The school year will open in Spain with a heated debate about new educational reforms, imposed by government decree. Trade unions argue that the reform measures will promote early student segregation, bring private enterprise methods into public schools, and militate against “better quality in education”.
The reforms, introduced by Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, include external assessments at the end of each educational stage and an emphasis on subjects measured in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The reforms to the Organic Law of Education will entail significant changes in the school system.
The most controversial change is the introduction of external assessments at the end of each stage of education. For the teacher trade unions, this measure goes against the principle of continuous assessment.
The unions warn that this move will lead to an increase in the number of drop outs and point out that the drop-out rate, at 31 per cent, is nearly double the European average.
Another reform measure is a reduction in the choice of subjects for students. Increased study time is to be given to mathematics, the sciences and reading skills which the government has justified on the basis that these are the only subjects assessed in the PISA reports.
Spain’s education trade unions are sounding the alarm about the dangers of “teaching to pass exams”, which would be detrimental to the holistic education of the students.
“The PISA Report is merely a snapshot of the performance of students in certain subjects, but does not reflect the overall performance of students or evaluate their total educational experience,” said EI Spanish affiliate FETE-UGT in a statement.
The new reform advocates greater 'autonomy' in managing educational establishments. This would apply particularly when selecting personnel and choosing the curriculum.
“The possibility that every educational establishment can, for instance, decide on its own curriculum opens the gates for a narrowing of curricular choices for students, and subject specialisation in certain schools,” stated Carlos López, General Secretary of FETE-UGT.
Furthermore, the educational reform reduces school councils (composed of teachers, parents and students) to a purely advisory role, with policy and decision-making being left to management.
Proposed reforms which include increasing the use of technology or improving the learning of foreign languages do not appear credible to the trade unions in the current context of drastic budget cuts.
EI's affiliate FECCOO contends that the educational reforms are in line with a right-wing ideological change in Spanish society and sees the document as being partisan, because it does not seek the consensus with the educational community.
“The reform has not been discussed by the educational community given the Ministry’s refusal to submit it to the State School Council, which is the official democratic consultative body for the sector,” said José Campos, General Secretary of FECCOO.
Record child poverty
The reforms come in the wake of a recent UNICEF report, Childhood in Spain 2012-2013, which revealed that the child poverty level has for the first time exceeded the 26% mark, nearly five points above the national average in 2011. In just two years, nearly 205,000 more children live in households with incomes below the poverty level.
Against this background, the trade unions highlight that, at the beginning of this school year, one in three Spanish families will not have money for books and school materials because of cuts in public aids for textbooks and simultaneous price rises.
To counter the policy of cuts in labour and social rights pursued by the government of Mariano Rajoy, the main Spanish trade unions have joined forces with other social organisations in a joint platform called Social Summit.
Eighty cities organised public demonstrations in August, taking to the streets to denounce the cuts which were approved unilaterally by the government.
Furthermore, the Social Summit is to hold a march in Madrid on 15 September to call on the government to hold a referendum so that the Spanish people can vote on all the approved measures.
"If the government fails to do so, the Social Summit organisations will hold a referendum and take action in accordance with the results,” they warn. "Because things cannot continue like this.”
The trade unions insist that the government is engaging in ‘democratic fraud’ because the government’s actions are at odds with the programme it proposed during the general election.
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