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Disinvesting in education

It cannot be casually asserted that cutbacks will have a “neutral” effect on the quality of teaching

It has often been said that to invest in education is to invest in the future. The latest instance in which the Popular Party (PP) government has broken its electoral promises regarding the crisis — in other words, the three-billion-euro cutback in primary and secondary education expenditure announced on Monday by Education Minister José Ignacio Wert — is not only going to frustrate the possibilities of educational improvement that determine our country’s capacity for addressing the challenges of the information society. It is also going to mean a regression to standards and conditions that we thought were things of the past.

Owing to the manner in which it is to be implemented, in practice the cutback means a disinvestment equivalent to the economic effort made in recent years. The maximum number of pupils per classroom will rise from 27 to 30 in elementary schools, and from 30 to 36 at the obligatory high-school level.

The schools can request a substitute teacher to cover a an absence through illness only when this leave is of more than 10 ten days in length. And the plan eliminates the obligation to offer, in each school, at least two of the three existing types of high school diploma (normally Sciences and Letters are both available).

In its announced form, the cutback is going to reduce school staff by a percentage that has yet to be announced, but may be substantial, and burden the teachers with longer working hours, more pupils per class and the job of substituting for their fellow workers when these fall ill. If all this is to be the case, then how can one assert, as the minister did, that this will have no adverse effect of the quality of teaching?

We need only look at the newspaper archives to see how reductions in these very parameters, among the most onerous aspects of teaching work, and the possibility that teachers will be able to have more time for activities of reinforcement and preparation, have been promised by successive governments of one party or the other as key elements in the improvement of the system. If in the recent past these things stood for improvement, their withdrawal cannot now be presented as something “neutral” that will have no effect on teaching quality.

The crisis, indeed, brings with it the obligation to rationalize, and to attempt to optimize, with organizational measures, the resources that are available in this conjunction. But the plan that the minister presented on Monday to the regional education authorities is no such thing. It is, rather, a linear, across-the-board cutback, which each regional government will have to administer as best it can.

The manner in which the minister announced the plan to the regional authorities, without even one miserable document or written report to quantify its impact, may also be seen as a lack of respect, hardly acceptable in the holder of a portfolio bearing the title of Education.

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