Home Institution

Harvard University

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Program Name

Spain: Policy, Law, and Regional Autonomy in Europe


Between 2012 and 2015, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test scores in the Basque Country have dropped significantly. In reading, the average score dropped 7 points and in math, scores fell by 13 points. Most notably however, science proficiency plummeted 23 points between 2012 and 2015. With 2018 PISA data yet to be published, this downturn in the educational success of the Basque Country is drawing significant concern from educators, parents, and policymakers alike.

These concerns are bolstered by the fact that Basque public schools spend €3,712 more per pupil than average expenditure of Spain, yet perform slightly lower than the state and multiple other autonomous regions in all three subjects. This has led many to ask why, if education spending is significantly higher, the region is economically prosperous, and there is little diversity among the population, are Basque schools performing below the Spanish average? Likewise, what is fueling the overall downward trend in Basque scores?

These questions reignite the ongoing debate about the efficacy of using Euskara, the Basque language as a medium of instruction. In many respects, the emergence of Basque as a language of instruction is considered to be politically motivated rather than the result of positive pedagogical outcomes. Therefore, in this paper, I hope to examine how Basque nationalism, operationalized by Euskara as a language of instruction, impacts student outcomes and educational achievement in the Basque Country.

By examining the Basque Country’s performance on the 2015 PISA exam among a number of important education factors: school type, language of instruction, language of the exam, and socioeconomic status, I aimed to determine what may have caused the overall decrease in scores in the Basque Country. The results of my research shows that above all other factors, socioeconomic status and the overall downturn in the Economic, Social, and Cultural Status of the Basque Country had the greatest influence in students’ PISA competence scores. Language of instruction on the other hand, was not found to have statistically significant results.


Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Education | Educational Sociology | Education Policy | European Languages and Societies | Language and Literacy Education


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