Painful.

In the midst of the third week of salary conflict between teachers’ unions and provincial governments, which has seen a mass teaching strike and protests across the country, today President Mauricio Macri publicly announced the results of the controversial ‘Aprender’ tests, which were carried out last October.

The Aprender tests, which were introduced with the aim of figuring out the state of the Argentine education system – “where we’re doing well and where we’re failing” –, were completed by 963,470 public and private school students from 31,000 Argentine primary and secondary schools, focusing on maths and language. Older students were also tested in social and natural sciences.

And the results of what Macri described as “the most important evaluation in history” were less than encouraging: in fact, in his own words, they were “painful”.

Worrying results for secondary schools

Among the most perturbing discoveries was that 70.2 percent of students in their fifth and sixth years of secondary school cannot solve simple maths problems. Almost 41 percent were judged as having a “below basic” level.

Meanwhile, when it comes to language skills, 46.4 percent of school leavers cannot understand basic texts.

Revealing the worrying results in his official residence in Olivos earlier today, the president encouraged people to stay “optimistic” but went on to refer explicitly to the “terrible discrepancy” between the results of students who can afford to attend private school and “those who have to fall back on public schools.”

Huge differences between public and private schools

“The results reveal a terrible educational crisis,” Argentina’s education minister Esteban Bullrich told Infobae in the aftermath of the president’s announcements. He also explained that the country was falling in regional rankings and that problems seem to be emphasised “in maths, in secondary school and in public schools.”

Primary education results, while not quite so alarming, were still poor: 41.4 percent of 6th graders were classed as having “basic” and “below basic” levels in maths, but that figure drops to 33.2 percent for language skills.

Primary school results were slightly more promising

The results of ‘Aprender’ also demonstrate the polarization of educational quality between the north and center of the country. According to sources who worked on the report, the best district was the City of Buenos Aires and the worst was the province of Chaco. However, at the last moment, a decision was made to withdraw the regional breakdown from the appraisal, following requests from some governors.

The poor results of Aprender 2016 seem to have accelerated plans made by Macri’s administration to carry forward a bill for a long-term educational plan, with guidelines and objectives to be fulfilled within the next five to ten years.

“[These results] have shown me that we must carry out a real educational revolution because right now we are failing to build a future for hundreds of thousands of children,” said Macri, confirming that he will submit the bill, which he named the “Master Plan.”

The proposal, which the government is seeking to discuss this year, will include an extension of the school day, teacher training and better infrastructure conditions, among other initiatives.

Insisting that “much of the content of the project” was decided before receiving the results of the evaluation and before the trade union conflict, Bullrich assured La Nación today: “As a government, we have a vision. We do not only want to publish the results, we want to see what we can do about them.”