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Controversial reform in education

The PP blocks the reproof of Wert, but in its ranks there is no consensus on his proposals

The Popular Party (PP) has blocked the first parliamentary motion of censure brought against a minister of the PP government of Mariano Rajoy. For a day the Socialist Party managed to heat up the congressional atmosphere, presenting this motion against the Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, which was seconded by the left and by the regional nationalists.

The opposition, as the parliamentary debate made clear, believes that Wert’s educational reform, together with recent budget cuts, threatens the quality of the Spanish educational system, and tends to a recentralization of that system in that it amplifies the common Spain-wide curriculum. This would, for example — as the minister himself put it — “Hispanicize” Catalan schoolchildren, who in recent years have been receiving some content of immersion courses in the Catalan language.

The PP’s clear parliamentary majority has been sufficient to prevent the approval of a reproof which, in any case, is only of a symbolic nature.

Nor, however, in the governing party is there any solid consensus on the reforms being proposed by the minister. Within the PP the reasons for discrepancy are different from those voiced by other political formations, but the disagreement complicates the political situation of a minister who has already been arousing widespread rejection throughout the educational community.

This rejection now extends to the parents of schoolchildren, who, some weeks ago, in an unprecedented decision, joined the university students’ strike against Wert and his proposed measures. The PP, by way of its education commissioners in the regional governments, is demanding more subsidies for (mostly Catholic) private schools, and is concerned about the cost of the external validation exams that the minister wishes to impose at the end of the primary and secondary stages of schooling. These criticisms — some shared by the Socialists — have at least moved Wert to widen the margin for debate, which is positive.

The problem is that his reform, as it now stands, is not, as it claims to be, a law essentially aimed at improving the quality of education. Some proposals, though questionable, are determined by budget restrictions — fewer teachers, more pupils per class. Others, such as the continuance of public subsidies to Church-run schools segregated by sex, the streaming that would oblige pupils to decide at an early age between vocational and academic lines, and the recentralization of curriculum content, cannot really be said to constitute improvements, and, besides, since they are being colored with rightist ideology, threaten certain aspects of the system.

Meanwhile, Wert’s failure to appear at the parliamentary plenary session where the motion for his censure was debated, and his public remarks on how boring the parliamentary voting process can be, add up to one further detail of his professional style that does not help to ease the general tension.

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