Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Quieren acabar con todo (con la excepción de las escuelas concertadas)

On the way to Spanish class the other day, I noticed a big crowd of people standing outside the school with placards. ´What was all that about?´ I asked my Spanish teacher.  I'm glad I asked, as she spent the next hour and a half to trying to explain.

What she told us, some of which I already knew, was that there are serious problems with the Spanish educational system.  The thing that people are most angry about is that public money is being spent to fund private schools.  Yes, that´s right, public money is going to private schools, whilst the government continues to make aggressive cuts in the public ones.

It´s hard to believe that this ludicrous policy exists, but it actually started out innocently enough.  In the few years after Franco's dictatorship, there were relatively few schools in Spain to educate all of its children, so the government would provide subsidies for children to study at private schools when the public ones were full.  These were the escuelas concertadas, operating as a public-private partnership to ensure universal education.

Nowadays, however, there are plenty of schools for everyone and the only people who attend the private ones are those whose parents have made a conscious choice to send them there.  Personally, I think that there is no reason whatsoever that the government should have to subsidise this choice, not least when it serves to detract resources from the already stretched public schools.

Just to sidetrack for a moment, I didn´t agree with the idea of private/semi-private schooling before coming here and I´ve only grown in my conviction after talking to students, parents and teachers in Spain. I don´t know how it is in Scotland , but it appears to be quite normal here for privately educated people to be able to buy their way into university.  For example, in the private schools, there appear to be no qualms about raising exam results to boost league tables and one of my students even told me about a friend of hers who got into uni after her teacher changed her mark from a fail to a pass. (She had to drop out 6 months later, of course, as it´s not usually possible to study something you have absolutely no grasp of...)

Whether or not teachers fix exam results in the private schools, I also don´t believe it´s healthy for children to start their lives in an environment where all of their friends and classmates are from the same, privileged background.  I understand that many parents send their children to private schools in the belief that it will help them to get a better education and start in life, but I don´t think there is any better education than learning to interact with all types of people whilst you are young enough to be free of all prejudices. 

One set of parents told me that they sent their children to a private school because there were ´no immigrants´ in the classes there* , thinking that it was a good thing that their children wouldn´t be ´slowed down´ by having a child in the class who didn´t speak Spanish.  Sadly, though, they didn´t take the opportunity to think about what being in the same class as an immigrant might teach their children.  The important lesson in empathy it offers was demonstrated to in one of my classes just the other day.  A young Pakistani boy arrived at the school inequipped with even a word of Spanish or English vocabulary, making it all but impossible for him to follow lessons and interact with people.  It would have been easy for the other students to simply ignore him, but I was surprised to see them rallying round and trying to help him to adapt to the new environment.  I guess from seeing the boy´s lost expression, they grasped how difficult it would be for them to arrive in a school where everything was foreign.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Spanish educational system should also have a look at Chapter 4 (p.100) of a PhD thesis called 'God, gangs and grades: Constructing identity and difference among Ecadorian children in Madrid', which can be found on Google Books.

To get back to the problems which exist in both the public and the private sector, the way in which teachers are selected is another sore point.  The dream of every teacher in Spain (except my Spanish teacher because she's fantastically principled) is to become a funcionario, a teacher who is employed by the state.  These teachers are basically granted the status of civil servants, with better packages of pay and benefits than their colleagues.  They also have a far less precarious employment situation than ´normal´ teachers who are stuck on 6-12 month rolling contracts, as they are guaranteed a permanent teaching position and cannot be dismissed from their post.

The problem is how you are granted funcionario status.  In order to stamp out any discrimination, every candidate must sit an anonymous exam, but there is speculation about how 'anonymous' it really is, especially when you must do presentations to a jury in a small community like La Rioja.  My Spanish teacher told me that when she was taking her exam, a member of the jury actually went to a coffee shop to retrieve a candidate that hadn't bothered to show up.  If anyone else had failed to attend the interview at the allocated time, they´d have been crossed off the list, but it just goes to prove the old adage: 'it's not what you know, it's who you know.'

The results of the exam are calculated in a strange way, too.  Points are conferred for both knowledge and teaching experience, meaning that a young and extremely knowledgeable teacher who scores a 10 on the test might be ousted by an older candidate who got a 6, but has a few years of teaching behind him. I´m not disputing here that experience is an important factor, but the fact that you´ve taught in a school for a few years doesn´t mean to say you´re any good at it.  Also, in subjects like English, putting too much weight on experience can be a risky business, as it leads to teachers who don´t actually speak or understand very well blagging themselves a lifelong position teaching incorrect grammar.  And since they can´t be ousted from said position, is there any incentive whatsoever for them to brush up on their language skills?

I've noticed that people aren't just annoyed about the way the schools are going here, though.  Today is the eve of a general strike in Spain to protest against the introduction of the Conservative government's reforma laboral. It's a law that makes it easier and cheaper to dismiss workers in an already precarious job market and over 60% of Spaniards are opposed to it (see I'm guessing the other 30% can't get a job to be dismissed from...
Leaflet from the Union General de Trabajadores, the General Workers' Union.
'They want to scrap work and social rights.  They want to scrap everything.'
This is on a wall near my house - 'labour reform, terrorism by employers'

'Indefinite general strike'
Protest tomorrow at 7pm.


David Ruiz Urraca said...

Welcome to Spain!
Those are the things you can see when you live here and the things you can't see when you are just a tourist

PS: "Terrorismo patronal" doesn't mean "nacional terrorism". When you say "patronal" you are talking about the employers

Claire said...

I'm going to appoint you as quality control of this blog, David! I don't even know why I wrote 'national terrorism', I think I was thinking of 'la patrie' or something. Will change it ahora mismo!

Jorge Álvarez said...

Very interesting post, Claire! Althoug I always have to search for some words you use xD

Claire said...

I include them on purpose so my blog has some educational value jaja :)

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