Spain problems in Adult basic skills education


The majority of the over 35 million adults presently living in Spain were born between the
beginning of the 1930s and the end of the 1980s (see statistical appendices). To understand
challenges facing the population of adults with basic skill needs, we first need to understand the
particular challenges facing each generation. The main factors conditioning the history of these
generations with regard to the skills available are, on the one hand, the training
opportunities each generation has had and, on the other hand, the demographic
phenomena which have influenced Spain’s current adult population. But, during the same

the needs for basic skills have also changed due to the evolution of society in every
field, increasing the level and modifying the kind of “necessary” basic skills. The most important
consequences of these factors are the following:
- Today’s Spanish population has lived and been trained in very different educational
contexts and have had very unequal training opportunities. Until the end of the
70s, there was no modern and generalist educational system guaranteeing real
compulsory schooling for all in Spain. This appears in the level of studies of the Spanish
population. The generations born at the end of the 60s have an educational level
which, with the peculiarities that are specific to each country, can be compared to that
of the other countries of the European Union. However, the generations born between
1940 and 1970 only had an old-fashioned and minority educational system available1
with rates of schooling that were very different from those of the other countries of the
European Union for the same generations (Beduwe and Planas, 2003: 172-175). 

- Until the 1970s, labour training was developed through experience (Köhler, 1994).

As the tables show (Beduwe and Planas, 2003: 172-175), the qualifications reached by each generation
are very different depending on the country:
Born 1940 Germany UK France Italy Spain
1a. no quals. 9% 39% 28% 56% 32%
1b. certificate of
24% - 27% - 57%
2. lower
secondary 1% 9% 6% 23% -
3. vocational
education 51% 34% 20% 3% 3%
4. upper
secondary - 3% 7% 12% 2%
5. higher ed. 14% 16% 12% 5% 6%
1950 Germany UK France Italy Spain
1a 8 24 18 31 12
1b 14 - 18 - 63
2 2 12 7 34 -
3 53 38 30 5 5
4 - 4 10 20 8
5 21 22 17 10 13
1960 Germany UK France Italy Spain
1a 9 16 23 10 4
1b 11 - 4 - 54
2 3 23 9 43 -
3 56 30 31 7 14
4 - 7 12 30 12
5 22 25 21 10 16
1a 8 11 16 6 2
1b 9 - 1 - 38
2 3 23 5 41 -
3 58 31 23 7 20
4 - 9 18 39 18
5 20 26 37 7 23
- In the Spanish adult population we find different levels of educational attainment
based on variables such as age and sex (see statistical appendices).
- In addition, the increasingly long initial training period, and dizzying changes in social
and work life not only affect younger adults but adults in general.

 To maintain their
basic skills, they must participate in training programmes throughout their lives. This
fact increases those challenges arising from the previous training deficits of older
- The Spanish Educational System has provided most people born at the end of the
1960s and after with the basic skills corresponding to longer and modern compulsory
education, which has increased from four years prior to 1970 to eight years with the
introduction of the General Education Law (Ley General de Educación). However,
between 25 and 30% have still not attained the aims of compulsory education.
Reducing the high level of school failure continues to be one of the main challenges
of the Spanish Educational System; furthermore, to address the deficits in basic skills of
those who did not have this training when they were teen-agers and are adults today is
one of the greatest challenges for adult education in Spain.
- With regard to access to on-going training, we see that, in Spain as elsewhere, the
natural tendency is for the most highly-trained people to receive more training,
whereas those who have more deficits in basic skills are generally excluded (Planas and
Rifà, 2003).
- The ageing of the population is an important demographic trend in Spain. About 20%
of the population will be over 65 in 20152
- As noted above, today’s adults in Spain were born between the 1930s and 1980s.
During the second half of the twentieth century, Spain went from being a country of
emigrants to being a country of immigration. Today, the native Spanish population
has a very low emigration rate, whereas immigration has attained 8.5%, which in
absolute terms is 3 731 000 individuals, most from north Africa, Africa, Latin America
and eastern Europe.
- In the case of young people, the high rates of school failure recorded in Spain also
represent a major problem, primarily in relation to the hindrance it represents in access
to lifelong training. This is especially serious for the young who have many years of
social and work life ahead of them. However, the training deficits of young adults are
not the same as those of older adults: whereas illiteracy in older adults relates to basic
knowledge due to the lack of access to schooling, illiteracy in young adults is due to
school failure. Despite the fact that the latter is a subject that is far from the aims of

Elaborated by us based on the data provided by the National Institute of Statistics (INE, Instituto
Nacional de Estadística)

 –population projections on the basis of the 2001 census.
this report, we should not ignore it as an eventual source of problems, and a barrier to
the development of lifelong learning for the whole population.
Finally, Spanish society has been transformed from a society of emigrants (up to the 1960s), to
a society receiving immigrants over the last few decades. This situation has meant new
challenges in the capacity to provide access to the basic skills required by our society of adults
who have been trained in cultural and linguistic environments very different from Spanish
society. However, on average, these immigrants have a level of initial training that is higher
than that of the average of the Spanish population, primarily due to their young age.

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