On the 22nd May, Spanish teachers in the public sector were back in the streets, protesting against what can only be seen as an attack on public education. These are testing times in Spain, with the country firmly in the eye of the storm of the financial crisis. Spain has faced one of its worst weeks in its attempt to avoid an intervention from Europe. Since coming to power in November, the Popular Party has been the perfect student for Angela Merkel, pushing through austere measures in an attempt to lower the deficit. The government’s austerity programme has left a mark on all aspects of Spanish life, from bus price hikes to suspended public works. Whilst the PP promised not to touch education or the health service during the election campaign, these sectors have been badly affected by cuts. On 17th May, the Spanish government announced cuts of €10 billion from education and health, which will have massive consequences for the future of the Spanish education system. Whilst the Spanish education system needs reforms, these cuts are going to severely weaken state education and will have a long lasting impact on society.
Public education is seeing a 20% cut in its budget, and this can only worsen the situation in schools. Already we have seen the effects of cuts within education; In February, there were clashes between students and the police in Valencia, where conditions had worsened in state schools. Students were punished for bringing blankets into the school to keep warm, due to the fact that the heating had been turned off because of lack of money. Other schools have had the internet cut, with students losing a great learning tool.
The cuts will also mean less teachers and a higher student-teacher ratio. From September, teachers in lots of autonomies will have two extra teaching hours on top of their normal 18 hours classroom time. Some teachers will also have to give classes in subjects they are not specialised in. These alterations will certainly affect the quality of teaching, with less time for teachers to prepare classes and and more students to look after. The Ministry of Education has altered laws to be able to reduce the number of teachers. The maximum class sizes will rise in both primary school and high school, with up to 30 students allowed in each class, which will also affect the teachers ability to take care of the students individual needs. According to the PSOE, the reforms in education will mean that there will be 40 000 less teachers next September. Bigger classes and fewer teachers are not going to resolve Spain’s underlying problems in education. It already has one of the highest school dropout rates in Europe, double the European average for students leaving school without qualifications (26%). On top of this, social mobility is threatened due to the abolishing of some scholarships and the tripling of university fees.
Teachers and students have both responded to this threat with action. Through the school year, teachers have been protesting the cuts by wearing a green t shirt. The green t shirt movement, which started in Madrid and has spread across Spain, has helped raise awareness of the students, who are participating well in the fight against the cuts to their education. On Tuesday, the strike was a success, with trade unions claiming a participation of 80% (whilst government sources put the figure at 19%). In Aragon, there was a high participation rate, and in my schools, the participation rate was put at 92%. However, with the absolute majority that the PP has in parliament, it remains to be seen whether this action can deter the government from pushing through further cuts. The government seem intent on continuing the reforming agenda, and it seems that further action will be taken by the teaching unions.
Anyone who has visited a Spanish state school this year will know the difficulties being faced by schools. High schools across the country are decorated with anti-cuts posters and banners promoting their cause. Next to the staff room in IES Gallicum, there is a sign that says ‘la educación no es gasto, es inversión’ (Education is not an expenditure, it’s an investment). By reducing spending on education, the PP are condemming many young Spaniards to a difficult future in a country where youth unemployment is already at an unacceptable level. Everyone has the right to free education. If the state does not educate the Spanish youngsters well enough, there will be long lasting effects not only for these youngsters, but for Spain, economically and culturally. More and more jobs in Europe require an education to college or degree level, and it seems that Spaniards will be left behind in the job market if they do not receive an adequate education. The beauty of public education is that Students are given equal opportunities to learn and progress, and many people have their teachers to thank for their success after they leave the school. However, with the increase in colegios concertados (schools which are partly funded by the state and partly by the parents), will we see a two tier education system in Spain? With those who can pay fees gaining a decent education and those who cannot condemned to a state school with overcrowded classroom and a lack of support from teachers?