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EDUCATION

ANALYSIS: Why the return to school in Spain could be a logistical nightmare for parents

With all manner of social distancing measures being studied for the reopening of schools in Spain next month, balancing family and work responsibilities could become an even more complicated juggling act for working parents, writes Graham Keeley.

ANALYSIS: Why the return to school in Spain could be a logistical nightmare for parents
Photos: AFP

In the dog days of August, most of us should be lolling by a beach somewhere doing not very much.

However, until normal service resumes, of course, holidays like everything else have proved a tricky juggling act.

Those of us who live in Spain who had planned to visit family in the UK had to park those plans after the British government imposed a quarantine.

A lengthening line of other countries have followed suit, making foreigners more likely to explore a bit more of Spain instead of heading 'home'.

Holidays aside, any parents may have a lingering thought at the back of their minds: what to do with the little darlings come September?.

Schools do not return officially here until the middle of next month, but Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has been discussing with regional governments this month how schooling will be in the age of Covid-19.

Anyway, some schools have already reached out to give parents some idea of what to expect, if they make it back to the physical classroom.

Masks will be compulsory, of course, as will pockets to carry them in so pupils do not lose these essential facial protectors.

No doubt classes will be smaller to allow social distancing.

READ MORE: What will be the rules for kids returning to school?

Perhaps children will find themselves learning about geography or physics in the dining hall or even in the playground, depending on the weather.

This is going to present some logistical problems for schools; smaller classes means spreading the same number of teachers out to cover pupils in more rooms.

When the teacher is away, the fun will no doubt start for the kids.

And then there is the possibility of children attending schools on different days.

This has only been suggested, not confirmed, but for any parents it presents something of a logistical nightmare.

It seems certain that the government is going to ask companies to adapt to the post-Covid educational reality.

This will no doubt mean more teletrabajo – homeworking. For some of us, this will not be a hardship, while for others it will pose a strain.

A friend, who shall not be named, has told me she is holding out as long as possible to avoid having to return to the office. Luckily for her, the company is not pressuring her to get back into work as before.

Others are not so lucky. A British friend who commutes between Spain and Denmark for work has a boss who seems to insist he works in Copenhagen, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. It puts more of a strain on family life at a time when one unlikely positive of the epidemic might have been that he could see more of his loved ones.

Another friend cannot wait to get back and work face-to-face with clients. So, it varies.

Anyway, for those who do not have children, all this may seem irrelevant. However, as much of the workforce do have offspring, the way we work is largely shaped by this factor.

This difficult juggling act is going to become more problematic depending on how the Covid-19 epidemic evolves.

Things have not been looking to bright in Spain as the number of cases continue to rise.

Aragon, the eastern region which boasts Spain's only desert, has had the highest rate of coronavirus cases in Europe, with 567 per 100,000, according to reports in El País.

I was asked by a foreign TV journalist this week if it was the arrival of tourists who had pushed up the number of cases.

If only.

In fact it seems it was caused by younger people meeting up after months stuck inside during the lockdown without friends and family gatherings, according to health authorities.

Celebrating el bottelón – an outside mass drinking session if you don't know – has also been blamed.

In Andalusia, fines have been increased for nightclubs, supermarkets and other establishments who exceed capacity limits. The worst offenders will have to pay €600,000 if convicted.

Spain's government has mostly resisted every suggestion that the country is already in the grips of a second wave.

It does seem true to say the health services are no longer saturated as they were in March and April. We may be seeing more cases simply because health chiefs are carrying out much more testing than they were doing earlier this year.

But still, it is worrying as the evolution of the Covid-19 curve between now and mid-September may determine whether our children return to school as they knew it – or not.

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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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