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The Treatment of Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Spanish Curriculum of the Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO): An Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching

Daniel Abril-López
María del Carmen Morón-Monge
Hortensia Morón-Monge
3 and
José María Cuenca-López
Departamento de Geología, Geografía y Medio Ambiente, Universidad de Alcalá, 19001 Guadalajara, Spain
Departamento de Didácticas Integradas, Universidad de Huelva, 21007 Huelva, Spain
Departamento de Didáctica de las Ciencias Experimentales y Sociales, Universidad de Sevilla, 41013 Sevilla, Spain
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Soc. Sci. 2020, 9(6), 94;
Submission received: 16 April 2020 / Revised: 21 May 2020 / Accepted: 2 June 2020 / Published: 5 June 2020


Socioeconomic inequality is a burning issue in today’s world. It has been a characteristic feature of human societies since prehistoric times, but it has taken on a special meaning in the West as a result of the economic crises of the 21st century. We analyze the six elements of the Spanish national curriculum to learn how these dissymmetries are treated in seven Social Sciences and Humanities subjects in Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO). For this qualitative study with quantitative contributions, thirty-five keywords were selected; a detailed system of categories was configured for the treatment and analysis of the curriculum; and three levels of progression and complexity were introduced with respect to this problem in order to classify four educational curricula. The outcomes for the State legislation and for the three Autonomous Communities examined (Andalusia, the Chartered Community of Navarre, and Galicia) did not reach a level suitable for training a critical citizenship that seeks greater social balances. An interdisciplinary teaching–learning process must be carried out in Social Science Didactics, which makes connections between and reflects on the origin of socioeconomic inequality and its serious consequences for Humanity.

1. Introduction

1.1. Educational Legislation

Research into curricula in continental Europe took place much earlier than in the Anglo-Saxon world. In England or the United States, the establishment of national curricula and state standards did not get underway until the last decade of the 20th century (Westbury et al. 2016). In the development of national educational curricula, there are many actors with different interests (Chisholm 2005; Sivesind and Westbury 2016): government and political parties, teachers in education science faculties, textbook publishers, training centers, the church, unions, lobbies, etc.
At the international level, curricula may be national (England, France, Japan, New Zealand, or Sweden) or regional (Australia or Germany); in the United States, states have established curriculum standards that are mandatory for local communities (Black and Wiliam 2005). Benavot and Braslavsky (2006) carried out a review of the past, present, and future of educational curricula in Primary and Secondary Education in different countries of the world.
In Spain, the current education system is regulated by Organic Law 2/2006, 3 May, of Education (hereinafter, LOE) (Ministry of the Presidency 2006), although it was modified by Organic Law 8/2013, 9 December, for the improvement of educational quality (hereinafter, LOMCE). For Compulsory Secondary Education (from now on, ESO) (Ministry of the Presidency 2013), the educational stage where our study is framed, Royal Decree 1105/2014 (Ministry of the Presidency 2015a) establishes the basic curriculum. Order ECD/65/2015 (Ministry of the Presidency 2015b) describes the relationships between competences, contents and assessment criteria of ESO and the baccalaureate.
According to the LOMCE, formal education in Spain has a curriculum designed by the Government (State), developed by the regions (Autonomous Communities) through complementary legislation, and modified by the teaching centers. The curriculum is the starting point for this research work, since it regularizes all the curricular elements of the different teaching–learning processes: objectives, competences, contents, methodology, assessment criteria, and measurable learning standards. This definition is equivalent, in the Anglo-Saxon world, to the curriculum (Popkewitz 1998), official curriculum (Cuban 1992), formal curriculum (Brown 2009), or national curriculum document (Lavrenteva and Orland-Barak 2015).
We opted for an in-depth analysis, at the level of autonomous communities, of the ESO curriculum, in order to find out how it deals with past and present socioeconomic inequalities. The improvement of perception, the use of the hypothetical-deductive method (causes, verification and analysis, consequences) and the development of abstract concepts (Coll 1999) and complex concepts such as inequality are psychodevelopmental features of ESO students (12–16 years old).
We focus specifically on the concept of socioeconomic inequality or economic inequality (Neckerman and Torche 2007). The term social inequality or social status is broader (Ridgeway 2014), as it also includes human differentiations based on racial/ethnic, physical, national, educational, intellectual, cultural, gender, and sexual orientation characteristics.
Within the Spanish education system, there are two major areas where inequality has been addressed, albeit inadequately. History has usually been used—under a memory model—as a closed story to legitimize and perpetuate a social order based on great inequalities, while women were systematically ignored and relegated (Hernàndez 2002); in short, a perception in terms of nation-building, great figures, and respect for the law has been fostered (VanSledright 2008). In Spain, economics has traditionally been a poorly structured subject, with no economic literacy and no critical socio-personal thinking or practice in students’ daily lives (Travé 2006).

