Immigrants leave schools as families abandon Spain for home countries

The recession is leading to a drop in the number of foreign students

The crisis has led to a fall in the number of non-Spanish children in the nation's schools. Although many immigrants have stayed in Spain in order to give their children a better education, there are signs that this is now changing.

The number of foreign students in schools has fallen by 3.3 percent in the last year, representing a drop of 26,000 students. Whereas five years ago, students from foreign families represented 10.1 percent of the total, they now make up just 9.1 percent.

"In 2000, immigrants arrived in a trickle. Later the number stabilized, and now they are going in drips," explains Francesc Josep Sánchez i Peris, an anthropologist at the University of Valencia. "A three-percent drop is a smooth trend for the crisis that we are in. In some countries there are indeed calls to return, but in others unemployment is the same as in Spain."

Francisco Javier García Castaño, professor of social anthropology at the University of Granada, claims that the fall is not only due to people returning to their country of origin. "There have been a lot of naturalizations, above all Moroccans and Ecuadorians. There is not such a barrage of people leaving. And, furthermore, the new immigrants who arrive are illegal and without children."

A three-percent drop is a smooth trend for the crisis that we are in"

Primary and secondary schools have been the most affected by the exodus, losing 6.3 percent and 5.3 percent of foreign students respectively.

"Immigrants have come out badly from the cuts," says Jurjo Torres, professor of teaching and school organization at the University of A Coruña. "Extra support classes for those who do not speak the language have disappeared, there are more students per class and they have taken away their school meal subsidies when they are one of the poorest groups."

The collapse is not greater because nursery education has seen a 3.4-percent increase, due to the fact that immigrants are having more children. Professional training has also seen the number of students increase by 35,000 - 776 of whom come from the foreign community.

The distribution of foreign students has also changed. South Americans are no longer the largest group, and now make up 29.5 percent of the total. Since the crisis began, 38,000 Ecuadorians and 16,000 Colombians have left Spain's classrooms. "These countries are advancing economically in a very rapid way, and their education systems — with results worse than Spain in international evaluations — are also getting better," claims Torres.

Isabel, from Nicaragua, works as a cleaner. She lives in Alcalá de Henares with her 12-year-old son. Her husband, after two years unemployed, has just returned home to Managua. She is staying because she feels "safe" in Alcalá, and because her son is well integrated at school. But Isabel is worried. "There are no subsidized school lunches and I don't know where I'm going to get nearly 200 euros for books from." Isabel would like her son to finish the baccalaureate at least.

The largest group of foreign students is now European, with Romanians leading the way, sending 15,000 more children to school than when the crisis began. "They come from a culture that rewards work and cultural capital and this shows in their performance," says Torres. Asian students have gone from 4.9 percent a decade ago to 7.5 percent. Torres adds: "They are closed communities, with problems socializing, but they put a lot of effort into education and compete to be the best."

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