The process for becoming a teacher now is the same as in the eighties One of the most controversial issues is that of compacted timetables in secondary school
Many young people are lost because there isn’t a good level of guidance after the ESO stage The dynamics of secondary schools are sometimes seen to result in failure and drop-out
There are constant changes in the world of teaching - every government changes the previous educational plan - but at the same time there are also many elements of inertia that often make classes very similar to those taught 20 years ago. Although there is likely to be no significant change in the next decade, new debates on education will come to the fore.
In recent years, there has been pressure from the European Union for member states to reduce the number of early school leavers to less than 10%. Early in this context means not continuing beyond compulsory education or ESO. Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, is still far off that figure, with a percentage of 18%.
“Research shows that the more years you study, the more likely you are to continue studying for life, and the sooner you drop out, the more likely you are not to resume your education,” says Mònica Nadal, Research Director of the Bofill Foundation. Therefore, young people who stop studying to join the labour market at 16 without qualifications will likely continue not to have any.
Among other consequences, this leads to a degraded labour market, heightened levels of job insecurity, huge unemployment rates during a crisis, and health issues. In addition, a low level of education is likely to be repeated in the following generation. It is a trend that needs to be broken. But how?
“Many young people are lost because there isn’t a good level of guidance after the ESO stage. Some want to continue into upper secondary, but don’t get the marks and so leave. Vocational training (VT) has gained in prestige and become more specialised, but public courses are still lacking, and there are many students from disadvantaged backgrounds who therefore cannot access such courses,” adds Nadal, who criticises the lack of scholarships to continue studying.
A new baccalaureate
“It would not be possible to justify that children who have started primary now reach a secondary school that still essentially serves to prepare them for access to university”: these were the words delivered by education minister Josep Bargalló at the beginning of this school year in a conference at the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association entitled Schools in 2030. Ten Challenges for the Future of Education. Bargalló believes that the reform of post-compulsory education needs to be debated, and his ministry has already begun: this year they launched a new baccalaureate, which will allow students to obtain a double degree in three years - baccalaureate combined with vocational training in an artistic or sports subject. The idea, then, is to push for a more professional baccalaureate in the future, as the current one only aims to prepare students to pass the university entrance exam, meaning that if a student ultimately does not go to university, he or she has actually wasted their time.
The dynamics of secondary schools are sometimes seen to result in failure and drop-out. “The leap from primary to secondary is a big one and many students get lost,” says Mònica Nadal, who calls for more skills work and a revised curriculum for ESO. “Everything can be studied in terms of competences. It’s not so much about knowing grammar, but knowing how to speak well and be able to structure a discourse,” she adds. And more proficient education will require different assessment methods, so in the coming years traditional exams may give way to demonstrating competences.
Teacher selection and training
The process for becoming a teacher now is the same as in the eighties. And that will change too. Initial teacher training is one of the major deficiencies in the education system, as acknowledged by minister Bargalló. To address this, one of the proposed solutions is to provide mandatory internships at schools. It is also likely that ongoing teacher education will also be reformed to make it more useful and appropriate to real needs. This will involve collaborative work, as in other European countries. “Now no one goes into classrooms to see what’s being done, there’s no feedback from peers. In countries where observations and proposals for improvement are made, this is seen as a strength. The issue is to make it clear that it’s not about judging anyone, but about helping to improve,” says Nadal.
More mixed students
The intuitive answer to the growing number of students from diverse backgrounds and those with special needs is to separate them by level; but that is the wrong response. “It’s the worst strategy. Research has clearly shown that with this method the better students improve very little and average students stay the same, while those who need the most academic help are much worse off. If they are separated, the teachers’ expectations drop and so do those of the student. There are problems with self-image, self-esteem and lack of motivation,” Nadal explains. Better strategies include forming smaller heterogeneous groups and looking for specific methods to stop better students from doing all the work.
An end to linear funding
According to the Bofill Foundation, Catalonia devotes 3.9% of its GDP to education. In Spain, the percentage is 4.4% and in Europe as a whole, 5.1%. “Funding is a big problem. If there haven’t been catastrophic consequences it’s because a lot of teachers are very committed and there’s a lot of co-funding by families,” Nadal states. Indeed, families pay not only for materials, excursions and lunch fees, but also extra-curricular activities, reinforcement classes, language lessons... which obviously means that the opportunity for a good education is linked to families’ economic capacity.
Mònica Nadal believes that not all schools will be able to receive the same money in the future. “It is legitimate to put more resources in schools that need them most, those in disadvantaged backgrounds. But also the best teachers too, so they should be financially motivated, better trained, motivated teachers who have proven they can work with these students”. Incentives should not necessarily be salary alone, but for example, an earlier retirement age.
One of the most controversial issues is that of compacted timetables in secondary schools: in such cases, most young people do not eat anything hot before they arrive home at 4pm, which is not healthy. One proposal is for students to have lunch at school again, as they did before the 2012 cuts. Another logical measure would also be for schools not to close in the afternoon. “We have to distinguish between the school timetable, the teacher’s timetable and school opening hours. Systems must be found that allow all students to stay and do their homework, because many do not have help at home,” says Nadal. Basically, it doesn’t make sense for secondary schools to close at 3pm.
The burden of school segregation
Education experts have long warned of the risk of segregation at school, whereby the same geographical area has schools with socially disadvantaged students and others without. “If students don’t find diversity in the classroom, they won’t find it in society. If we live in a bubble, we will have problems with social cohesion,” says Nadal. Solutions include creating school catchment areas with more mixed neighbourhoods, which would then increase the likelihood of diversity, or making policies for establishing classroom numbers so that schools suffering from segregation have more places filled.
Good use of technology
The technological revolution is another key issue. Experts warn that very large inequalities are being created between the disadvantaged classes, who use them purely for consumption, and the rest. “If the school fails to intervene, we will end up having very competent people on the one hand and victims of technology on the other. Passive consumers, trapped, with no critical sense. In a digital world it is crucial to know what is false and what are good sources, and to develop your own judgment,” Nadal concludes.