Primary and Secondary Education

Primary and Secondary Education

From 1970 until 1984, Spain's education system was based entirely on the LGE, often referred to as the Villar Palasi Law after the minister of education and science at the time, Jose Luis Villar Palasi. This law was the Franco government's attempt to modernize Spain's public education system. Although it has been added to, and modified by, the LODE since the return of democracy, the structure it established was still nearly completely intact in the late 1980s. The law provided that primary education (Educacion General Basica--EGB) would be free and compulsory from the ages of six to fourteen. In the 1986-87 school year, there were about 185,000 primary institutions that provided instruction to about 6.6 million students, 70 percent of whom were in state schools. Secondary education (Bachillerato Unificado Polivalente--BUP) lasted from age fourteen to sixteen and terminated in the state graduation examination, the bachillerato. Those who completed the bachillerato could then enroll in an additional one-year program (Curso de Orientacion Universitaria--COU) to prepare themselves for the university entrance exams. In the 1986-87 school year, more than 2,600 secondary schools enrolled about 1.2 million students. Studies at all institutions were organized around an academic year that ran from about mid-September to the middle or latter part of June.

Secondary school attendance was optional, but if students did not go on to secondary school, they had to enroll in vocational training for the period when they were fifteen to sixteen years of age. Students in the vocational program (Formacion Professional--FP) generally completed their studies with an equivalent exam, the labor bachillerato. In the 1986-87 school year, about 2,200 vocational centers provided instruction to more than 700,000 students. The FP was divided into two two-year phases. The first, which was obligatory for everyone who did not enter the BUP, provided a general introduction to applied vocations, such as clerical work or electronics, while the second phase offered more specialized vocational training. Special education for the physically and the mentally impaired was provided in schools run by both state and private organizations. Perhaps sensing that this model of education imposed a choice between academic and vocational studies on children at too young an age, the government began to experiment in the 1980s with an alternate model that kept students on a single, unified track until the age of sixteen. An equally troublesome aspect of the system, however, was the irreversibility of the choice between BUP and FP. Once a student had chosen the FP program, it was impossible to go on to the university, so many youngsters chose the BUP even if, at the time, they were more suited for vocational training or were better able to use the more practical skills taught in the FP. This dimension of the educational system, plus the traditional disdain of many Spaniards toward manual labor, caused the BUP to enroll nearly twice as many students as the FP. Observers believed, however, that if the economic cramp of the 1980s continued to shrink the job market, the balance might shift toward the FP because the acquisition of a marketable skill might look more important than the gaining of academic qualifications. Indeed, between the 1979-80 and 1986-87 academic years, enrollment in the vocational programs increased nearly 35 percent (from 515,000 to 695,000), while enrollment in the academic program grew by only about 8 percent (from 1.055 million to 1.142 million).

Another major problem with Spanish education was the continued high failure rate. The standards set for graduation from the EGB were not especially demanding, yet between one-fifth and one-third of all students failed to complete the course of study. Failure rates ran much higher in state schools than in private institutions. Critics blamed principally the poor quality of instruction and thus, indirectly, teacher training. In 1981 the government published a revised EGB curriculum that set forth goals for both teachers and students. This revised curriculum was not adopted easily or without resistance, and there were those who argued that it was too rigid and centralized and that it placed too much emphasis on rote memory.

The uneven spread of nursery schools contributed to the high failure rate in later years. In the 1960s and the 1970s, pre-school education began to gain in popularity to such an extent that, in the mid-1980s, some 80 percent of Spain's children between the ages of four and six went to nursery schools (1.3 million in 1986-87). Many primary teachers thus assumed that their students had completed a year or two of pre-school education. About one-third of the 39,000 nursery schools in operation in the 1986-87 school year were still in the private sector, however, and the public nurseries were little more than day care centers. The effect was to create a disadvantaged student population right from the beginning--one that was likely to persist for many years and to continue to contribute to the high failure rate within the system. The solution--universal, public-supported pre-schools--was not a likely prospect as of the late 1980s.

Another source of deficiencies in the public educational system was the low pay teachers received. Even though teachers' salaries were raised by more than 40 percent between 1983 and 1985, in 1988 the average salary for teachers in the public schools at both the elementary and the secondary levels was still only about US$15,000 per year. In 1988 more than 200,000 teachers went out on strike to gain a 14 percent pay increase that would have raised their monthly salary by about US$175. The government put down the strike after street demonstrations led to extensive violence.

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