Spain has the EU’s highest rate of high school dropouts

The OECD has warned that 28 percent of young people in Spain leave school without finishing their high school education, more than twice the EU average.

Spain’s rate of school dropouts is far higher in some regions than others. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

In 2021, 28 percent of people aged 25 to 34 in Spain hadn’t completed the sixth form/high school education or a grado medio (the equivalent in terms of vocation training). 

These are the worrying findings of the OECD’s study Education at a Glance 2022, which considers that finishing secondary education is the “minimum qualification” young people need for a “successful participation in the labour market”. 

Spain’s high school dropout rate of 28 percent is in stark contrast to the EU’s 12 percent, and considerably higher than Italy’s (in second place with 23 percent) and Portugal’s (third place with 17 percent).

Only in OECD countries such as Colombia and Turkey are the dropout rates higher than in Spain.

And yet there is a silver lining to this dire percentage, as in 2011 35 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Spain hadn’t completed their high school studies.

Another improvement is that 49 percent of young adults in Spain in 2021 had completed a university degree or vocational training course, whereas in the year 2000 it was only a third. 

Spain’s rate of school dropouts is far higher in some regions than others. In Navarre and the Basque Country for example, it’s 14.6 percent and 15.4 percent respectively, whereas in southern regions such as Murcia and Andalusia and in the autonomous cities of Melilla and Ceuta the average is between 34 percent and 41 percent.

Male students also tend to fare worse than female students in terms of abandoning their studies early: 33 percent compared to 22 percent.

The OECD has stressed that “a higher educational level is associated with better career prospects”. 

In Spain, the employment rate among young people who completed their bachillerato is 9 percent higher, and if they went on to study at university it’s 19 percent higher than for high school dropouts. 

Pay is also better. Those who completed their baccalaureate or equivalent earn 29 percent more on average than those who didn’t. 

One in every five young people aged 25 to 34 in Spain don’t work or study, and there’s even a name to refer to them: ni-nis, which is short for ni estudia ni trabaja (neither studies nor works). 

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member countries, mostly European and North American nations, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries such as Costa Rica, Turkey, Colombia and Chile.

Lucas Gortázar, Head of Education at Spanish think tank EsadeEcPol, blames Spain’s poor ranking on the lack of vocational training courses (formación profesional, or FP) that are available, “low social interest in education”, as well as a “restrictive qualification system where those who don’t have a degree, cannot continue studying”.

However, Gortázar told Spanish daily El Mundo that the situation is improving as “families are betting more and more on education and vocational training is expanding because Spanish authorities have finally realised that it is the solution to this problem”. 

“But there are other issues that remain, such as the certification system in ESO, which is the cause of this low educational achievement,” he acknowledged.

Education in Spain is compulsory from 6 until the age of 16.

READ ALSO: How Spain is changing its ESO secondary education system

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Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

Despite Spain’s popularity with English-speaking holidaymakers and home buyers, its people continue to have one of the worst levels of English in Europe according to the 2022 English Proficiency Index.

Spaniards have second lowest level of English in EU

A study conducted by language school empire English First in their latest English Proficiency Index found that the Spanish rank number 33 out of 111 countries, but are way behind other nations in Europe, as they came in at number 25 out of 35.

In fact, Spaniards have the second lowest level of English in the whole of the EU, with only the French ranked worse. 

This is in stark contrast to other EU countries such as the Netherlands (number 1 in the world), Austria (3rd), Belgium (4th) and Nordic countries Norway (4th), Denmark (5th) and Sweden (7th).

Spain even fell behind other southern European countries – Portugal came at number 9, Greece at number 14 and Italy at number 32. 

READ ALSO: Why are the Spanish ‘so bad’ at speaking English?

In terms of how the Iberian nation’s level compares on the global scale, Spain maintains a medium level of English proficiency, in the same range as Ukraine, South Korea and Costa Rica. 

People with this mid-level English are able to carry out simple tasks in English such as understanding song lyrics and writing professional e-mails about subjects they’re familiar with, but may have problems with more complex conversations and understanding films that haven’t been dubbed.  

“Despite making a little progress, the English level of Spaniards remains at the moderate levels where it has stayed for many years, without showing great improvements,” said the director General of EF Spain, Xavier Martí.

“The data confirms that the educational model presents deficiencies in language learning”. 

Which regions in Spain have the best and worst levels of English?

The study revealed that Galicians have the best level of English among Spaniards, followed by Catalans, Basques and then those from Cantabria, which all had above-average levels of English compared with the rest of the country.

On the other end of the scale, those from Extremadura had the worst level of English. Only slightly better were people from La Rioja, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia, who all had levels below the national average.

When it comes to cities, people in the Galician city of Vigo had the best level of English, followed by regional neighbour A Coruña, Barcelona and then Bilbao. Madrid is in fifth place.

In terms of the cities with the worst levels of English, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria took top spot, only slightly above the cities of Murcia, Valladolid and the other Canary capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.