Youth Experiences in Secondary School: Massifaction, Dynamics of Inequality and Figures of Citizenship in Argentinia

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Pedro Núñez.

Pedro Núñez is currently teaching at Universidad de Buenos Aires. His research is related to the analysis of the relationship between schools, youth and political participation.

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(Foto: Pedro Núñez)

In recent years, alongside a greater visibility of youth political participation, youth studies devoted considerable attention to the relationship between the youth and policy, which resulted in a growth of research that addressed different issues and events featuring young. Studies of secondary school are part of this trend. Also, educational research in the country and the region has a long-standing tradition, since the 80s, in the study of the incidence of the educational processes in the production and reproduction of social and educational inequalities. The present project seeks to problematize these issues, by studying the topics of citizenship, the feelings of injustice and the situations of discrimination, and by incorporating to the analysis the voice, perceptions and practices of young people in secondary school.

Starting from these initial ideas it wonders: Which changes and innovations take place in the way of “teaching” and signifying citizenship at school, from the moment on certain social groups have access to the level to which they had historically been excluded? What figures of citizenship emerge under the educational fragmentation process? What demands gain primacy in this context and what are the experiences in relation to the visibility/marginality based on the sexualities/genders, the social class and different forms of discrimination and construction of distinctions? What are the injustices that activate student movements?

This work in progress is part of a line of research that problematizes ways of building citizenship and participation in secondary schools. It presents a brief characterization of the situation of secondary schools in Argentina, especially of the changes in school enrollment, mainly in terms of coverage and the process of educational fragmentation. It is focusing on three urban centers (City of Buenos Aires, Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires and Rosario). The main interest is in the study of the perception that the students have about the rules that regulate school interactions, the situations of discrimination, the injustices and the formal spaces for participation – like coexistence agreements and student centers.

In two consecutive decades the Argentine education system went through a set of transformations that reshaped its appearance. The first educational reform that included Transfer Act (No. 24.048/91) and the Federal Education Law 24.195/93, prompted a series  of changes (in some cases with funding agencies like the World Bank and the IDB). They can be summarized in: government decentralization –that in the case of secondary level, it implied transferring the institutions to the provinces -, privatization of the sector, changes in the structure of the levels, curriculum renewal, increase in investment in education and the implementation of policies focused on the areas of greatest social and economic vulnerability (Tedesco & Tenti Fanfani, 2002).

Meanwhile, the second reform driven in 2006, after the passage of the National Education Act (No. 26,206) sought to reorganize the system and stop the growing inequalities between jurisdictions. For secondary school, and with the intent to standardize the education system again, the law establishes its obligatory nature and the possibility of choice for the provinces of either a six-year course, when the primary had the same duration or five years should the primary level last seven.

The importance of this study lies in the fact that youth experiences in secondary school take place in a very different scenario to that of earlier generations, because it occurs in a context of increased coverage of secondary education.

However, this expansion happens in an educational system characterized by fragmentation, so many young people go through a learning experience of low intensity (Kessler, 2002). As a result of this process, the socialization among “us” replaces the socialization among different people resulting in “socialization among peers, socially and culturally” (Tiramonti, 2004:13).

One consequence is that the relations with the knowledge, civic education and the imagined trajectories for the students differ according to the institution in which they study.Now, in the last decade and in parallel, national and provincial agencies promoted a set of laws and public policies that set out the rights of the young people (we refer to the law of “youth vote,” the National Program of Integral Sexual Education, boosting student political participation and the construction of the “school coexistence” among others).

Thus, some programs proliferate which are oriented to a question that was historically a concern of the education system, but now acquires new meanings.

This scenario has led some researchers to wonder about the causes that make it difficult to support the education of young people at this age. Some studies indicate the persistence of practices that naturalize social inequality and also of looks that emphasize the negative characteristics of those who are recipients  of  social policies (Gluzy, Rodríguez Moyano, 2012). Other research highlights that the myth of an egalitarian society and a public school that incorporates all equally has an unequalizing trait since it is done from a differentiated incorporation; new schools for different groups in different historical moments of expanding enrolment are created (Tiramonti, 2009).

The youth educational experiences acquire dissimilar forms that could lead to new forms of inequality. The idea of citizenship involves degrees of belonging and recognition (Jelin, 1997), a common integration from the perception of having the same rights, so it is necessary to problematize in youth perceptions of the concept as well as the sense they give it in a context of fragmentation and socio-educational segregation.

The trend towards massification in the secondary level involves an appropriation of school space by young people. However, this point of departure from equal positions everyone has access – is followed by different ways to transit through the schooling that could involve dissimilar modes of citizen formation and different conceptions of “politics”, “equality”, “justice” or “rights”.

We are interested in searching in three closely related aspects. First, we study the rules governing school interactions, and youth practices associated with educational contexts. It is a dimension that provides clues about ways to structure the bonds and makes it possible to inquire about the ideas of justice and equality, but also of difference, dissent and conflict that are built into the school system (Dussel, 2005). The progress of the investigation shows that the themes and subjects to be regulated change according to the type of institution and to differences by the type of population that attends.

