Wednesday, January 2, 2008

America is Spain's Crystal Ball; The Spanish Education System

I have seen quite a few changes happen in Spain over the years and I have to tell you that a very specific pattern has emerged. That pattern is … every modern societal trend that happens in Spain - happened first in the United States, good and bad.

One of these days I'll make a list, but for right now one of the issues the Spanish media is talking about is the education system. Test scores are low, Johnny (Jose) can’t read or do arithmetic, the kids are mean to their teachers, the kids would rather watch TV and play video games, etc. So a lot of hand-wringing is going on. How do we fix this? Why is this happening? It’s the teachers’ fault! Yeahh that’s it, it can’t be our little angels…

Well, I’m afraid it is your lazy Brats' fault, and your fault (the parents). How do I know? I know because this is old news in the States. Gone are the days when Spain can point to the U.S. and proudly proclaim, “Their test scores are low because the Americans are idiots!” No, just like in the U.S., there are three main reasons test scores are low in Spain.

1) Spain is no longer a poor country. The native born kids are getting fat (literally) and lazy. (Yes, just like the Americans did starting around 1970 - and I say now improving). This is simply due to human nature. People take the path of least resistance and parents don't push their kids to study. The kids now have a sense of entitlement. When they are young they have all the modern gadgets and distractions of a rich country and when they are a little older they think life will always continue being easy. Couple this with a fatalistic attitude about getting a good job and it’s a wonder they get out of bed! Well, there is always the Botellon ...

2) First generation new-comers who test poorly because they are challenged economically and /or have language difficulties … and,

3) Misguided education reforms trying to be enlightened instead of just sticking to teaching the old way.

So here’s the crystal ball part. Spain will go through the process of “reforming” the education system (read: screwing it up to be too politically correct and complicated - this has already started for some time). They will fill racial quotas, they will be afraid of giving failing grades, they will coddle the kids and blame the teachers, and all this will just make it worse. Just like it did here in the U.S.

More crystal ball stuff… There will be groups of students who will consistently kick ass on the native-born students in terms of school performance. These are some of the immigrants … the ones whose parents value education, the ones whose parents are struggling, the ones who will succeed even if it kills them. I will go out on a limb and say this will be the Asians, Africans, and even the South Americans since they will work very hard. These people will know an opportunity when they see one (free education), and hard work will not scare them.

Back to the States; There is a reason they call UCLA the “University of Caucasians Lost among Asians.” We don't have racial quotas anymore and the best students are winning and filling the universities - the Asians!


EuroMadrid said...

The future you're predicting is going to be even worse for Spain, education wise, unless some radical unforeseen change rocks the current way of thinking. Between the nationalists wanting to educate their children only in the languages of their regions to the fact that Spanish universities, as a whole, do not have a world-class reputation for academic excellence nor are they striving to be among the world's top-tier universities, just means more inertia, more academic deadweight, more underperforming students and ultimately a less informed more insular civic society.

I read a story a couple of months ago about a survey conducted in Spain of young Spaniards. The overwhelming majority of respondents, I think it may have been as high as 60%, if I'm not mistaken, said they wanted to be civil servants. In another survey about employment in the private sector, the top company young Spaniards overwhelmingly said they wanted to work for was Telefonica.

Can you imagine the results of a similar survey in the U.S. of high school to college age students? Can you imagine more than 2% saying they'd want to work for the government and AT&T? Would never happen. More than likely the U.S. kids would mention a bunch of tech and entertainment companies. I doubt being a civil servant would even get 1% of responses.

The U.S. certainly has got its share of problems but at least young Americans generally know how to dream and dream big.

Carl said...

Hi EuroMadrid,

The whole "job for life” or “trabajo fijo" aspiration is another big subject, one where Spain will learn from our experiences. Of course the “job for life” concept doesn’t exist for us (civil service excepted) but we did once have corporations that were loyal to their employees. My father worked for GM most of his adult life, something unheard of today.

Spain is still stuck on this concept though – a holdout from the Franco economy when there were no other types of jobs? I have seen many a Spanish person studying for “oposiciones” or tests that choose 1 person out of thousands for “trabajos fijos”. As you say, for most Americans this concept of staying in one job until you die is completely depressing.

I’m afraid the new economy that is (slowly) being created in Spain will require the Spanish to look out for themselves – just like we have to do in the U.S.

Carl said...

Just wanted to add that it is rough in the Spanish job market, and these "fixed" jobs were the only ones out there. I believe that more liberalization of the labor laws will create more work. There would be no permanent jobs, which is scary to the Spanish, but there would be more jobs.

Anonymous said...

I believe education can change and make the difference of the world.(eg. poverty, hunger, social diseases and other issues)

We have to realize the opportunity and freedom that was given to us easily and freely. Unfortunately many of us take it for granted.

Education starts from home. Just imagine that you(parents)are responsible for their(children) future in the society. Their success also depends on how you educate and guide them from the very beginning of their life.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I´d like to introduce you to my blog. Pop up as often as you feel like.

spanish course in spanish universities

IrishEyes said...

Interesting. I think the things you describe are true for much of Europe. I live in Ireland (pretty much like Spain except for the language and the lousy climate!) and I've observed the same things. A newly-rich indigenous population whose kids don't have any interest in education and who seem to expect it all 'on a plate' and the foreign nationals who come in determined to get the most out of everything available to them. Not true in every case, but a fair generalisation.
As to the job for life issue, I don't know the situation in Spain but you are pretty screwed here unless you have a permanent contract. That is assuming you want things like finance for a car, a mortgage or a credit card. Even if your credit record is good, reputable financial institutions won't lend to people on short-term (ie not forever)contracts.

Carl said...

I can't see how the permanent contract thing is a good road to go down (because I have never experienced a "permanent" job). To me it's what keeps unemployment high, and production and innovation low. I still think a more "Californian model" is coming to Europe someday.

Anonymous said...

I' m really sorry to hear about that. I' m in Spanish school and I can say - cause i'm living it- that not everybody is lazy an fat, and that not everybody prefers being stupid. And it's not the same south Spain students or North Students. Many people is working very hard to go university (I would like to know the marks american students need to go university, but in Spain are very high in many of them).
And people should realise that is very different in lots of countries. I know people of my age of other countries of Europe, and in many subjects there are many things that they don' t have to study and I have to. For example, PISA programme about school learning is not fair with that difference.
Many students in Spain are working very hard to be what they want, and maybe they will just get for their work 500 euros each month. That is depressing, and many students prefer not going to university and start other jobs that will give them more money in less time without working as hard as people in university.

Carl said...

Hi Anonymous,

I agree that it is depressing that university graduates get 500 or 1000 Euros a month after all that work. And of course, Kids that go on to the University are different. They want to work - usually.

I am mostly referring to younger kids. But I still say that the "hungry" ones, or those whose parents really instill a drive to succeed and work hard, will do better. This is what is happening in the U.S. The immigrants are kicking are asses - and that's all right with me!