The trap of a less demanding high school

Allowing students to access university despite not having passed all their exams risks lowering of the level

It is a recurrent complaint of the universities that for years the level of incoming students has been progressively dropping. Not only in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of general culture and intellectual maturity. The problem cannot be attributed solely to the baccalaureate or the obligatory secondary education, nor is it surely the fault of schools alone. But the compulsory education system must bear some responsibility. Nor does it have everything to do with exams and the system of passing and failing. Grades are not everything, of course. But it would still be absurd to ignore their influence and importance. The forms of assessment, whether more classical or less so, do their job. Somehow and at some point it has to be decided who is ready to go on to university or other higher education. Effort has to have some kind of reward.

Up to now, it was possible to pass the year in obligatory education having failed two subject or, in some exceptional cases, three. It was also possible to advance from the first to the second year of baccalaureate not having passed every subject. But to obtain the baccalaureate diploma at the end of the second year, students needed to pass every subject. Last year, in the midst of a pandemic, an unacknowledged general pass rate was decreed, which meant that the number of baccalaureate graduates rose from 72.65% to 83.25%, an unprecedented leap of over 10 points in a single year. Without a doubt, many boys and girls who were not sufficiently prepared passed the second year of high school. Well, this year, thanks to a law approved by the Spanish Congress and developed by the Catalan government, it will be possible to receive the baccalaureate diploma having failed subjects as long as the average mark is a pass. Once again, the pandemic is serving to lower the bar, which in reality hurts students the most. The first to protest were the teachers themselves, who, through the Secondary School Teachers' Union, consider the measure to be dodging responsibilities: they describe it as "swindling the students, despising the teachers and deceiving society in general".

Faced with a course that was already considered problematic, instead of taking the easy way out, measures should have been implemented to ensure that young people could access all subjects and acquire the minimum knowledge. This would, however, have required more foresight, more technological means in schools and more real educational dialogue with the agents involved. Without a doubt, covid has not made this easy. But difficulties cannot be used as an alibi to avoid responsibility. If as a society we really believe that the future is built on the education of young people, we must put ambition into our decisions and take up challenges with a desire to turn them into opportunities, not into deceitful renunciations. However, it seems that once again we have chosen not to get into trouble. In other words, we have kicked them into the long grass. So, once again, youngsters with gaps in knowledge, insufficiently prepared, will arrive at universities or training colleges. Frankly, it looks like we're going backwards.

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