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Education and Class: Lessons from Spain

Vicenç Navarro

In Spain there are social classes. It is impossible to understand what happens in Spain without understanding the huge domination that the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and high income middle class professionals have had and continue to have on the state apparatus, an influence that is reaching its peak during today’s government of Mariano Rajoy, the government that Spain has had democratic period has been the most receptive to the interests of these classes.

This huge influence explains many things, such as poverty of the welfare state (Spain has one of the lowest levels of social expenditures per capita in the EU-15, the group of countries within the European Union with similar levels of economic development as Spain), limited redistributive capacity (again, the Spanish state is one of the least redistributive in the EU -15), limited tax progressivity ( while manufacturing workers pay taxes, as a percentage of their pay, in similar amounts to their counterparts in the EU-15, the 1% of the population that derives its income from capital pays only 10% of what their counterparts pay, on average, the EU-15).

This explains the poverty of public services of the welfare state, such as education. In 2010, the Spanish State spent on education only 4.2% of GDP, much lower than the average for the EU-15 (5.2%) , and much, much lower than Sweden (7 % ), one of EU countries where the working class and the middle classes on lower and middling income have the greatest influence on the state. Education spending per student ( in all categories of studies) in Spain is the lowest in the EU -15 .

There are a multitude of consequences of this poverty in education spending. And the most striking is the polarization, by social class, of the education system . From nurseries to primary and secondary education, the wealthy classes take their children to private schools (whose spending per pupil is higher than state schools, thanks to a very important public subsidy, called concierto), and the lower classes (the middle class on lower and middle incomes, and working class) send their children to state schools. Many are privately run by the Catholic Church, which has always been institutionally close to the interests of the wealthy.

During most of the democratic period, the day has been longer elsewhere in Europe schools than in Spanish state schools. Thus, in secondary schools, the figures are 678 hours per year on average in the EU-15, while they total 559 per year in Spain. Adding to the annual deficit, Spanish students attend school for a year less than other European students.

Not coincidentally, knowledge in reading comprehension, maths and the Spanish language of ​​a high school graduate in Spain is one year behind other European students. And what’s also interesting to note is that private students are not performing better than the average state school students in the EU-15. Actually, they’re doing worse.

The empirical evidence is clear and compelling for anyone who wants to see it. Education systems polarized by social class, with a public-private dichotomy, fare worse in terms of educational quality that those that are majority state run.

In Spain, 34% of students go private, and 66% to the public. In comparison, in Sweden and Finland (the latter being considered the best in Europe) the percentage distribution is 7% versus 93 % respectively. This is one of the major causes of the low quality of education in Spain, a result of the enormous power of the upper classes (bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and high income middle class professionals) over the state through politics (the conservative and liberal-oriented parties) and the media ( the vast majority of media, both public and private), which in defending to the death their immediate interests, are damaging the country, and also, paradoxically, the education of their children, even when they get what they most want, ie maintaining social distance (creating first-class citizens – their children – and second class citizens – everyone else ) reproducing inequalities within the citizenship, maintaining their privileges.

It represents, indeed, a great inconsistency that these conservative and liberal forces, and their political parties, such as the Popular Party, which are presented as ” patriotic forces ” who constantly talk under the banner of country or nation, are actually applying education policies that undermine the unity of this country. In fact, the defence of their interests through the policies by the Rajoy government harms the majority of citizens, showing that despite their discourse and narrative, they are profoundly unpatriotic. Their’s is a class vision of Spain that harms the real Spain. Each of the elements of minister Wert’s education reforms favours this class vision, against the people, the social and plurinational Spain. These reforms are reactionary and will only harm the most popular classes in the country.

Vicenç Navarro is Professor of Public Policy, Pompeu Fabra University, and Professor of Public
Policy, The Johns Hopkins University

Translation / edit by Revolting Europe

El Publico 

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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