This school production of inequality in an instance that a priority might not be such shows the incidence of educational action in the nature of citizen formation that is sought. It is not only about a kind of decoupling between standards and everyday conflict resolution, -which blurs the place of the law at school-but principally about differences in what Fraser calls “participatory parity” (2011) that makes injustices inequalities (Therborn, 2006).

Secondly, this follows from the first point, we wonder about the perception that youths have of injustices and discrimination situations. We seek, in accordance with François Dubet (2006), to take those inequalities that individuals consider to be unfair. We start from the idea that the type of inter-and intra-generational bonds, the production of “correct” forms of masculinity and femininity, the youth identifications promoted and proscribed as well as the existing representations of the students involve forms of citizenship construction which have specific lessons in the school experience of every young man and woman; consistent with the type of institution in which they study.

Lastly, we explore youth political actions. We analyze both the existence of institutional spaces of political participation and the emergence of cultural practices not necessarily defined as politics by young people. We also want to understand what injustices trigger claims as well as the repertoires of action to which the students appeal. Research shows that there is often more political mobilization in state schools that receive the middle class sectors than in those which receive young people from popular sectors, although the magnitude of injustice is very different – and a prioritheir institutions are in better conditions in terms of infrastructure and there is less teacher absenteeism-(Núñez, 2013).

The project examines rights, scales and acts through which subjects promote their actions (Isin, 2009). We see research from a comparative perspective, to give account of the diversity of ways of being young in school and consider the differential and selective access to the privileges of citizenship as a result of the different experiences that young people go through. The project aims to map the situation in the area of the Province of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires City and Rosario, from a sample of eight secondary schools from segregated spaces (as regards social classes, traditions and institutional climates) and others more mixed in terms of social origins of the students.

This work is part of a preview of the research work UNIPE-ANPCyT PICTO 2012 No. 97 “Middle School and contemporary culture: generational ties, coexistence and civic education” under the direction of Myriam Southwell, which began in 2012 in the Education Area of FLACSO Argentina and Universidad Pedagógica Provincial (Province of Buenos Aires).



Baudelot, Ch. & Leclercq, F. (2008) Los efectos de la educación. (Effects of education) Buenos Aires. Del Estante.

Dubet, F. (2006) Injustices. L’expérience des inégalités au travail, París, Seuil.

Dussel, I. (2005) “¿Se renueva el orden disciplinario escolar? Una lectura de los reglamentos de convivencia en la Argentina de la post-crisis (Is school disciplinary order renewed? A reading of coexistence regulations in post-crisis Argentina) in 5

Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativa, año 10, nº 27, México DF. pp. 1109-1121.

Fraser, N. (2010). “Injustice at intersectin scales: on social exclusión and the global poor”. In European Journal of Social Theory, Sagepublications, 13.

Gluz, N. and Rodríguez Moyano, I. (2012) “Lo que la escuela no mira, la AUH “non presta”. Experiencia escolar de jóvenes en condición de vulnerabilidad social (What the school does not look the AUH “non paid”. School experience of young people in social vulnerability status), VII Jornadas de Sociología UNLP, diciembre.

Isin, E. (2009) “Citizenship in flux. The figure of the activist citizen” in Subjectivity29,

Palgrave Mc Millan Journals, 367–388.

Jelin, Elizabeth (1997) “Ciudadanía de las mujeres en América Latina” (“Women’s citizenship in Latin America”), in Revista Agora. Cuaderno de Estudios Políticos, Número 7-Invierno de 1997

Kessler, G. (2002) La experiencia educativa fragmentada. Estudiantes y docentes en la escuela media en Buenos Aires. (The fragmented educational experience. Students and teachers at secondary school in Buenos Aires) Buenos Aires: IIPE- UNESCO.

Montes, N. (2011) “Principales rasgos de la educación en la región des de la información estadística disponible”. (Main traits of education in the region from the statistical information available) Revista Propuesta Educativa Nº 35, Buenos Aires, FLACSO.

Núñez, P. (2013) La política en la escuela. Jóvenes, justicia y derechos en el espacio escolar. (Politics at school. Youths, justice and rights in school space) Buenos Aires: La Crujía.

Tedesco, J. C. & Tenti Fanfani, E. (2002) Nuevos tiempos y nuevos docentes. (New times and new teachers) Buenos Aires: IIPE

Thernborn, G. (2006) Inequalities of the world. Londres: Verso.

Tiramonti, G. [comp.] (2004) La trama de la desigualdad educativa. Mutaciones recientes en la escuela media. (The plot of educational inequality. Recent mutations at secondary school) Buenos Aires: Manantial.

Tiramonti, G. (2009) “Una aproximación a la dinámica de la fragmentación del sistema educativo  argentino.  Especificaciones  teóricas  y  empíricas” (An  approach  to  the dynamics of the fragmentation of the Argentine educational system) in Tiramonti, G. y Montes,  N. [comp.] La escuela media en debate:  problemas actuales y perspectivas futuras. (Secondary school under debate: Current problems and future perspectives) Buenos Aires: Manantial.

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