Spain is one of the EU countries where reading comprehension stagnates the most between 15 and 27 years

Spain is, behind Greece, the country of the European Union in which reading comprehension advances the least between 15 and 27 years. This is clear from the report published this Tuesday by the OECD Skills Outlook 2021: learning for life (which could be translated as Competences 2021: learning for life). The authors of the study point to early school leaving ―Spain is the EU country with the largest number of young people who do not study beyond ESO, 17% compared to 10% on the European average―, the number of those who do not They study or work and the little training offered by companies is some of the factors that lead Spaniards to stagnate in their ability to understand texts.

Francesca Borgonovi, Head of the OECD Skills Development Center and co-author of the study, points out: “We would need to study the Spanish case in depth, but from our analysis it is clearly deduced that the evolution in learning between adolescent and adult life is it is lower in countries where more students leave the classroom, are unemployed or do fewer internships, as is the case in Spain ”. The problem, Borgonovi points out, appears when there are no networks to ensure that young people continue to train once they have completed compulsory studies at the age of 16.

The report compares the results obtained in 26 OECD countries by 15-year-old students in the PISA tests – which measure the level of proficiency in mathematics, science and reading comprehension – in the year 2000, and those obtained by young people from that same generation when they turned 25, 26 and 27 years old in the PIAAC test ―the assessment of adult competencies― in 2012. It analyzes the academic performance of these boys born between 1984 and 1985.

The average score of the OECD and EU countries coincides: they obtained 268 points in PISA and 282 in PIAAC, which represents a growth in the level of reading comprehension of 14 points. On the other hand, Spain registered a decrease of 0.06 points, with 263 points in both tests. Japan is the country with the greatest improvement in reading comprehension among its citizens aged 15 and 27, with a 31 point difference. Other countries in which the skill grew are Germany (25 points more) and Belgium (24 points more). Greece is the big loser, with a decrease of 3.1 points in reading comprehension among the different age groups.

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An interesting fact among young Spaniards is the difference in score between those with at least one parent with higher education (an improvement of almost five points is recorded from 15 to 27 years) and those whose parents did not have that educational level (almost two points less). Borgonovi indicates: “Of those born between 1984 and 1985 we have observed that, on average, those with parents with higher education and more reading skills did present a positive evolution from their adolescence to their almost 30 years.”

The adolescent years, the OECD report indicates, are a period of neurological changes associated with increased impulsivity, difficulties in evaluating long-term benefits and a tendency to take more risks. The text continues: “All these changes occur at the same time that young people must make momentous decisions about their academic career, which require evaluating the different alternatives.” Families with greater socio-cultural capital can provide them with greater support, both in terms of material resources and advice on which path to choose. Those with a low educational level cannot accompany them in the same way in that transition.

For the World Bank analyst Lucas Gortázar it is important to bear in mind that in 2003, when the young people evaluated were in their teens, the school dropout rate in Spain was 30% (now it is 17%). “In those years in Spain the only option was practically entering the University; those who did not aspire to that left their studies to work in sectors such as construction, and cognitive skills were lost along the way ”, points out the also researcher at the EsadeEcPol study center.

More guidance to reduce the number of ‘ninis’

The authors of the report consider that providing schools with high-quality guidance programs is one of the first steps to reduce the number of young people who neither study nor work. Along with Italy, Greece and Ireland, Spain is the country with the highest proportion of ninis, according to data from 2015, and that is another factor that accentuates the loss of knowledge between adolescence and adult life.

The study highlights that while in the average of the OECD countries 34% of 15-year-olds have participated in an internship or volunteer program to find out their vocation, in Spain only 22% have done so. In addition, Unesco recommends one school counselor for every 250 students, but, according to data from the Spanish Ministry of Education, this ratio is exceeded in most institutes, even reaching one counselor for every thousand students.

Little training in companies

Another factor is the lack of training that companies provide to their younger employees. The researcher and professor at the Carlos III Antonio Cabrales University analyzed in his report Dual employment protection and (lack of) on-the-job training: PIAAC evidence for Spain and other European countries (which could be translated as Double system of labor protection and (absence of) on-the-job training: evidence from the PIAAC report for Spain and other European countries), published in 2017, how temporary contracts in Spain, which mainly affect the youngest, are associated with a lower level of training by companies. It was precisely based on the data provided by PIAAC to conclude that this lack of training is correlated with deficits in reading comprehension and mathematical calculation in those same profiles. The temporary employment rate, the report notes, rose from 15% in 1984 to 35.4% in the mid-1990s. Since then, about 90% of the new contracts signed each year have been temporary.

In this sense, the OECD document indicates that in most of the countries analyzed, young workers from companies with the highest growth claimed not to feel “removed” from training, while those from smaller companies did report this lack, especially in Spain and Slovakia. “Companies with the greatest prospects put more effort into developing effective plans for their workforces to acquire new skills, identify the weaknesses of their employees and encourage them to improve,” the report describes. Spain, with 16%, was after South Korea (with 18%), the country in which a greater proportion of people assured that they are motivated to train but do not have the resources to do so.

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