By Susan Leach
TEACHERS complain that while billions of euros are being made available to save the Spanish banking industry, funding for the state education system continues to be slashed.
LAST month, thousands of students, parents and teachers took to the streets of Almeria and countrywide wearing green, in protest against proposed cutbacks that they believed would have devastating long-term effects on the quality of education in Spain.
On June 19, the central government officially approved those cutbacks. When asked what he thought about how the cuts had been implemented, Vera high school teacher, Cristobal Garcia said, “We have a special kind of democracy here in Spain. We get to elect a new dictator every four years.”
That evening Cristobal, Maricarmen, Martin, Ciro and their colleagues stayed at the El Palmeral High School, Vera until midnight.
They discussed how to fight back and ensure their students receive the quality of education they deserve.
More than twenty teachers met. The school’s director wasn’t there but teachers said he had allowed the, “sit-in,” to take place.
“State education isn’t the problem, it’s the solution,” was the slogan they voted for to head-up their campaign. However, they lamented that the government was painting a negative picture of state education, making it look as though teachers and state education itself were problematic.
The legally permitted minimum size for chicken coups was recently increased, said the teachers, but the number of students per classroom has grown considerably.
The average class size last year at the Palmeral School was 30. When school starts again in September, classes will have up to 43 students. “Would you go to an optician when you have a toothache? Then why allow a French teacher to teach your child English?” asks one of their leaflets.
They want parents and the general public to support them in their defence of state education, and see that cutbacks are not just about teachers working more and earning less.
However, they realise that for some families it’s a weekly struggle just to get enough food on the table and that education is often not therefore their top priority.
The government has its priorities wrong too, say teachers.
When students start Primary Year 5, the Andalucian Regional Government gives every child, regardless of their parent’s income, a laptop computer.
Some teachers believe money would be better spent elsewhere.
Garcia, said that children with learning difficulties, special needs and unusually bright children, will be most affected.
At present they are taught in smaller groups catering to their needs.
Eleven per cent of teachers will be fired or simply not hired again next year, he said.
Until recently, all schools have had some extra teachers or interns, to cover sick leave, teach, and assist regular teachers.
Garcia said that removing this support network and increasing the number of teachers’ direct teaching hours was disastrous.
Teachers will have to teach subjects they have little knowledge of, and students will be left high and dry if their teacher is away or ill.
English teacher, Carlos Juarez was not at the meeting because he was in the UK leading an educational trip with some students.
Garcia said that with the cutbacks, students who don’t go on such study trips, will be left without a English teacher.
The Palmeral teachers said that students and parents won’t realise immediately how seriously cuts are affecting them.
When the time comes for them to go to university or get a job, it will hit everybody hard, they said.
Ciro Melchor of Vera, who teaches at the Martin Garcia Ramos High School in Albox, said that education is in danger of becoming a huge day-care system. He believes that the government wants the masses to be kept off the streets and, “entertained,” until the time comes for them to look for work or go onto higher education. He said that even now, teachers have to recommend the, “best,” students for a programme run by the BBVA Bank. Melchor, who drew parallels with Huxley’s, “A Brave New World,” told the EWN about the government run “Quality Plan.” He said that at schools where the majority of teachers vote to join in, they get paid extra for every student that passes their end of year exams. Melchor and his colleagues are outraged at this, “system of bribes.” He said that their schools, and 80 per cent of other Andalucian schools had rejected the plan.
Palmeral teachers agree that constant monitoring and evaluation is good for their students, and that basing a mark on one final exam can be catastrophic for many young people. Legally, schools can choose to opt for the final year exam system though. Garcia said that extra teaching hours will mean even more marking needing to be taken home. He said that teachers are going to have to find ways to reduce their workloads, and that doing less exams is one way to reduce marking.