1.2. Origins and Present Time of the Socioeconomic Inequalities: The Acquisition of Significant Learning

Socio-economic inequality has multiple negative consequences on educational opportunities, life expectancy, happiness, crime or political participation (Jencks 2002). We advocate the importance of understanding the links between the origin of dissymmetries and current ones.
This inequality was to be found from the beginning of the agricultural-livestock societies (ca. 10,000 years ago). These groups were characterized by sedentarism, food production, storage, ceramic containers and surpluses, population increase, colonization of spaces, specialization in work, exchanges, and social categories (Fernández et al. 2014; Redman 1978).
After analyzing strontium isotopes in teeth of individuals who lived about 7000 years ago, Bentley et al. (2012) concluded that those buried with hoes inhabited more productive lands, and their control over the territory led to the existence of groups with fewer resources. For these authors, female inequality with respect to men—confirmed by the same analysis—was rooted in patriarchy, absence of land ownership and dependence on men with food resources. For Boix (2010), the disparate availability of technology and land productivity translated into inequality and violence.
The increase in complexity and inequality led to the birth of the first cities in Mesopotamia 6000–5500 years ago (Postage 1992). The peculiarities were urbanism with writing, metallurgy, mass production, specialized full-time craftsmen, stratified societies, slavery, standing armies, institutionalized religions and states with powers of coercion and constraint. There was no turning back now.
As for the Iberian Peninsula, the settlements of the Metal Age—about 5000 years ago—were part of the first networks of political relations with a technical and spatial division of labor, supra-regional circulation of products and central–peripheral hierarchical structures. Socio-economic inequality was recorded both within villages (micro and semi-microspatial levels) and regionally (macro level) (Nocete et al. 2011). Dissymmetries may be detected, for example, in the framework of the production, consumption, and circulation of the zoo-archaeological record (Abril 2012).
In order to achieve significant learning, students must become involved in the history of the past; assimilate the increase in inequalities over time, especially since the industrial revolutions, capitalism and globalization (Galbraith and Berner 2004); understand the present world; and derive suggestions for possible improvements for the benefit of the social majority.
We therefore turn now to the events of the last few years. The world economic crisis of 2008 was triggered in the United States (the Great Recession) in December 2007 by the financial chaos resulting from low interest rates, credit expansion, rising housing prices, and the bursting of the real estate bubble (Appelbaum 2011). The impact on the European Union’s economy was huge, especially on its labor market (Heyes 2011). The serious structural problems of the Spanish economy—lack of competitiveness and productivity, deficits in research, development and innovation, unequal regional productive structure, dependence on tourism and construction, speculation, temporary and precarious jobs, youth unemployment, the underground economy, corruption, etc.—deepened socio-economic inequalities (Sánchez and Tomás 2014): there were six million unemployed in 2013 (25%), hundreds of thousands of evictions, tax increases, freezing of salaries and pensions, and emigration.
Despite a few years of economic growth, the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2018 stood at 26.1% (Instituto Nacional de Estadística (hereinafter INE) 2019a). Currently, socioeconomic problems continue to exist. Living conditions in Spain, aggravated by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflect one of the highest rates of inequality in the European Union (European Commission 2019; Eurostat 2020; OECD 2018). The causes, consequences, and possible solutions must be addressed—also at an international level—in the official curriculum, teaching, and non-formal and informal education.

1.3. The Need to Teach Inequalities from an Interdisciplinary Perspective

Within the field of Social Science teaching, several Spanish and Portuguese researchers have worked on curricular legislation in recent years, either at the ESO (Abril and Cuenca 2016; Cuenca 2002; Doncel 2014; Morón 2016) or other educational stages (García Ruiz 2008; Pinto and Molina 2015). Despite the fact that certain general aspects of inequality have been dealt with in publications in the field of education (de Alba 2004a, 2004b; Barquín 2003; Pino 2003; Márquez de la Plata 2008), the inclusion of social and economic inequalities—both past and present—in ESO regulations has not been analyzed monographically. This paper focuses on the curricular analysis of subjects related to History, Geography and Economics, and also on the subjects of Philosophy and Ethical Values: their reasoning and criticism of human problems empower them for the necessary educational and social transformation. Significant connections must be established between everyday knowledge and scientific knowledge so that students can develop ideas, applications, research, and discursive practices (Hollins 2011). School knowledge must avoid being equated with the knowledge of the powerful; it must become powerful knowledge (Young 2008).
Bearing this panorama in mind, we consider that the great purpose of education is citizen scientific literacy (Siarova et al. 2019; Díaz Moreno and Jiménez-Liso 2012; Acevedo 2004; Marco-Stiefel 2004). For this, it is necessary to break the segregation between the different areas of knowledge and work in an interdisciplinary way. In primary and secondary education, this single-disciplinary teaching vision is observed from the different subjects included in the curriculum (Math, Language, Geography and History, Biology and Geology, Physics and Chemistry, and so on).
However, if we focus teaching on solving real problems that are close to students, as promoted by a competency curriculum, then we can overcome that single-disciplinary teaching vision. This means working from Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI) and from an education for sustainability. In this context, the topic of socioeconomic inequalities can be a good teaching resource for that. This topic lets us deal not only with content related to society, economy, culture, and citizenship, but also ethical, moral, and environmental responsibility. Socio-economic inequalities have their environmental repercussions, derived from the exploitation of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, environmental contamination and issues as relevant and current as climate change and even the COVID-19 sanitary crisis. From an interdisciplinary perspective of socioeconomic inequalities, we can develop these different concepts from a holistic and systemic vision of our world and our society.
Running counter to the positivist model and an education from a single-disciplinary perspective, our holistic study favors reflection, knowledge, and understanding of the social context, and is suitable for the in-depth study of the socio-economic difficulties experienced by human groups. We advocate, in short, the assimilation of such multivariate and interdisciplinary terms as inequality. To this end, we propose the establishment of investigation-based learning strategies (Aramendi Jauregui et al. 2018; Gómez and Rodríguez 2014), that is, projects, challenges, or Problem Based Learning (PBL) related to the understanding of inequality.

