Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Educational Politics in Spain

Even though you know it can’t be so, deep down there’s a hope that when you go to a different country, you can leave behind the little political stupidities that you deal with every day. Of course, people are people no matter where you go. I’ve been working at the Gran Capitán institute for a couple of months now, and I have a little more visibility into the political undercurrents that are going on.

The current government of Andalucía is known as the Junta de Andalucía. They were elected a few years ago on a strong educational platform. My teaching position is part of a bilingual program that was started as a part of the junta coming into office. Most of the bilingual education goes on at the primary and secondary school levels. Gran Capitán is a post-secondary vocational school, sort of like a community college. It is also the only vocational school in Córdoba that has a bilingual program, because of their unusually strong English-speaking faculty (now including yours truly!). The Junta has rewarded them with lots of recognition and grants. Naturally, the other vocational schools want to get in on this, but they don´t have as many English-speaking teachers. Therefore, they´ve been hiring more English-speaking teachers over the last few years. Under the seniority program used by the teachers´ union, teachers get extra points for bilingual skills. This means that some of the new teachers are coming in at higher seniority levels than teachers who had been at their schools for years. Naturally, this doesn´t sit well with these senior teachers. It has been causing so much discontent and strife that the Junta is considering scrapping the bilingual program in the vocational schools in the next school year. A few weeks ago, Raquel, the Gran Capitán representative at the Junta meetings, reported that the program renewal process was paralyzed. And it´s getting worse; yesterday, she reported that the paralysis was paralyzed. Apparently my position for this school year isn´t in danger, but nobody knows what will happen with the program next year. Of course a bilingual education is a great thing for the students, but that´s not generally the foremost consideration in the political maneuverings.

Huelgas, or strikes, are a regular thing. The students strike (about tuitions and scholarships), and the teachers strike (about pay and working conditions). I mentioned “the teachers´ union”, but that simplifies the situation considerably. There are a number of unions, often with overlapping memberships. One union may go on strike one week, so we´re short a few teachers. Yesterday, I was scheduled to support a class for one of my colleagues. When it came time to start, he wasn´t there. I had prepared materials to teach about Thanksgiving (which is pretty much unknown here….count on a separate blog entry about that), so I went ahead with it. The students seemed to enjoy the class, and a good time was had by all. Afterward, I received an e-mail from the teacher: “I hope you receive this before you come to the school…I´m on strike today, so we won´t have a class.” Hmm. I couldn´t have known, but I was sort of undermining his position by teaching when he was on strike. I suppose it was his responsibility to let me know if there wasn´t supposed to be a class; I´m not sure what I could have done differently.

I’m teaching in a public school, although the students have to pay tuition. There are a large number of Catholic schools which receive public money, a situation which would cause a great deal of controversy in the USA. Even here, there are a number of people who don’t like feeling as if their tax money is going to support the Church. Spanish people have a love-hate relationship with the Church. They’ll claim to be agnostic, but they still take their children in to be baptized and receive First Communion and so on. Even after seventy years, feelings are a bit raw about the Church’s role in the Spanish Civil War. In the private schools, whether they are Catholic or not, there are a lot of “optional” fees which are really not optional. We know people who have homes out of town, but rent an apartment in town so that their kids can go to schools in the right district. (I’ve heard of that in the USA as well.)

So education is as political here as it is in the States. It shouldn’t be a surprise. To quote Uncle Remus, “You can’t run away from trouble…there ain’t no place that far!”

No comments: