Spain is placing its bets on education

By Julia Pastor, in Madrid | It’s not the best of times for the Spanish educational system: protests of the secondary education teachers against budget cuts in public education (fewer temporary posts and substitute teachers; more teaching hours for the permanent contract teachers; decrease in the number of academic support programs and in new technologies); five days of strike in public schools…

However this is just the surface of the problem. Beneath all the Spanish teachers’ tension is the incredibly elevated school dropout rate (28.4%) reflected in the most recent PISA report on OECD countries and which doubles that of Europe, as well as the absence of an educational model with clear objectives. To all this, we must add the successive changes in Education laws. For decades now, each time a new government started its new mandate the previous law on education was derogated and a new one was implemented, thus obliging the entire educational community to make constant adjustments.

Against this background, Mariano Rajoy’s government seems to fully realise that the reform of the educational system is a structural reform that will need to be as profound as the labour reform, and consequently as important in order to overcome the crisis. Minister Jose Ignacio Wert acknowledged this when in the day he took office he said that he

“was well aware that Spain could make it or break it depending on what happens in its educational system in the next 20 years.”

The PP objective is that 85% of Spanish youth complete their higher secondary studies. The key element in achieving this goal will be the extension by one year of the higher secondary education that will be three years long instead of the previous two years following the central European model. However, it has not yet been determined whether this third year will delay until the age of 19 the beginning of university studies as in Italy, Luxemburg, Finland, Sweden and many Eastern European countries, or it will be implemented by reducing by one year mandatory education.

The proposal of extending the higher secondary education cycle is perceived to have many advantages but the fact that it could be implemented by reducing the number of years of mandatory education has been criticised by unions and the confederations of parents’ associations of both public and subsidised schools due to the concern over the fact that this could produce further individual socio-economic inequalities.

According to this new proposed model, when students finish their mandatory education at the age of 15 or 16, they will have the opportunity to choose between continuing their studies at the higher secondary level or go to a professional training school. With regards to the latter, the idea of Rajoy’s government is to adapt the German model that combines formal classes with remunerated training in a variety of work centres. This proposal has also been criticised basically because many experts do not believe that Spain has sufficient productive fabric to absorb this change.

Another important point of the educational reform is the economic aspect. Regarding this, the PP looks to the French model where the State maintains mandatory education until the age of 16 and as a result only the first year of higher secondary education would be subsidised.

Teachers will also be affected by the reform. The new educational model would include a much more demanding teacher selection process than the present one. The selection process to become a member of the educational staff of the State would be similar to the MIR, an exam system that the Spanish medical doctors must pass at present to obtain a post at a public hospital.

Regardless of how the educational reform takes shape, the PP has the idea of approaching the transformation without presenting a new Law on Education Quality unlike what José María Aznar’s government did.

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