More students, fewer teachers. Fuller classrooms, smaller teaching staffs. More expensive text books and university tuition fees. This is the scenario that awaits the educational community at the start of a new academic year, which has been marked by cutbacks that threaten conflict given that the belt-tightening affects all levels of education. The discontent this has stirred within the educational community is understandable. Although the majority of teachers and families understand that the current economic situation requires sacrifices, some of the measures adopted are of a markedly inequitable nature, and affect something valued above all else: the quality of education.
Despite valiant efforts to disguise them, the figures do not lend themselves to a benevolent reading. In that respect, the insistence on the part of some politicians that the quality of education will not be affected is frankly irritating. More hours in the classroom for teachers, more students per class and fewer resources to deal with special needs students can only be to the detriment of educational quality. The reforms approved by the government opened the door for regions to increase the teacher/pupil ratio to 30 at the primary level and 36 at the secondary, and that is what the majority of them are doing — with the odd exception, such as the case of Andalusia. Tens of thousands of teachers, for the most part in interim posts, are heading for the ranks of the unemployed, while families are facing a reduction in grants and an increase in the cost of school materials because of the rise in the valued-added tax rate from four percent to 21 percent.
The situation is no better at the university level. The budget cuts have shrunk faculties, particularly in terms of associate professors, while students have seen a significant increase in the tuition fees they pay. In the case of some masters programs the rate has risen 200 percent. It has always been said that any increase in fees should be accompanied by a rise in grants in order to avoid inequity. Well, fees have increased but grants have not. On the contrary, it is now more difficult to access them, meaning that university is less accessible to children of families with fewer resources.
Freedom of speech
It is understandable that the aggravation these policies have sparked should rise to the surface. But this should always be expressed in a pacific manner with respect and tolerance and not in the way shown by a group of teachers and students at the start of the academic year at five public universities in Madrid. It is logical that budget cutbacks should lead to protests but there are sufficient avenues for this without the need to disrupt an institutional act. What’s more, the raison d’être behind the protests is badly served by the ill-advised manner in which they have manifested themselves. Respect for freedom of speech is one of the foundations of democracy and should be the golden rule within a university environment. And outside it.