Academic Test Scores and Impoverished Curriculum in Chile

Integral sex education is the key to prevention.

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – The recently published results of Chile’s Higher Education Access Test (PAES test) once again puts on display the profound inequality, segregation and educational apartheid that exists in Chile between the public and the tuition-based private schools. The cultural capital and socioeconomic status of families continues being decisive in the final exam scores.  Not only that, the scores also demonstrate our poor notion of educational quality, centered around standardized test rankings.

Discussion in the past few days has centered on the persistent achievement gaps in education, but the analyses have skirted the topic of our evaluation system and school curriculum, which instead of a help has been part of the problem. Our system has impoverished learning and transforms the educational establishments into training centers for scoring well on standardized tests that only cover certain specific contents, completely marginalizing other experiences offered by the educational establishments.

Those best-ranked 100 private schools with the highest scores don’t have a great deal to feel proud about in terms of their administration and/or great educational project; nor do those schools that obtain great scores on the Educational Quality Measurement System. These measures merely reflect their strict internal selection systems, which do nothing more than track students from the time they’re very young, in order to train them more easily and obtain high scores.

A very different situation predominates in the publicly financed institutions, both those administered by the municipalities and local education services, and the state-subsidized private schools. The laws of inclusion obligate these schools not to implement any selection processes. Their openness clearly gives them a greater diversity of students but also generally causes them to produce much lower scores than the tuition-based private schools.

While this fact might seem very obvious, it’s not so for the sectors most closely tied to neoliberalism. These continue asserting that the problem could be solved merely by better financing of the public sector. They ignore the effect of a perverse system of selection that precisely allowed the so-called iconic public schools to display very good results during their time, even though the right claims that the lowered scores from those establishments now is a result of school violence.

That’s what happened with the Augusto D’Halmar Vocational School for the community of Nuñoa, one of the few public schools to appear on the list of the top 100 schools with the best scores from the PAES test. This school is in fifteenth place, no less. However, its principal, Jaime Andrade is currently on administrative leave for implementing selection mechanisms that – if confirmed – would be violations of the inclusion law.

It could be said that this new selection test (PAES), in contrast to tests used previously, is focused much more on measuring academic proficiencies and skills than on contents. It also puts more emphasis on the academic paths, attempting a much broader intersectional evaluation. However, it’s still very insufficient in terms of a more holistic education that could take on the great challenges we currently face: climate crisis, migration crisis, racism, sexual and gender violence inequities.

Correctly applying the inclusion law, strengthening public education more and implementing a better system of evaluation won’t be enough, unless it’s also accompanied by curriculum reform. Such a reform should open an opportunity to rethink our system and consider another kind of education and a different model of evaluation, much more grounded in the territories and the existing diversity, and leaving behind a curriculum that is profoundly centralized, reductionist, extensive, decontextualized and that promotes a perverse competition among students and schools.

In other words, it’s about leaving behind the rationalist and functionalist paradigm that is currently prevalent, centered on contents that are separated from each other, which in the end fragments learning. This same system views the student as an empty vessel to be filled with contents, and the teacher as a reproducer of subject matter. Instead, we should open the way for a relational and transformative view that generates knowledge and comprises an education for life, not merely for a test score.

In addition, the central concept of a new school curriculum should be on the connected nature of the fields of knowledge, via school career paths arranged as cycles of learning instead of by subjects and levels, thus allowing students to develop skills like oral expression, writing, critical thinking, creativity, play, healthy lifestyles, self-awareness, collaborative work, innovation, empathy, valuing differences, socio-environmental consciousness, care for all life, and much more.

Finally, a new system of participative, inclusive, and flexible evaluation should be developed, one that brings the local knowledge together with the existing context of the educational establishments, allowing the educational communities to provide a real accompaniment. Such accompaniment has been abandoned in the last decades, in favor of a curriculum distant from the concrete experiences of those who are the most fundamental part of learning. 

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