2. Research Design

2.1. Problems and Objectives

There is a general problem: what level of progression on socio-economic inequality does the Spanish national curriculum for ESO have? In addition, our research includes five specific problems:
  • Specific problem 1: how do state and autonomous community curricula differ with regard to socio-economic imbalances?
  • Specific problem 2: what subjects and curricular elements incorporate aspects of socio-economic inequality?
  • Specific problem 3: what links are established between past and current socio-economic problems and crises?
  • Specific problem 4: what kind of multi-causality and interdisciplinarity on inequality does the curriculum include?
  • Specific problem 5: what solutions does the Spanish national curriculum propose to solve or reduce the inequalities of our society and the rest of the world?
The purpose of the following objectives is to identify and describe phenomena linked to the above problems, and to provide knowledge:
  • Objective 1: to find out the differential treatment of socioeconomic inequality in the Spanish and regional curricula.
  • Objective 2: to ascertain the socioeconomic problems included in the seven subjects analyzed and the six curricular elements.
  • Objective 3: to search the regulations under analysis for possible links between the past and the present world in order to better face the problem of socioeconomic dissymmetries.
  • Objective 4: to determine in the analyzed legislation multi-causal and interdisciplinary aspects that work on the consequences of socio-economic inequalities.
  • Objective 5: to find in the curricula keywords and contents to raise awareness and reduce disparities in Spain and in the rest of the world.

2.2. Methodology, Sample, and Data Collection

The methodology is qualitative (McMillan and Schumacher 2014): necessary for the description, analysis, and interpretation of the complex phenomena mentioned, and to bring social benefits to them from positions of commitment, action, transformation and progress (Denzin and Lincoln 2013).
Quantitative contributions are fundamental for then ascertaining and classifying the different curricula in terms of the treatment of socio-economic disparities. The analysis of curricular elements—objectives, competences, contents, methodology, assessment criteria, and measurable learning standards—for ESO was based on the current legislation of the state and of three autonomous communities (Table 1).
Autonomous Communities with different cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic features were chosen. We pursued possible links between the curricular treatment of inequalities and the three socio-economic and educational positions (Table 2).
These three Spanish regions are located in different terciles in terms of average income per person, AROPE (At Risk Of Poverty or Social Exclusion), rate and risk of poverty (INE 2019a); GDP per capita and household income (INE 2019b); educational dropout (INE 2019c); and in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport 2016).
Appropriate subjects were analyzed to address socio-economic inequality in secondary education: 1. Gender and Social Change; 2. Economy; 3. Citizenship and Human Rights Education; 4. Philosophy; 5. Geography and History; 6. Introduction to Entrepreneurial and Business Activity; and 7. Ethical Values.

2.3. Instruments and Data Analysis

2.3.1. Keywords

The keywords have been used by researchers from different countries for the analysis of the official curriculum (Barrue and Albe 2013). In order to achieve an adequate understanding of inequalities, we chose sixteen sets of keywords—in total, 35—whose meanings and approaches have been explored fruitfully within the field of Social Sciences and Humanities by different authors (see Table 3).
Within the data collection process, we first checked the presence or absence of keywords by administrative body, subject and category. The qualitative analysis software ATLAS.ti 8 Windows was used to draw up, filter, and quantify the list of words under study. This software enabled us to organize, search, and retrieve the information obtained, thus paving the way for the following steps in our research: analysis of the data stored, writing up the results, interpretation, and reflection.

2.3.2. Category System by Levels of Progression

Data processing and analysis was carried out by creating an emerging category system as a result of an inductive coding process (Creswell and Poth 2017). The category system justifies and structures the whole research (Estepa et al. 2008; Jiménez et al. 2010; Cuenca et al. 2017). The five categories, which include all the elements of the curriculum—according to the LOMCE—and structure the entire analytical process, were divided into fifteen variables, which determined the aspects that we consider most pertinent to our study. The subcategories or variables consisted of forty-five different indicators and descriptors that allowed us to systematize in detail the information obtained, thus facilitating its analysis (Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7 and Table 8).
In the system of categories there are levels of progression, from simple conceptions to others that are progressively more complex (García 1999; Oliva et al. 2007; Porlán et al. 1996). We drew on Morin’s theory of complexity (Morin 1990): from reductive to holistic thought. We included three levels of progression regarding knowledge of socio-economic inequality.
Level I reflects simple and descriptive positioning; level II is the model of alternatives without reflexive complexity; and level III is the one we seek, that is, the complex and holistic one that interrelates past and present socioeconomic problems in an interdisciplinary way in order to obtain possible collective improvements in the future. IBM SPSS Statistics V25.0 software was used for further processing and analysis of the quantitative data.

3. Results

The 35 keywords analyzed (n = 284) are not fully represented in the educational curriculum; only 20 (57.14%) appear. The words used most often (>10%) belong to the first two levels on the treatment of socio-economic inequalities (see Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7 and Table 8). They are justice (63 = 22.18%), motivation (45 = 15.85%), unemployment (38 = 13.38%), and welfare (32 = 11.27%); of the twenty words, there are 14 (70%) with a reduced presence (<5%).

