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Home » News items » "The spanish family and their children's education

"The spanish family and their children's education

Barcelona, 16 de September 2001

The study The Spanish family and their children’s education is the fifth volume of the Social studies Collection of the Fundació ”la Caixa”, a collection of work that aims to contribute to the debate, analysis and publishing of the burning issues affecting our society.

The Spanish family and their children’s education has been written by the sociology chair at the Complutense University of Madrid, Víctor Pérez-Díaz and also has contributions by Juan Carlos Rodríguez, professor of sociology, also at the Complutense University, and Leonardo Sánchez-Ferrer, professor of political science at the University of Burgos.

SOCIAL STUDIES COLLECTION

1. Foreign immigration in Spain. The educational challenges
Eliseo Aja, Francesc Carbonell, Ioé Collective, Jaume Funes, Ignasi Vila

2. The values of Spanish society in its relationship with drugs
Eusebio Megías, Domingo Comas, Javier Elzo, Ignacio Megías, José Navarro, Elena Rodríguez and Oriol Romaní

3. Family policies in a comparative perspective
Lluís Flaquer

4. Young women in Spain
Inés Alberdi, Pilar Escario and Natalia Matas

5. The Spanish family and their children’s education
Víctor Pérez-Díaz, Juan Carlos Rodríguez and Leonardo Sánchez Ferrer

The Spanish family and their children’s education
Víctor Pérez-Díaz, Juan Carlos Rodríguez and Leonardo Sánchez Ferrer
(Fundació ”la Caixa”, Barcelona, 2001)

This book proposes a twofold change in the debate about education for children and adolescents in Spain, in that one of its main arguments revolves around the relationship between the educational system and the formation of an order of freedom, and that the balance between the different participants changes to lay more emphasis on the families, but that also a higher level of responsibility can be demanded from them (as compensation).

The book is made up of two parts. One studies the evolution of the public debate in Spain and the surrounding countries. The other provides a systematic analysis of a survey amongst parents of school students in Spain.

The public debate about education in Spain

The international public debate which, since the seventies, has taken place from the standpoint of being concerned with the relationship between the educational system and economic growth and the reduction of inequality. It is focused on the recovery of quality in state education, diminished by the application of some of the measures aimed at reducing social inequality, and ending, before the elusiveness of the concept of quality, by underlining the relevance of an authentic capacity of choice at school as a salutary experience of public systems which perform below par, meaning the need to start recovering the theme of an order of freedom as a central theme.

The public debate in Spain, and that of the educational reforms in Spain, runs along the lines of the international debate, but with its own rhythms and characteristics (in part, shared with other European countries but not so much with the United States). On the one hand, it has been a poor and not very demanding debate to a certain extent in terms of arguments and information; in part, politicised, and far too late as regards the international situation. A great deal of the consensus obtained has been due to the increases in public expenditure and topics that have been considered as central internationally have been by and large ignored here. On the other hand, there are some promising aspects apparent: minor local experimentation with the school chequebook, stimulus in the choice between state schools, the debate around the question of humanities, frequent references to the “quality” of education, efforts by some schools to provide reliable checks of school performance, and an increasingly more open attitude towards international experiences.

Parents’ attitudes and behaviour

For the current recovery of the principle of freedom to become effective, parents must really assume educational responsibility. The survey enables us to study the level that this acceptance of responsibility reaches. The survey was carried out on a sample of 2,500 parents of primary and secondary education between May and June 2000.

Generally speaking, parents declare their responsibility for their children’s education but, when it comes to the crunch, they are not prepared to use it directly and are highly prone to delegate that responsibility to the school. In fact their attitudes are frequently relatively incoherent.

Parents are satisfied with their children’s teachers and with the contribution made by the schools in their education. They value school atmospheres of “co-existence without stress” rather than atmospheres with strong doses of “emulation and competition”. They want their children to spend most of their time in school and, when at home, act as if they are not concerned if their children spend a large amount of time watching television, even with their own television: this even though there seems to be an inverse relationship between school results and television consumption. They want more time for all the subjects, implicitly demanding a lengthening of the annual school calendar. They specifically call for, in relative terms, more English and computer studies, apparently more adjusted to the new global economy and new technologies; but they ignore natural sciences and mathematics which are, to a great extent, the true basis of this new economy. Their interest in humanities can be described as modest.

Despite the contents of their children’s school, the majority recognises the need for an improvement in state education. They want an increase in spending in state education, although not all of them are prepared to pay more taxes. The majority supporst compulsory education until sixteen, although there are doubts regarding its effectiveness, since it is difficult to motivate unmotivated adolescents to study and continue in the system. They are opposed to reforms that question the status quo of compulsory education, although they support the idea of introducing quasi-market mechanisms, such as the school chequebook (and to maintain the public funds for schools that do not improve). Parents want more market mentality in the hiring of teachers (even with head teachers being able to fire incompetent staff), but not in the selection of pupils. They are also very much against allowing experiences such as that of home-based education.

The survey measures not only the attitudes of parents but also their behaviour. The group of parents is not uniform, and there are three types of parent. Over half of parents do not choose their children’s school (“non-choosers”). This might be because they have access to only one state school (above all, in small towns). Also of influence are the legal and regulatory limits in choosing within the state sector, that makes it impossible to get their children (without tricks) into a state school outside the area corresponding to where the family live. Many are not even prepared to look beyond this area. Nearly all these parents send their children to state schools, and their average social economic status is middle / lower middle class.

Nearly one third (“soft choosers”) make a little more effort in searching for a school, ignoring somewhat the closeness factor and opting more for that of quality and end up choosing, to a greater extent, a state-subsidised private school, or not choosing the state school that corresponds to where they live. It is more than likely that this search for quality is, to a large extent, a search for a particular school atmosphere, in general a school with little presence of conflictive young people or immigrants. The average social economic status of this group is middle / upper-middle class.

The rest are made up of the “demanding choosers”, who consider the choice of school as fundamental and invest the maximum amount of energy and resources in this, and choose private, paying schools in a much higher proportion than the other two groups. The social economic status of this group is predominantly middle-upper and upper class. In any case, if they could, the first and second groups say they would choose the private school more.

In general, this generation of parents is quite satisfied with the functioning of the educational system. What lies behind this satisfaction? The answer is a very modest level of demand. Regarding secondary school students, the most satisfied parents are those whose children fail in three or less subjects, implicitly arguing that, “If my child passes all the time, things are OK; they could finish their secondary education in two years, go to university and get their degree, like everyone else”. The parents of those students who have four or more subjects are less satisfied but have practically thrown in the towel; nevertheless, they are more inclined towards radical reforms, such as taking the child out of state school and, thanks to a school chequebook, taking them to a private school to see if they can do better there.

The problem is that what passing and qualifications in subjects actually mean depends on the levels of demand. They can get better marks and learn, however, less than previous generations because the levels of demand have fallen. Furthermore, qualifications say little about how the educational system is responding to the tasks which it is normally set: the cultivation of the different facets of individual intelligence, the formation of workers and professionals, or the formation of citizens.

Until now, the school status quo has been maintained at quite a stable level, but what can be questioned is the measure in which the Spanish have become more self-demanding and more coherent in terms of both the public debate and in educational reforms.
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