Lack of classroom days behind drive to private schooling, says polling

3 de agosto de 2023 | BA TIMES (Perfil)

New survey provides X-ray of Argentina’s education system and reveals teacher strikes are among, main motives for those choosing private education. Women, especially those with lower purchasing-power and living in Greater Buenos Aires, are the most concerned about lost days of classes, with the school syllabus one of the biggest worries.

A new nationwide public opinion survey on the state of education in Argentina has highlighted concerns over the quality of teaching, as well as the number of classroom days lost as a result of union action.

The poll, conducted by the Centre of Social Research at the UADE business university and Voices! consultancy firm, found that 55 percent of respondents are concerned by educational teaching standards. In addition, 28 percent said they were concerned by budgetary questions, with the need for education to deal with the problems of the real world following on 25 percent.

The survey, “Challenges and educational standards in Argentina,” also expressed concerns over access to technology, improving teacher training, integration into the job market and the implementation of measures to evaluate the quality of teaching (all ranking between 12 and 15 percent).

Far fewer responses were given to the continuity of school boards, the number of quotas to guarantee access, the need to incorporate psychosocial programmes, parental participation or infrastructure, even if the latter is usually named as one of the biggest problems facing Argentina’s education system.

All those surveyed showed a general interest in the education budget and thought it should be improved, but that was not the main concern for the younger age-groups between 16 and 29. The question is inverted when talking about the need to incorporate the problems of the real world into classrooms – the younger population think that this is an imperative need while those aged 65 or over did not consider it a priority.

Taking the socio-economic level in account, all the strata coincide over the need to improve the quality of the syllabus. Nevertheless, those with a superior economic level do not think that adapting teaching to the problems of the real world is a priority.

Another difference in the order of problems is noted according to the zone of residence. Those living in Greater Buenos Aires do not see an education based on the problems of the real world as an imperative need, as do those living in Buenos Aires City or inland to a much greater extent. In all cases they agree that it is important for the content to be more demanding.

Private over public?

The survey is perhaps most revealing when looking at why parents choose to send their children to private educational institutes over state-run options.

“The strikes and teacher absenteeism seem to be the strongest reasons for choosing private education over public for both primary and secondary levels,” revealed Solange Finkelsztein, research coordinator at UADE.

Why choose private education? By a long way, 63 and 62 percent respectively, the two main reasons are: firstly, avoiding the loss of classes through strikes or teacher absenteeism, and secondly, the quality of the schooling. In third place, with 28 percent is “applied pedagogy.” In the midst are those who choose better infrastructure (24 percent), a sense of community with other families who send their children (20 percent) and bilingual schools (17 percent).

In last place is the prestige of the school, which was not considered among the main motives for opting for private education, nor was the supposition that paid schooling attracts better teachers than public education.

In general, women – especially those with lower purchasing-power and living in Greater Buenos Aires – are the most worried about the loss of school days. Men, in contrast, are more concerned about the quality of education. And while women are interested in “applied pedagogy,” men look more for infrastructure and the community of families.

The latter is an important factor to consider for those forming part of the ‘ABC1’ wealthy sector while it is hardly relevant for those at lower socioeconomic levels. Following the same lines, those in lower income groups are more worried about the quality of education than the middle class, who are more concerned about strikes. The prestige of the school is a consideration for those living in this city but less so for those inland or in Greater Buenos Aires.

Questions of quality

Quality of teaching in Argentina was evaluated by two groups – one in general and the other in particular on the basis of the education received by the respondent or their children. The responses vary according to the perception of the education obtained as against that for other Argentines or most of them.

Half of Argentines find primary education to be good while 70 percent of parents believe that the education of their own children is good. In other words, most evaluate the teaching received to be better than Argentine education in general. In the same way, 17 percent responded that education levels are bad while that percentage descends to only eight percent of negative replies in the case of personal experience. Only a small percentage consider the school to which they send their children to be bad.

Constanza Cilley, the executive director of Voices!, remarks: “The study makes evident the discrepancies between how education in general and the schooling of one’s own children is seen with the latter evaluated more favourably yet with more critical opinions of public than private schools expressed.”

The percentages for secondary schools are similar with 48 percent, or just under half, believing education in general to be good as against 67 percent evaluating their own experience of education favourably. As for the negative responses, 16 percent believe education in general to be bad but only six percent in their own particular case. The remaining replies are divided into “regular” and “don’t know/refuse to answer.”

This evaluation does not register gender differences between men and women although more discrepancies are to be noted among age-groups. Generally, the older the respondent, the worse the evaluation for both primary and secondary education. At university level, this is inverted – the older the respondent, the progressively more positive the evaluation with the younger the most critical in this case.

Differences were also found among the socioeconomic levels. The wealthier the respondent, the worse the evaluation of primary and secondary education with universities again the other way around, being seen with better eyes by those with superior earnings.

Regional differences

Notably, the survey indicated no great difference in opinions across zones of residence regarding primary or secondary education with similar opinions in this city, Greater Buenos Aires and inland, around half of whom find it positive. But this evaluation changes once again when it comes to university education, which is eyed more favourably in Buenos Aires City than inland.

One curiosity: the highest percentage of responses (or, in reality, non-responses) of “don’t know/refuse to answer” was in the university sphere where, it is worth noting, education ceases to be obligatory. This was especially the case among those living in Greater Buenos Aires with five percent of such answers and in the youngest age bracket (ages 16 to 29) with six percent of “don’t know/refuse to answer.” In most cases this kind of reply ranged between one and two percent.

At the highest level of postgraduate degrees and doctorates, nine out of every 10 respondents find the quality of education received to be favourable with 61 percent considering it “very good” and 29 percent “good.” Here there is overlap between the public and private spheres with a generally positive evaluation of almost 90 percent in both cases.

“The difference between public and private administration diminishes at university level. Of those whose children or themselves are attending in the public sphere, 85 percent describe the quality of university teaching as good or very good while 90 percent of those at private establishments express the same,” affirms the report.

It is worth noting that over 80 percent of parents sending their children to private primary schools defined their quality as good (41 percent) or very good (43 percent) while for public institutions that total was 64 percent between good (43 percent) and very good ((21 percent).

The same is true of secondary education where 77 percent of those sending their children to private secondary schools define their quality as good (51 percent) or very good (26 percent) while for public institutions that score was 64 percent between good (46 percent) and very good (18 percent).

Tertiary education obtained a positive rating of 63 percent in total and of its three levels between undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral studies, only one percent had a negative evaluation. The most positive perception of tertiary education was concentrated in the private institutions of this city and Greater Buenos Aires (between 85 and 90 percent).

When talking about the difficult choice of a university course, 96 percent responded that the factor most borne in mind was their expectations of job opportunities, followed by their personal interest and, in third place as another relevant factor, their previous stock of knowledge from their secondary school.

About the study

The objective of the investigation was to look into the quality of Argentine education while analysing the influence of different factors such as socioeconomic and educational levels, age and place of residence.

“Field work was carried out in the first half of July, 2022, on the basis of online surveys complemented with face-to-face interviews to achieve an adequate coverage of all this country’s socio-economic sectors, reaching a total of 1,093 respondents aged 16 or more,” explained its authors.

Sabrina Chemen