3.1. Adminstrative Bodies

We now respond to Objective 1 and Specific problem 1. The analysis of the four administrative entities reveals certain similarities and differences (Figure 1, Table A1, Table A2, Table A3, Table A4 and Table A5). The most abundant keyword in level III is redistribution (7 = 2.46%), which is found in the four entities with very equal numbers (2–1) and percentages (4.35%–1.32%). In state legislation there are 17 words (n = 46). The most used are unemployment (10 = 21.74%), motivation (6 = 13.04%), and welfare (6 = 13.04%); the rest give unrepresentative figures: between 3 (6.52%) and 1 (2.17%).
In Andalusia there are also 17 words, but their occurrence increases (n = 76). The most used are justice (14 = 18.42%), welfare (14 = 18.42%), and poverty (13 = 17.11%); eleven of them are explained in a merely testimonial way: 2 (2.63%) or 1 (1.32%).
The Chartered Community of Navarre also includes 17 words, but it is the community where they are present most often (n = 88). Justice (24 = 27.27%), motivation (16 = 18.18%), and unemployment (11 = 12.50%) are the main words; of the rest, twelve are mentioned between 4 (4.55%) and 1 (1.14%) times.
Galicia is the Autonomous Community with the least number of words (n = 15) and occurrences (n = 74). The three most numerous terms are justice (22 = 29.73%), motivation (16 = 21.62%), and unemployment (10 = 13.51%). The remaining twelve words are not very significant either in number or percentage: between 4 (5.41%) and 1 (1.35%).
We find, therefore, a very homogeneous model. The most common keywords (justice, motivation, unemployment, welfare, poverty) give similar absolute numbers and percentages, especially among the three Autonomous Communities; and the most common level of complexity is II.

3.2. Subjects

We now respond to Objective 2 and Specific problem 2 (first half). The subject with the most keywords is Ethical Values (101 = 35.56%), where there is an abundance of justice (60 = 59.41%) and happiness (11 = 10.89%), both terms linked to the humanities and social coexistence. In Economics (65 = 22.89%), unemployment was very frequent (34 = 52.31%), a problem in both socio-economic and mental health terms that we must combat unconditionally (Figure 2, Table A1, Table A2, Table A3, Table A4 and Table A5).
Somewhere in between are Philosophy (44 = 15.49%), and Introduction to Entrepreneurial and Business Activity (41 = 14.44%). In the first case, the predominant word is motivation (37 = 84.09%); in the second, there are two words with similar weight: welfare (13 = 31.71%) and entrepreneurship (12 = 29.27%). The critical and reflexive promotion of motivation should stimulate us to solve problems and achieve major social achievements. On the other hand, it is fundamental to transmit adequately the interrelationship between economic activity and badly needed social welfare. Finally, the entrepreneurial attitudes should be related to psychological, sociological, and management issues in order to stimulate individual and community improvements.
Geography and History shows great shortcomings: only 7 keywords (n = 19; 6.69%); and only one word (n = 1; 5.26%) included in level III: exploitation. In relation to Objective 3 and Specific problem 3, unlike what has been observed previously, this subject’s main task is to link past and present socio-economic problems spatially and temporally. Nor should the active incorporation of terms with a long history but absent in legislation be neglected—fair trade, the fight against corruption and influence peddling—if higher levels of socioeconomic equality are to be achieved in today’s world.
In Figure 2 and Table A1, Table A2, Table A3, Table A4 and Table A5 we can also see other relevant issues. Gender and Social Change (1st–3rd ESO), and Citizenship and Human Rights Education (3rd ESO) are only taught, and as free configuration subjects, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia. In spite of their theoretical educational importance to fight against dissymmetries, they appear in very few cases (n = 6 and 8; 2.11% and 2.63%, respectively), with the word poverty predominating (n = 3 and 5; 50% and 62.50%, respectively). This must be combated energetically in order to reduce inequalities and conflicts throughout the world.

