involved. With 21.4% of youths in Catalunya leaving the school system without the Diploma of Secondary Education, it's definitely a cause to keep in mind.
Anyway, apologies for the massively long anecdote, but hopefully you like the happy ending - for the record I love reading! Hasta luego!
- REVIEW: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott