Until voters cry "enough"

This economic crisis will change things for ever, and the best way to prepare for that uncertain future is through education

Nobody in their right mind can deny that spending cuts are unavoidable (the issue is where and how). What's more, nobody is happy with this country's education system, and it is clear that the limited resources assigned to running our schools and colleges are all too often misspent.

The government, either with good intentions, or simply in response to the economic situation, has a mandate to implement change and to cut spending. At the same time, it should be remembered that in the absence of work, there is no better alternative than study.

We know that this economic crisis will change things for ever, and that the best way to prepare for that uncertain future is through education, and that requires investment: now more than ever. The government's first obligation upon taking office should have been to guarantee access to education for all. It would have made more sense, for example, to have bolstered infant, elementary and high school education by providing free textbooks and other teaching material, as well as a daily hot meal free of charge, even if this meant taking more money from the income tax hike.

Instead, the Education Ministry went about things in exactly the opposite manner: it cut school meal subsidies, as well as others for books, raised sales tax on teaching materials and dropped plans to introduce IT into classrooms, as well as sacking teaching assistants.

The government's second obligation was to seek consensus for the cuts and changes to the education system, bringing all stakeholders on board. Instead, it decided to impose its policies: a return to religious education, reintroducing streaming and accusing teachers of being lazy and radical while parents are made out to be irresponsible Bolsheviks. We have seen the outcome of this approach over recent weeks.

Parents, prompted by their overriding concern for the future of their children, have said "enough." For the first time in this country we have seen teachers and parents work together to improve conditions in our schools. Last week's strike, regardless of what the government says, was an overwhelming success.

Conservative parties traditionally have looked for, and found, support among families, but in less than a year, this government has put itself on a collision course with parents. Education ministers are often the first to be replaced in Spain: the current incumbent looks set to break the speed record.

Mariano Fernández Enguita is a professor of sociology at Madrid's Complutense University.

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