Equity Approach in Learning Achievements in Argentina

4 May 2017 | 07:14

Equity Approach in Learning Achievements in Argentina

A children in Argentina. Photo: Flickr.


The Government of Argentina started its own National Assessments of Learning Outcomes started in 1993. However there has been little use of these results for educational decision making policies in the past, having a weak evaluation and evidence based policy culture in the country. Moreover, this type of critical information has never went back to the school as an input to work with.  The latest assessment was carried out by the end of 2016 named “Aprender” (“Learning” in English). In this latest survey, a total of 1.3 million students from primary (3rd and 6th grade) and secondary (2nd/3rd and 5th/6th grades) demonstrated their knowledge and competencies in 4 subjects including Language, Mathematics, Social and Natural Sciences coming from rural and urban areas as well as from private and public schools. The main objective of the assessment is to update information and knowledge from learning achievements for a better and informed decision taking in primary and secondary levels in Argentina according to the National Education Law 26026.


The analysis below emphasises on gaps and disparities considering different variables such as: socioeconomic status, repetition, over-age, management sector, attendance to pre-primary schools, and place of living (differences between urban and rural areas). The analysis does not cover all the topics in the assessment but focuses on worst gaps regarding learning achievement, which shed light about the level of challenges a middle-income country with great disparities among subnational states and persistent social, economic and cultural equity gaps faces today.  As it is known, learning outcomes is not the only type of measure to consider when addressing quality in education system, but illuminates a critical dimension that should guide, together with other factors, the definition of integral policies to enhance school capacity to provide good and quality education for all children and adolescents in the country, no matter where they live or in which conditions.


Main findings from “Aprender” assessment

In general, main findings for primary students show that 33.2% obtained “basic” and “below basic” learning achievements in Language; proportion that raised to 41.4% in Mathematics. The results for secondary raised to 46.4% in Language and 70.2% in Mathematics for similar intervals. Therefore, primary students attained better learning achievements in Language and secondary students in Social Sciences (66.8% and 58.9% respectively for “satisfactory” and “advanced” intervals).


The repetition and over age proportions are considerable higher for public than private schools (12% vs. 2% in secondary and 4% vs. 1% in primary). The latter variables have a negative effect over Learning achievements especially for students with low socioeconomic status (last right columns of Figure 1) compared with those in “adequate age” (first columns).

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Figure 2 shows that the two lowest intervals (“below basic” and “basic”) increased for students with a low socioeconomic level and two or more over-age / repetition years reaching to 90.6%. Results for primary students are similar but they do not reach such high proportions. For instance, 5 out of 10 students with a low socioeconomic status and two or more over-age / repetition years obtained “basic and below basic” learning achievements in Mathematics and Language.


Analysing the information according to their management sector, private performed better than public schools. In addition, when socioeconomic status is added to the analysis, 6 out of 10 students from public schools in secondary obtained scores in the intervals “basic and below basic” in Language (Figure 3). What is more, 9 out of 10 students from public schools and with low socioeconomic level attained “below low and low” learning achievements in Mathematics (Figure 4).  Although the results for private schools are better, it is important to highlight that in Argentina more than the 70% of Primary and Secondary students attend to public schools representing a significant coverage in both educational levels.

An important challenge to improve learning outcomes remains in the public sector but it is also remarkable the current public education coverage, particularly in Secondary Education, in comparison with other countries in Latin America.

Evidence shows that attending to pre-primary school makes a substantial difference when students advance to higher grades in schools. The latter information is ratified in “Aprender” main findings.

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Immediate positive effect in Language (middle three columns in Figure 5) show that students that attended a pre-primary school at age 5 performed better (intervals “satisfactory and advanced”) than those who did not attend (last three right columns in Figure 5). The results are enhanced when comparing those students who attended a pre-primary school at 3 or 4 years, especially for those with a high socioeconomic status (7 out of 10 students obtained “advanced” and “satisfactory” scores). The latter effect is even more visible (Figure 6) for students with a high socioeconomic status (from the first three columns the last one for students who attended pre-primary at 3 or 4 years); even though Mathematics, in general, was not performed well by the majority of the students in the survey. To sum up, the effect of attending a pre-primary school have a positive effect on students coming from high socioeconomic environments.


Place of living is usually used to analyse gaps and disparities. In this context, students living in urban places performed better than rural areas. The most visible result illustrates that 8 out of 10 students from secondary attained “basic and below basic” scores in Mathematics (Figure 7).

