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EDUCATION

Spain fears brain drain as graduates eye exit

Despite having a bachelor's degree, five years of professional experience and speaking three languages, Paloma Fernandez can't find work in Spain.

Spain fears brain drain as graduates eye exit
"I will look for work wherever. If it is in Spain great and if it is abroad I would have no problem," says political science graduate Rocio Alarcon. Photo: Andy Wright

The 28-year-old, who has a degree in translation, lost her job of four years at the justice ministry in December 2011 and as of last month she lost the right to collect unemployment benefits.

Since losing her job she has sent out dozens of resumes for jobs as a translator, administrative assistant or receptionist but has not had any luck.

"Sometimes you feel like yelling: 'I want a job, I want to have a routine!' We always complain about routines but when you don't have it, you miss it," said Fernandez.

Many other Spanish youths find themselves in the same situation.

The official unemployment rate for those between the ages of 16 and 24 has soared to 57.22 percent, and a record 27.16 percent overall, at the end of the first quarter.

"It is probably a generation, I don't know if you should call it lost, but which will mark a before and after the crisis" in terms of consumption and lifestyle habits, said Sara Balina, chief economist for Spain at Madrid-based consultancy Analistas Financieros Internacionales.

As an example she points out that young people are putting off the age at which they move out of home since they struggle to find stable employment.

Fernandez shares a bright but sparsely decorated flat that she rents for 400 euros ($520) a month from her family in Moratalaz, a Madrid suburb, with her boyfriend who is also unemployed, and a cat called Rayo.

"It is very unstable and I don't know what my life plan is. I apply for jobs and I can't make major long-term plans, not even short-term plans," she said, adding thinking of having children now "would be crazy".

Fernandez, who is already fluent in English and French in addition to her native Spanish, tries to keep busy by learning Japanese, attending fitness classes and tutoring students in languages to earn some money.

Meanwhile, Rocio Alarcon, who completed a degree in political sciences last year with the third highest grade in her class, shares Fernandez' worries.

The 23-year-old, who lives with her parents in Getafe, a Madrid suburb, had hoped to find a job to contribute to the family's budget and to save to pay for a master's degree which she will begin in September.

"I didn't aspire to work as a political scientist from the beginning. But the fact is that out of all the resumes I sent, I have not been called for any interview," said Alarcon, adding employers usually ask for a high level of English and previous work experience.

"It is a curious thing to ask for previous experience from young people who have just finished their studies. They have not given us time to get any experience."

Like many young out of work Spanish youths, Alarcon plans to look for work abroad once she completes her master's degree if she can't find a job in Spain, a trend that worries experts who fear the country is losing its talent.

"I will look for work wherever. If it is in Spain great and if it is abroad I would have no problem," she said.

Fernandez said she had always been open to working abroad but now sees it as a necessity.

"Going abroad attracts me but right now it is not a question of tastes, it is the only option I have. The feeling that you are being forced to go or that you have no option is the hardest part," she said.

From the beginning of 2012 to the end of March, some 365,000 Spaniards between the ages of 16 and 29 have left the country, according to the National Statistics Institute.

With Spain in need of a change in its economic model, the loss of young people with university studies represents the loss if "one of the key elements for growth, which is human capital," said Balina.

"We can't have a situation where young people with higher education who can help revitalize sectors that Spain needs to grow, are the ones to abandon the country," she added.

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EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How Spain will make it easier for students to graduate

The Spanish government has passed a new decree which will allow secondary and sixth form students to graduate and receive their qualifications, even if they have failed some subjects.

Spain is changing its education rules
There will also be no re-sitting of exams at Spanish secondary schools. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

The Spanish government approved on Tuesday, November 16th a new Royal Decree which gives instructions to teachers to change the way they grade their students for the rest of the school year of 2021/2022 and 2022/2023.

Education in Spain is compulsory for all those from ages 6 to 16. The Spanish education system is made up of primary and secondary schools. Secondary school is referred to as ESO and students receive a Título de Graduado Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (Title of Graduation from Obligatory Secondary School Education). This is the last four years of compulsory education, up until age 16, and is similar to GCSEs in the UK.

