4 Oct 2013

What do Australian Schools value?

In a recent visit to the Olive Tree Market, at The Junction School, I noticed the school values written on a board. I was quite impressed with the list and can't imagine anything like that having existed either in the primary or the secondary school I attended. I know that having a set of values like the ones The Junction School has doesn't guarantee that they will actually be present in the way teachers and students relate to each other or even that they will be promoted in the school but I think it's a great thing to have them at all.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I haven't heard of Spanish schools having a  set of values that they encourage as part of their day to day school activities could be the lack of ceremony that I think prevails in Spanish society (except for weddings and first communions.)

Seeing the values of The Junction School made me reflect on what the values of my school would have been. I don't think the list would have been very similar to the one in the picture.

In the Spanish school system teachers need to pass an exam in order to get a job. They then get a position for life and they don't get a lot of incentive to provide an outstanding service. So if you're unlucky to get a bad teacher you're stuck with it for the rest of your life. In addition to this, at the time I went to school there were still a few teachers that had got their jobs before the exam system was in place, which means they were given the position because of their affinity to the fascist regime that existed in the country for forty years (The clergy in charge of the education system during that time sanctioned and sacked thousands of teachers of the progressive left and divided Spain's schools up among the families of fascists, loyalist soldiers, and Catholic families.) As a result I ended up with some peculiar teachers. Let's say that my school values could have been something like: never question a teacher, be quiet, never question the dictatorship, don't bother your teachers with too many questions and we can't smack you any more but don't push us.

There was the headteacher, "the boiling pan," a nickname he got because of his big head. A man that looked like someone from another era, grey suit, waxy skin and more obsessed with praying than anything else.

Don Augusto, a PE teacher who I'd swear never did any PE himself in his whole life. In the middle of winter he would watch us throw a ball around in the school yard while he stood by the window inside the warm classroom.

And one of my favourites, Don Juan, who was my teacher for three years, from the age of nine to the age of eleven. Very far from the romantic literary figure, Don Juan was a big-built guy from the countryside, ultra religious, with far right views of the world,  and a big scar on his right hand from when he had been injured in the running of the bulls. Known for digging his fingers in your arm when he wanted you to pay attention and showing his bottom crack when crouching during PE class.

There was one good thing about my school though and that's that we were a big mix of kids, from different socio-economic backgrounds. I did learn some stuff too.

At the moment the Spanish Government is undertaking big cuts in public education. It seems to me that although the education system has a lot to improve the solution is not to reduce support for it but to increase it in order to get it to a better state. There's big support for the cuts to stop. Under the name of "Marea Verde" supporters have been demonstrating throughout the country.

It would be good to look back at the time of the most significant reform in the Spanish education system. From 1931 to 1933 the Government set up a school system that for the first time in history aimed to be for all, free and compulsary. They system was also based on a key value: promoting human solidarity. There's an interesting video about those years (in Spanish) here: http://tu.tv/videos/la-republica-de-los-maestros. The dictatorship and the years that followed it did away with those plans. Bit by bit Spanish society has been trying to catch up with the ideas of that 30s reform. It would be a great shame if due to the interests of a privileged minority most children fell behind in their education once again.

At the end of the day, the Spanish Constitution says education is a right for all, not a privilege.