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The other topics for primary (Language) and secondary (Language and Natural and Social Sciences) and places of living (urban and rural) do not show significant differences as the one in Figure 7.



When comparing main findings from last assessments (2013 and 2016), learning achievements in Mathematics still represents a challenge to the Argentinian Government since 7 out of 10 in the last 4 years did not improve their performance (Figure 8); even in 2016 there was a decrease in the scores obtained for “satisfactory” and “advanced” intervals. In contrast, Social Sciences improved over the surveys being the most remarkable of all of the 4 topics; however, there are gaps and disparities that must be addressed to improve learning achievements in Argentina.




The implementation of “Aprender” surveys express a political will to operate based on evidence and to increase informed decisions on how to improve performance in the education system in Argentina. There are important results for primary and secondary especially in Social Sciences. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room to improve in Mathematics since the results demonstrate that only 3 out of 10 students from secondary achieved “satisfactory” and “advanced” scores. What is more, students from the same grade with low socioeconomic status and with 2 or more years of repetition / over-age got the lowest learning achievements. The latter is even worst since 9 out of 10 students from public schools and with low socioeconomic levels attained “basic and below basic” learning achievements in Mathematics.


Similar proportion was found for schools in rural places given the fact that 8 out of 10 students attained the lowest scores. Therefore, secondary grade and mathematics must be addressed by the Ministry of Education in order to reduce gaps and disparities. In particular, teaching strategies and learning processes in Mathematics should be revisited in order to understand which main difficulties they face at Argentinian schools.

Students from primary grade are in a relatively better position than those of secondary. It is worth mentioning that secondary education has been compulsory in Argentina since 2006. Efforts have been made since then by National and Provincial authorities in order to increase attendance to secondary, reaching 89% of adolescents aged 12-17. Although there have been improvements regarding secondary coverage, the assessment results show low learning outcomes, in general but especially, in Mathematics and Language, and significant gaps between socio economic status, urban and rural contexts, and public and private schools. On the other hand,

On the other hand, primary has been compulsory in Argentina since 1884. The difference between the history of primary and secondary education should be taking into account when comparing results in both levels.

Nevertheless the latter, the fact of attending an establishment for early childhood development ratifies the benefits identified in the evidence compiled so far: the immediate positive effect of attending a pre-primary establishment is visible especially for Language, being these benefits most relevant for students with high socioeconomic status.

Students that attended a pre-primary school at age 5 performed better than those who did not attend. The latter results are enhanced when comparing those students who attended a pre-primary school at 3 or 4 years, especially for those with a high socioeconomic status.

Equity approach is based on a special focus on needs of most vulnerable and excluded populations. In this case, a student coming from a poor household, belonging to secondary, living in a rural area, and attending a public school calls for immediate actions to improve her condition especially for an equal opportunity in life. In addition, equity gaps are also significant at sub national levels (provinces).

There is no provincial official information available yet for 2016 but in the National Assessment of 2013 the 43.3% of students from the Northeast of the country showed low performance results in Mathematics, while this portion was 23.0% in the southern provinces. There are also gaps among provinces regarding the education system coverage and repetition and drop-out rates.

Therefore, there is a new opportunity for Argentina to work with schools teams at subnational levels in order to focus and develop integral educational policies to foster more and better learning opportunities for all children and adolescents regarding their socioeconomic status, attending a public or private school, or living in a rural or urban area. In many territories, the challenge is big and may need an adequate and pertinent public-policy design that guarantees sufficient conditions for teaching and learning. The latter includes: teacher training including headmaster training, provision of adequate and competitive salaries and adequate infrastructure. In addition, there is a need to review the traditional pedagogical approaches which are not currently tailor for primary neither for secondary.



Analysis based on results available here.


The opinions expressed in this article are the authors' own.



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Emmanuel Lista has a Bachelor’s degree in Education at University of San Andrés and a Master degree (ongoing) in Social Policy at Universidad de Buenos Aires. He is currently the Education Officer at UNICEF Argentina and Professor at San Andrés University of teachers training courses. He has been a consultant for programs related to schools improvement in the public sector and UNICEF Argentina.

Cora Steinberg:  Licenciada en Sociología at University of Buenos Aires and Master of Science in Social Policy and Planning, London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Professor at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in Argentina. Has served  as analyst for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education.  She has been a consultant for different NGOS, and International organizations. Currently she is the Education Specialist at Unicef Argentina.  

Antonio Canaviri is Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at UNICEF Bolivia. He holds a Msc in Social Policy (Research) from the LSE and a Msc in Economics from Oklahoma State University.


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