López Rupérez, F. (2021). La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones [The governance of educational systems: Foundations and orientations]. (Ismael Sanz Labrador)

López Rupérez, F. (2021).

La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones

[The governance of educational systems: Foundations and orientations].

Narcea ediciones-Stamp UCJC. 220 pp.

“It is not acceptable to demand things from the lower levels of the educational system that the higher levels are not in aposition to offer”

La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones is a very necessary and opportune book in these years in which we have seen how evidence-based educational policies are gaining ground in the countries of the developed world. Francisco López Rupérez’s book is an important contribution to help ensure that this trend of incorporating the conclusions from rigorous, scientific studies into decision making will also, with all of its force, reach the steps taken in education in Spain.

The conclusions of La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones are very relevant. In particular, chapter 8 of the book includes the reflections of Olibie (2013) on the curriculum:

The emergent curriculum trends call for new skills, knowledge and ways of learning to prepare students with abilities and competencies to address the challenges of an uncertain, changing world. … Such skills include: Critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; curiosity and imagination.

In 2020, I had the chance to edit the issue of Papeles de Economía Española on “Human capital in the digital economy” and in the introduction to it, I noted that

Increased digitalisation will deepen changes in demand for skills and competences in the job market. Jobs that are based on routine tasks that can be automated will vanish or be transformed. Indeed, 21.7% of jobs in Spain are at risk of disappearing because of robotisation and a further 30.2% of jobs will undergo substantial changes in the tasks they entail (OECD, Employment Outlook 2019). In other words, a total of 51.9% of jobs in Spain will be significantly affected by robotisation, an impact that is somewhat higher than the OECD average (45.6%) and which will have more of an impact on people with a low educational level. But new jobs deriving from new technologies will also be created, which will produce goods and services and will depend on the enterprising initiative of societies and on a suitable provision of human resources generated by educational systems. If machines replaced hands in earlier industrial revolutions, they are now starting to replace minds. The fourth industrial revolution, characterised by full connectivity, instant access to enormous volumes of information, the internet of things, robotics, bionics, and artificial intelligence, will create many jobs. To make the most of these opportunities, young people must be trained in transversal competences that are not easily automated such as the capacity for analysis, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, team work, leadership, and social interrelations. It is also important to teach students non-cognitive skills such as perseverance, determination, the capacity to adapt to changes, and self-control in an ever more globalised and dynamic world. The citizen of the 21st century will face an increasingly complex and challenging setting in which there is an undisputed need for training that can develop non-routine tasks and provided added value to processes of automation.

Human capital and technological progress are two fundamental and interrelated factors that are at the core of economic development, as two of the 2019 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, recently observed in Good economics for hard times (2019):

Firms in Silicon Valley are very similar to the firms in Solow’s world except in one important way: they use less of what we usually think of as capital (machines, buildings) and more of what economists call human capital, essentially specialized skills of different kinds. Many Silicon Valley companies invest in clever people in the hope they will come up with some brilliant and marketable idea, and sometimes this indeed happens.

To face the major challenge that automation and robotisation pose for the educational system, it is important that the people responsible for educational policies in Spain are aware of the digitalisation process of the economy in which we are immersed. It is vital that the leaders of the Ministry of Education and the education ministries of Spain’s Autonomous Regions have training, competences, and skills at the level that the challenge we are facing demands. As Francisco López Rupérez states,

Without adopting a scientific-rational focus when formulating and implementing policies, given that they are essential components of the governance of educational systems, this governance would be fruitless when responding to the elevated expectations that accompany the context of the 21st century.

Ultimately, “it is not acceptable to demand things from the lower levels of the educational system that the higher levels are not in a position to offer” (p. 198).

José García Montalvo, from the Universidad Pompeu Fabra, stated in 2013 in the State School Council’s journal Participación Educativa, then chaired by López Rupérez himself, that the educational measures implemented must be based on empirical evidence and not on prejudices or justifications that are taken for granted before applying them at scale. Research-based educational interventions that have a scientific basis using rigorous methodologies. As I myself added in the introduction to the issue of Papeles de Economía Española, it is a matter of evaluations based on experimental design with controlled and randomised or pseudo-experimental tests using, for example, instrumental variables, difference in differences, regression discontinuity, or counter-factual analysis. Identifying effects of education that take into account the endogenous character of training and the existence of variables that are not always observable, such as cultural factors, or the spirit and resolve that each individual displays to improve his or her educational level. Initiatives such as the Education Endowment Fund in the United Kingdom provide a good example of the advances that have occurred in some countries in the implementation of educational reforms evaluated using quantitative methodology. This provides scientific evidence about what works and what does not work in the field of educational interventions. A solid foundation for identifying, testing, and then applying at scale measures and programmes that make a real lasting difference in the educational achievements and results of children and young people. On this particular line, La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones explicitly backs the adoption of a scientifically-in-spired approach, that brings us close to the “science of policies” (p. 198).

“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist,” as they say in the English-speaking world. Measuring educational systems is not without its problems, but it has a virtue that few would question. But the worst thing of all would be if we did not have proven evidence for the educational measures that mean that students acquire better knowledge and competences. Without the evaluations, we would not be able to identify the good practices that have led students from some countries to know more. It is a matter of improving education by providing robust data with which to take better decisions. In this regard, chapter 6 of the book, “Modelos para una gobernanza educativa” [“Models for educational governance”], describes the features that high-performance educational systems share. “All of them adopted a scientifically inspired approach to defining and implementing the policies, and they gave a greater importance to the role of people and knowledge” (p. 199).

Indeed, López Rupérez identifies the practices in questions of educational governance that successful educational systems implement, concentrating on Portugal, Finland, and Singapore. It is revealing the manner in which Portugal has used benchmarking, which involves “comparing themselves with other organisations that, starting in this case from worse positions, have been able to advance significantly; in order then to try to work out how they did it” (p. 166). In fact, the excellent development of the educational system in Portugal until very recently is a good “rebuff” for Spain given that

Geographically, culturally and linguistically close, Portugal is a brother country of intermediate size, which, like Spain, has suffered the effects of a military dictatorship; it has carried a greater historical delay; it has a lower level of wealth measured by GDP per capita, and at a lower socio-economic and cultural index level. And despite all of these comparative disadvantages, Portugal has been able to change for the better over recent decades and obtains better results than those of Spain, measured by different indicators that are considered key on the international panorama. (p. 166)

The conclusion with which he ends the book is a brilliant coda to La gobernanza de los sistemas educativos. Fundamentos y orientaciones, and is indispensable for anyone who is interested in educational policies. López Rupérez recalls the words of the 19th-century Franco-Dutch writer, Joris-Karl Huysmans “Reality does not forgive those who scorn it; it takes revenge by shattering their dreams, trampling them and flinging the shards onto a mud heap.”

Banerjee, A. V., & Duflo, E. (2019). Good economics for hard times. Public Affairs.

García Montalvo, J. (2013). Evaluación de la eficacia de la políticas educativas y transparencia: la importancia de los experimentos aleatoriza- dos [Evaluating the effectiveness of education policies and transparency: the importance of randomised experiments]. Participación educativa, 2 (3), 75-82.

OECD (2019). Employment Outlook. OECD.

Olibie, E. (2013). Emergent global curriculum trends: Implications for teachers as facilitators of curriculum change. Journal of Education and Practice, 4 (5), 161-167.

Sanz, I. (2020). El capital humano en la economía digital [Human capital in the digital economy]. Papeles de Economía Española, 166, 1-5.

Ismael Sanz Labrador ■