Julio Carabaña, at UCJC: “Social origin has very little direct effect on school performance provided intelligence is effectively controlled”

The expert in Sociology of Education, Julio Carabaña , has visited University Camilo José Cela to give the seminar entitled “The Sociology of the School System” , the first of a Cycle organised by the School of Education.

Julio Carabaña is a Professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and worked as an advisor to the Minister of Education, José M. Maravall, who appointed him director (1983-86) of the National Centre for Educational Research and Documentation (CIDE), where he initiated the Evaluation of the Reform of the Middle Teachings (REM) and directed the Journal of Education.

Taking advantage of his visit to the UCJC, we took the opportunity to interview him about the current and future education system.

Question. How does a person’s circumstances influence their academic performance?

Answer. This is a very important and much debated issue, we can almost say that the foundational issue of the Sociology of Education. As soon as studies were done with large samples, in the 1960s in the United States, a remarkable correlation was found between social origin and academic performance. Many reasons have been proposed to explain it, sociologists have pointed at school quality, but above all to home life, parents’ academic levels, their habits, interest at school, etc. The most important reason, however, is by far their cognitive capacity. One of my first works, Origen social, inteligencia y rendimiento al final de la E. G. B concluded that “Social origin has very little direct effect on school performance provided intelligence is effectively controlled”. With this conclusion, the problem is transferred to the relationship between social origin and intelligence, a question about which psychologists debate.

Q. It is striking that only 1 in 4 women choose higher education related to STEM, where are we failing?

A. That’s right, it is striking, but I do not think we are failing at all. The choice of studies is a personal matter and for some time now everyone, including women, has chosen what they think best. You should not force, or induce, or encourage anyone in particular to change the option in order to square statistics.  Women account for 55% of the total number of new students in the University, 60% in Social and Legal Sciences, 22% in Engineering and Architecture, 60% in Arts and Humanities, 70% in Health Sciences and 48% in Science.  Are we going to say that we fail in all branches except Science? And even in Science, are we going to say that we ‘fail’ in Biology, because there are more women than men? What we should do is to ensure that everyone can study what they choose, which is far from the case in schools and degrees with high pass marks.

 Q. In your opinion, what are the most urgent challenges faced by the Spanish educational?

A. In my opinion, there is no urgent or important challenge in terms of teaching. Such issues such as repeating years, school drop out rates, early abandonment, PISA scores, the hourglass structure or the maladjustment to the economy are often cited. For the most part they are false problems, the result of poor readings of the statistical indicators; but even in the case that they are real, they are not important, and less urgent. At the level of the organization, even, there is the problem of cohesion and homogeneity that is aggravated by the centrifugal tendencies of the Autonomous Regions and the Universities.

Q. What educational trends will become a reality in practice?

R. – Who said that predicting was very difficult, particularly if it was the future and if they intended to be right?  The most I dare to predict is which predictions will come true, I mean things like online learning, virtual classrooms, business universities, etc.: none.