After age 16, Spanish students can go on to study for the optional Bachillerato for the next two years up until age 18. This is equivalent to A-levels in the UK and is needed if the student wants to attend university. 

The new rules apply to the ESO and Bachillerato qualifications. In primary education, there were no specific qualifications or failure limits and this is the same in the new decree too. 

What is changing?

  • Before, students studying for the ESO were allowed to pass each year only if they did not have more than three failed subjects, but now with the new decree, there is no limit.
  • There will also be no re-sitting of exams in ESO.
  • In order to graduate with the ESO qualification at age 16, students could still graduate even if they had up to two failed subjects, however now there is no limit in the number of failed subjects allowed to graduate. 
  • In order to pass each year of the Bachillerato, students could still move on if they had up to two failed subjects. This will stay the same in the new decree too. 
  • In order to graduate with the Bachillerato qualification before, students had to pass all subjects and exams, but now one failed subject is allowed. 
  • Students will also be able to sit the Selectividad, which are the Spanish university admission tests if they have failed some of their Bachillerato (sixth form) school subjects.
  • For the first time in history, students with special needs who have had significant curricular adaptations and have not studied the minimum requirement for other students will also be able to receive their high school qualifications.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is failing in maths and science teaching

How will it be decided if students can graduate?

The text presented to the Council of Ministers by Pilar Alegría, the Spanish Minister of Education states that the decision on whether or not a student passes secondary education will be decided on by each board of the school or institution at the end of the school year.

It is the teaching team “who is given the ultimate responsibility for the decision on the promotion and qualification of students” she stated. It will be the teachers who have to make the decision after assessing whether the student “has reached the appropriate degree of acquisition of the corresponding skills”. 

This means that there will no longer be specific requirements to graduate high school and that the parameters for passing will be different for each institution.   

Why have the rules changed?

The new measures are designed to avoid students repeating years and improve graduation statistics.

According to the latest statistics, out of the countries in the EU in 2020, 79 percent of the population between 25 and 64 years old had graduated Secondary Education or higher and Spain is around 16.1 points below this average. 

Pilar Alegría said that 30 percent of 15-year-old students have repeated a year at least once and “dropout rates are increased by this percentage of students”. 

That is why we are committed to a system “based on trust in teachers”, “continuous evaluation” and “collaborative work by teaching teams”. She has assured that “the culture of effort does not run any risk with this new norm. An effort based on motivation is better than one based on punishment”.  

READ ALSO: Spain passes contested education bill

Are all regions on board with the new rules?

Madrid, Andalusia, Galicia, Castilla y León and Murcia strongly oppose the new rules because they “lower the requirement” and “unsettle the teachers”. 

The five regions complain that the royal decree changes the rules of the game in the middle of the course since the students have started the academic year with a particular curriculum and specific criteria in order to pass it. 

Madrid 

“Within our powers, while respecting the law, we are going to try to prevent the royal decree from being applied, as we consider that it is a direct attack on one of the pillars of the Madrid educational system, as is the merit and the effort of the students “, said sources from the Department of Education of the Community of Madrid.

Galicia

The education authorities in Galicia said that they will also “explore any legal possibility that allows for preserving the culture of effort and quality as signs of identity”.

Castilla y León

The education departments in Castilla y León said that for their part, they “will make sure that the curricular development and the norms of promotion and qualification are the least harmful”.

Andalusia 

“Although the norm establishes that the Baccalaureate degree can be obtained with a failed subject, we understand that it does not make sense because all subjects contribute to the acquisition of the necessary competencies,” said the education authorities in Andalusia.

Murcia 

Murcia is also not in favor of the royal decree and denounces “the improvisation of the Pedro Sánchez government and the lack of legal security for the decisions that have been taken”.   

Unions and Associations

Teachers’ unions such as Csif or Anpe or associations such as Concapa or Cofapa warn that more students are going to arrive less prepared for the next level of education, where the problem will explode. 

These regions argue that this new system will leave a lot of grey areas because teachers’ criteria can be very subjective. The elimination of make-up exams is also causing confusion because “they give another opportunity for students to pass based on their effort and ability”. 

The rest of the regions, on the other hand, were in favor of eliminating the need to re-sit exams because they believe that the evaluation should be “continuous” and the student should not risk everything for a single exam.

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