3.3. Curricular Elements

We now respond to Objective 2 and Specific problem 2 (second half). The breakdown of the keywords into the official curriculum elements is shown in Figure 3 and Table A1, Table A2, Table A3, Table A4 and Table A5. The objectives include 10 different words, with a modest total figure: 23 = 8.10%. For ESO, the LOE shows the development of certain capacities—“cooperation”, “solidarity”, and “critical sense”—with no direct links to the study and overcoming of socioeconomic inequalities. The only keyword is included in the Royal Decree 1105/2014: social justice (1 = 4.35%), a level III word. In the Autonomous Communities, the following stand out: welfare (5 = 21.74%), and poverty (4 = 17.39%).
Royal Decree 1105/2014 mentions the seven key competences, that is to say, the set of concepts, capabilities and values appropriate to a constantly changing and increasingly interconnected world (Recommendation 2006/962/EC, Publications Office of the European Union 2006). Order ECD/65/2015 breaks them down, including some generic terms that can be worked on to address social and economic disparities: (1) linguistic communication (“intercultural approach”); (2) mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology (“respect for data”, “application of discoveries to social welfare”); (3) digital competence (“inclusion and participation in society”); (4) learning to learn (”cooperative work”); (5) social and civic competences (“socio-economic development”, “improved social well-being”, “democracy, justice, equality”); (6) sense of initiative and entrepreneurship (“turning ideas into action”, “fair trade”); and (7) cultural awareness and expression (“freedom of expression”, “recreation, innovation and transformation”, “effort, perseverance and discipline”). In spite of this educational relevance, there are only five keywords in paltry quantities (8 = 2.82%) that are included only in the autonomous legislation: welfare is the predominant one (4 = 50%).
As far as methodology is concerned, the LOE and the LOMCE provide general pedagogical principles for ESO, where both “attention to diversity” and “teamwork” may mean an advance in the treatment of inequalities. Order ECD/65/2015 proposes methodological guidelines for the possible development of teaching–learning processes to that socioeconomic end: the socio-cultural conditions and the characteristics of the students; teaching from simple to complex learning; and carrying out problem situations. However, all the keywords are absent. In the Autonomous Communities there are only five different words, in the same amounts as the objectives (8 = 8.10%), and with entrepreneurship (7 = 30.43%) and welfare standing out (6 = 26.09%).
The remaining three curricular elements are specified by the State in Royal Decree 1105/2014 and developed by the Autonomous Communities. These present the most relevant numbers. The contents, or set of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students should acquire, present 12 keywords (n = 60; 21.13%): justice (20 = 33.33%) and unemployment (14 = 23.33%) stand out. The assessment criteria, that is, what should be valued and achieved, contain 14 keywords (n = 78; 27.46%), predominantly motivation (21 = 26.92%) and justice (14 = 17.95%). Measurable learning standards, i.e., observable, measurable, and evaluable specifications allowing for the grading of achievements, include 16 keywords (n = 92; 32.39%), predominantly justice (21 = 22.83%) and motivation (14 = 15.22%).
The word justice is by far the most frequent. We place it at level I, the most basic level, since it is usually associated with respect for the legal system in force without the need for transformation. On the other hand, the keyword social justice seeks to achieve greater socioeconomic balance. It is present in insufficient quantities, and only in the objectives (3 = 13.04%), contents (1 = 1.67%), and assessment criteria (1 = 1.28%).
In relation to Objective 4 and Specific problem 4, multi-causality and interdisciplinarity have little place in the regulations. There are many non-existent keywords in the curriculum that implicitly tackle both issues: economic literacy, financial literacy, influence peddling, fair trade, unequal exchange, and above all socioeconomic equality.

4. Discussion

We now respond to Objective 5 and Specific problem 5. The ESO curriculum contains insufficient concepts and critical explanations for the correct interpretation of human socio-economic development at the different spatial-temporal levels. We were surprised at the lack of essential terms in the regulations analyzed, terms which are essential to raise people’s awareness, such as socioeconomic equality or economic equality, whether in the singular or in the plural. Neither do economic literacy or financial literacy appear, words associated with the economic rights of citizens. In total, of the fifteen keywords with no representation, there are ten at level III (see Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7 and Table 8).
Generally, the levels of the four administrative entities are far from the desired level for the adequate teaching of the social and economic problems under analysis (Figure 4). We have based our analysis on the level to which each keyword is ascribed (see Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7 and Table 8), according to its appearance in the subjects and curricular elements and taking into consideration its context.
The State has the highest figures for level III (32.26%) and shows a positive model, although insufficient, in this respect, due mainly to the absence of too many fundamental keywords, and the gaps and deficiencies it presents in objectives, competences, and methodology (Table A2). It also displays the lowest level I (16.13%).
As for the three Autonomous Communities, which develop and deepen the state curriculum, Andalusia is the most distant territory in comparison with the other two regions. It clearly has the highest level I (35.42%); this fact may be connected to the last position it occupies in all socio-economic and educational parameters (see Table 2). It is therefore riddled with shortcomings (Table A3).
The Chartered Community of Navarre (level I = 21.43%; level II = 59.52%; level III = 19.05%) and Galicia (level I = 21.05%; level II = 55.26%; level III = 23.68%) are administrative entities with very homogeneous percentages (Table A4 and Table A5) and adequate data, but there is clearly room for improvement. This situation, however, is not linked to the two regions’ divergent socioeconomic features (see Table 2). On the other hand, their legislation should strengthen and adapt the methodological principles for the inclusion of socio-economic inequalities and the acquisition of skills involving social, economic, and interdisciplinary knowledge in the present globalized world.
Philosophy and Ethics should convey an education in values: knowing how to think, understand, reflect, argue, criticize, and transform reality through participation and dialogue, and understanding the environment or nearby context. Furthermore, they should promote coexistence, cultural diversity, political pluralism, and social justice from positions of solidarity.
Economy and Business Activity should facilitate the search for education in notions such as the limitation of natural resources, responsible consumption, the interpretation of inequality between rich and poor people or countries (Travé and Delval 2009); the reasons for the transnational interdependence that we perceive today (Santisteban 2008); financial literacy for the understanding of key concepts such as budgeting, saving, borrowing, and investing (Remund 2010), thereby favoring citizens with lower socioeconomic levels (Molina et al. 2015); and structural and complex knowledge of economic crises.
The disciplines of Geography and History, finally, have to interrogate past and present established systems—both political order and socioeconomic system. Students need to be sensitized to the idea of causality (Ortuño et al. 2016), the context of current societies (Prats and Santacana 2011), and the promotion of criticism and the student involvement (Paxton 1999) if they are to be transformed and achieve collective improvements to combat social inequalities.
In all the cases analyzed we found deficiencies in the past–present relationships. The multi-causality or complexity of the studied phenomena was not deep either. Interdisciplinarity was also in short supply, since there were no visible interrelations across different subjects of the problems of inequality.
In the research undertaken, the majority of figures are level II progressions. The curricula emphasize knowledge of multiple socio-economic facts, maintenance of social order and welfare, personal fulfillment, the meaning of inequality, and understanding of social and economic imbalances, together with their consequences. Our aim, however, is to explore level III more deeply: to disseminate integrated socio-economic knowledge, the criticism and eradication of bad habits that foster favoritism and inequality; the understanding of fair international trade; the understanding of social complexity; the consideration of socio-economic concerns; and the deepening awareness of transversality and the past, present, and lived reality in the immediate environments of the students for the optimum assimilation of the issues mentioned above.

5. Conclusions

We now turn to some educational issues that deserve some thought if socio-economic progress is to be made over a reasonable period of time. At the international level, the curriculum of Social Sciences and Humanities subjects has to explicitly include North–South bipolarization translated into capital and technology, raw materials and energy, migratory flow, industrial relocation, globalization, and development aid.
The resulting problems are demographic, socio-political, socio-economic, and of great spatial imbalances. At the time of writing a mere eight people (all male) possess the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity: 3.8 billion people (Hardoon 2017).
These and other social and economic issues with a history (exploitation, marginalization, microeconomics, corruption, social policies, mutual support…) must be given intense curricular cover from the outset. There must also be adequate treatment of other conflicts with very serious global repercussions, such as the prevention, coordination, and overcoming of certain health crises, a case in point being the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for the Spanish national curriculum for ESO, it should explicitly incorporate the teaching of issues such as minimum income programs, financial aid for families with children, child-care services, the progressiveness of the tax system. Today, Spain is a country of great socioeconomic inequalities: it is one of the European Union’s leaders in this respect if we take into account the richest 20% and the poorest 20% of the population (European Commission 2019). The fortune of three people in Spain is equal to the wealth of more than 14 million Spaniards (Macías and Ruiz 2017).
In Spain, youth unemployment (under 25 years) stands at 30%, while in the rest of the European Union it does not reach 15%; it is therefore the country with the highest percentage of youth unemployment (Eurostat 2020). Furthermore, according to the OECD (2017), the child poverty rate is 23.4%, almost double the European average (13.3%), while at 17.9%, the school dropout rate in 2018 almost double the European Union figure (Eurostat 2019). In an increasingly globalized world, this situation is quite unsustainable in the medium and long terms for future generations, and education policy takes on great importance in this respect.
As a future line of research, we would highlight the need for in-depth analysis of the treatment of socioeconomic inequalities in the curriculum of the rest of Spain’s autonomous communities. However, the first signs are that educational models present few or no keywords and levels of complexity very similar to those already seen here. A complementary and potentially fruitful study might conduct comparative curricular analyses of socioeconomically homogeneous and heterogeneous countries.
In short, we advocate a curriculum and education that live up to their obligations to defend in an interdisciplinary, transversal setting the inclusion, specification, consideration, and interrelation between past and present socioeconomic inequalities. We propose investigation-based learning: research activities based on students’ prior knowledge, very diverse questions and strategies, and major problems (history of inequalities, economic literacy, redistribution of wealth and social justice, education in values, environmental education, consumer education, entrepreneurial education, health education, education and gender equality…) to obtain significant learning. We need learning and experience in the necessary resolution or reduction of obstacles for the better evolution of human societies.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, D.A.-L.; Data curation, D.A.-L.; Formal analysis, D.A.-L.; Methodology, D.A.-L.; Software, D.A.-L. and H.M.-M.; Supervision, M.d.C.M.-M., H.M.-M. and J.M.C.-L.; Writing—original draft, D.A.-L.; Writing—review & editing, D.A.-L., M.d.C.M.-M. and H.M.-M. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research is supported by the EPITEC R+D Project (2016–2020), EDU2015–67953–P, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and by UE FEDER. This research is an activity of DESYM group (HUM-168) from University of Huelva, Spain, and RED14 (Research Network in Social Sciences Teaching).

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Legend with the contents included in the tables in Appendix B.
Table A1. Legend with the contents included in the tables in Appendix B.
1. Gender and Social Change
2. Economy
3. Citizenship and Human Rights Education
4. Philosophy
5. Geography and History
6. Introduction to Entrepreneurial and Business Activity
7. Ethical Values
1a. Obedience
1b. Disobedience
2. Justice
3a. Economic freedom
3b. Private property
4. Welfare
5a. Economic literacy
5b. Financial literacy
6. Social inequality
7a. Socioeconomic inequality
7b. Economic inequality
7c. Income inequality
8a. Poverty
8b. Wealth
8c. Rich
8d. Poor
9. Exploitation
10a. Effort
10b. Motivation
10c. Perseverance
10d. Entrepreneurship
11a. Economic crisis
11b. Unemployment
12a. Corruption
12b. Influence peddling
12c. Cronyism
12d. Wirepulling
13a. Redistribution
13b. Fair trade
13c. Microcredits
13d. Unequal exchange
14. Social justice
15. Happiness
16a. Socioeconomic equality
16b. Economic equality
1. Objectives
2. Competences
3. Contents
4. Methodology
5a. Assessment criteria
5b. Measurable learning standards
Number of times the keyword is repeated in the corresponding category.

Appendix B

Table A2. Full results: State.
Table A2. Full results: State.
Table A3. Full results: Andalusia.
Table A3. Full results: Andalusia.
Table A4. Full results: Chartered Community of Navarre.
Table A4. Full results: Chartered Community of Navarre.
Table A5. Full results: Galicia.
Table A5. Full results: Galicia.


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Figure 1. Number of keywords per administrative body.
Figure 1. Number of keywords per administrative body.
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Figure 2. Number of keywords by subject areas.
Figure 2. Number of keywords by subject areas.
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Figure 3. Number of keywords per curricular element.
Figure 3. Number of keywords per curricular element.
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Figure 4. Curricular treatment of socioeconomic inequalities by administrative body and level of complexity (%).
Figure 4. Curricular treatment of socioeconomic inequalities by administrative body and level of complexity (%).
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Table 1. Legal regulations analyzed 1.
Table 1. Legal regulations analyzed 1.
StateLOE (Ministry of the Presidency 2006)
LOMCE (Ministry of the Presidency 2013)
Royal Decree 1105/2014, 26 December (Ministry of the Presidency 2015a)
Order ECD/65/2015, 21 January (Ministry of the Presidency 2015b)
AndalusiaDecree 111/2016, 14 June (Presidency Department 2016a)
Order 14 July 2016 (Presidency Department 2016b)
GaliciaDecree 86/2015, 25 June (Presidency Department 2015a)
NavarreForal Decree 24/2015, 22 April (Presidency Department 2015b)
1 LOE: Organic Law 2/2006, 3 May, of Education; LOMCE: Organic Law 8/2013, 9 December, for the improvement of educational quality.
Table 2. Socioeconomic and educational vital statistics of the four administrations 1.
Table 2. Socioeconomic and educational vital statistics of the four administrations 1.
Per capita income, 2016€17,659€21,482€29,375€23,979
Average income, 2017€9258€11,239€13,585€11,412
Household income, 2017€11,942€14,240€18,150€15,186
AROPE rate, 201738.2%23.0%12.6%26.1%
Poverty rate, 201732.0%18.8%8.9%21.5%
School dropout rate (18–24 years), 201821.9%14.3%11.4%17.9%
PISA report, 2015473 points512 points512 points493 points
1 Latest available complete data, as revised by the Central State Administration. AROPE: At Risk of Poverty or Social Exclusion; PISA: Program for International Student Assessment.
Table 3. Selected keywords.
Table 3. Selected keywords.
  • Obedience
  • Disobedience
Cooke (2016)
2.JusticeMartin (2016)
  • Economic freedom
  • Private property
Williamson and Mathers (2011)
4.WelfareGoerlich and Villar (2009)
  • Economic literacy
  • Financial literacy
Vitt et al. (2000)
6.Social inequalityRidgeway (2014)
  • Socioeconomic inequality
  • Economic inequality
  • Income inequality
Neckerman and Torche (2007)
  • Poverty
  • Wealth
  • Rich
  • Poor
Ridge (2007)
9.ExploitationFleurbaey (2014)
  • Effort
  • Motivation
  • Perseverance
  • Entrepreneurship
Pathak and Muralidharan (2018)
  • Economic crisis
  • Unemployment
Bernal-Verdugo et al. (2013)
  • Corruption
  • Influence peddling
  • Cronyism,
  • Wirepulling
Stevens (2016)
  • Redistribution
  • Fair trade
  • Microcredits
  • Unequal trade
Bieler and Morton (2014)
14.Social justiceKeiser (2016)
15.HappinessOishi et al. (2011)
  • Socioeconomic equality
  • Economic equality
Wilkinson and Pickett (2010)
Table 4. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: I. Objectives).
Table 4. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: I. Objectives).
Historical-culturalILinear history and social inequality understood as natural and inherited from the past.
EvolutionIISuccession of varied and meticulously referred to socio-economic facts that have led, for example, to the existence of rich and poor.
HolisticIIIIntegrated knowledge of different subjects to enable us to achieve a more egalitarian society.
Know how to do
AnecdotalIProcedures provided and guided by the teacher aimed at knowing social and economic features spatially and temporally.
TreatmentIIElaboration of procedures with human interrelations of cause and effect.
ComparisonIIIInterpretation of procedures with a social criticism background to achieve collective improvements.
Know how to be
ObedienceIRespect and subordination to the established powers: political, economic, media…
DemocracyIIPredominance in the defense of economic freedom, private property, solidarity and peace for the maintenance of social order.
DiversityIIICommitments promoting the eradication of social conflicts arising from inequalities (economic, racial, national, physical, cultural, sexual…) and from harmful practices (corruption, influence peddling, cronyism, wire-pulling…)
Table 5. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: II. Competences).
Table 5. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: II. Competences).
None/SomeILack or scarcity of key competencies for students that act as an incentive in the search for socio-economic balance.
MostIIAbundance of competences that support personal fulfillment from an individualistic point of view.
AllIIIAn abundance of competences to improve adult life in society, considered as an interconnected entity.
SuperficialIDescriptive mention of key competences without delving into their importance for the well-being of the social majority.
FunctionalIIIncorporation of competences that favor detailed socio-economic information.
CriticalIIIKey competences that are transformative and aimed at achieving a more equitable future.
Single-disciplinaryICompetences do not interrelate with all subjects related to socio-economic issues.
MultidisciplinaryIIKey competences worked with in several areas of knowledge (Social Sciences, Humanities…) for the learning of the concept of inequality.
InterdisciplinaryIIISystemic work on competences that trains students in an optimal human development model where the search for fair trade prevails.
Table 6. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: III. Contents).
Table 6. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: III. Contents).
TypologicalICharacteristics of socio-economic evolution treated with no more explanation than their detailed description.
MultipleIIAnalysis of economic, political, social, artistic, and religious aspects for the achievement of social welfare.
Social organizationIIIEvolution of social complexity and socio-economic inequalities from a diverse, variable and improvable prism with awareness, educational progress, and future achievements in a world with finite resources.
VisualIBasic (axes, summaries), scarce and geared to knowing and memorizing an immutable social reality of obedience.
SkillsIITables and diagrams, maps, images and videos, plots, etc. that battle poverty.
ResearchIIIVery diverse, creative, reflexive, and with socially significant conclusions: the case of questionnaires/interviews, webquests, experimentation…
HierarchizationIDefense of justice and traditional, religious, and comprehensive values from the current world.
ToleranceIIEffort, motivation, perseverance, and entrepreneurship, but without including possible social interventions of a structural nature.
Past-Present-FutureIIIResponsibility, critical judgment, education in values and even disobedience for the sake of happiness, social justice and the transformation of today’s consumer society.
Table 7. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: IV. Methodology).
Table 7. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: IV. Methodology).
Teaching and learning
UnidirectionalIStudents’ interests and ideas are not taken into account; they listen to, study, and reproduce the contents taught. The teachers explain the past and present socio-economic organization and maintain the hierarchical order.
BidirectionalIIStudents can be spontaneous discoverers who find errors to be solved regarding socioeconomic issues. The teacher presents, directs, or acts as a leader and expert on the meaning of inequality.
SignificantIIIThe students’ previous knowledge and socioeconomic concerns are considered; they are active and reconstruct their knowledge. Teachers are coordinators and researchers, proposing projects and educational innovations for a more egalitarian future.
IrreflexiveIPreponderance of the conceptual and memory fields without meditations focused on treating inequality in a reflexive way.
ReflexiveIIPresence of activities, including students’ interests/ideas and attention to diversity, for the teaching of economic literacy and financial literacy.
Solutions IIITeachers put into practice sequences of activities by levels of complexity: from ascertaining the students’ previous knowledge and their social context to the formulation of new socio-economic practices pursuing greater socioeconomic, economic, or income equality.
SimpleIMastery of textbooks and explanations by teachers about uncritical elementary socioeconomic content.
VariedIIPrinted, audiovisual, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), the environment, and human resources tailored to understanding the features of the economic crisis and unemployment.
ExperimentationIIIComplementary and extracurricular activities where the students are the protagonists and perceive reality in the first person. Learning and Knowledge Technologies (LKT) for educational uses that benefit the fight against corruption and wire-pulling.
Table 8. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: V. Evaluation).
Table 8. System of categories by levels of complexity (Category: V. Evaluation).
MemorizationIAccumulated rote-learning of content without social background.
InterrelationIIInterconnection of criteria with competences in the educational curriculum, both focused on aspects of inequality.
ComprehensionIIIHolism, past, present, and lived inequalities, and future reflections on our societies in order to overcome unequal trade between countries and to achieve greater economic redistribution.
HomogeneityIAcquisition of conceptual content about social inequality, both past and present.
DiversityIIInterest focused on the acquisition of skills of great importance for understanding the consequences of poverty and wealth, and social and economic imbalances.
ComplexityIIIThe learning of concepts, procedures, attitudes and skills are interrelated to facilitate an in-depth analysis of the complex problem of exploitation throughout history and in the world of today and the future.
Non-existentINo relevant issues or elements are taken into consideration with a view to overcoming the socio-economic deprivation of a significant percentage of humanity.
ExistentIITransversal lessons for the improvement of socially relevant issues are evaluated, but in a superficial way and without mentioning their explicit importance for the resolution of social and economic inequalities in the immediate environment.
ProblematicIIIThe insertion of certain transversal elements—education in values, morality and citizenship, the consumer, the environment, entrepreneurship, responsibility for leisure, for health, equality between men and women, inclusion, microcredits and labor training…—is optimal for overcoming serious current problems deriving from socioeconomic dissymmetries: privileged–disadvantaged, hunger, begging, intolerance and hatred, drug addictions, delinquency, suicides, homicides, etc.

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Abril-López, D.; Morón-Monge, M.d.C.; Morón-Monge, H.; Cuenca-López, J.M. The Treatment of Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Spanish Curriculum of the Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO): An Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching. Soc. Sci. 2020, 9, 94.

AMA Style

Abril-López D, Morón-Monge MdC, Morón-Monge H, Cuenca-López JM. The Treatment of Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Spanish Curriculum of the Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO): An Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching. Social Sciences. 2020; 9(6):94.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Abril-López, Daniel, María del Carmen Morón-Monge, Hortensia Morón-Monge, and José María Cuenca-López. 2020. "The Treatment of Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Spanish Curriculum of the Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO): An Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching" Social Sciences 9, no. 6: 94.

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