Corcuera, Sinde, Wert … When a law goes down in history by the name of its main promoter, even before it is approved, it is usually synonymous with a difficult birth. Until now, the gestation of the already baptized as Celaá law follow that same path. Promoted by Isabel Celaá (Bilbao, 1949), Minister of Education and Vocational Training, in less than two years this proposal has been interrupted by two general elections and includes amendments to the entirety by the main opposition parties. What else could hinder the course of the eighth democracy education law? A pandemic? She will also be subjected to that examination.
Celaá receives us just the day the deadline for submitting partial amendments to the bill approved on March 3 by the Council of Ministers ends and continues to be processed in Congress during the state of alarm. After apologizing for not being able to greet us closely due to the physical safety gap imposed by the health crisis, the minister begins to speak of the urgency of accelerating the changes that the school of the future needs.
The pandemic has tested the maturity of the Spanish educational system in terms of technological innovation and methodologies that are not limited to the traditional classroom. With few exceptions, we were not prepared enough to undertake quality remote teaching. Why wasn’t enough progress made?
No educational system in our environment is prepared to virtually replicate a face-to-face education, which is what really equals by compensating for possible differences of origin through teacher-student interaction. Face-to-face education is irreplaceable. So resounding. That’s where you get the most value in cognitive and emotional terms. What is certain is that in a context of digitized economies we felt tremendously powerful as a society and this pandemic has shown that we were not so powerful, revealing various needs, particularly in the health and educational fields. During the last years, the autonomous communities, the educational centers and the teachers have been sophisticating their digital capacities unevenly. Most of them have improved a lot, but we are very clear about the needs of the Spanish educational system and this crisis has helped us to identify them better and to be more aware of the urgency of solving them.
What are those needs?
A modernization as a whole. Digitization is not exclusively understood as the mechanical management of technology, but rather contributes to qualitative changes to promote better educational results by providing attention to students in all their diversity and remedying gaps of any nature. This implies that each student has an individualized digital resource, that each educational center has platforms powerful enough to address all of its students and more teacher training.
Indeed, Andreas Schleicher, director of education at the OECD and responsible for the PISA report, has declared that Spanish teachers should do more to be an active part of a future of education where teaching online it will be crucial. Do you agree?
Andreas is a friend, but I disagree. The Spanish teachers are excellent. He has been able to go in 24 hours from face-to-face education to a distance model, always maintaining contact with the students. His work, like that of households, is exemplary. The autonomous communities and the ministry itself, from the Intef[[National Institute of Educational Technologies and Teacher Training], we have been training teachers and approximately half of them have developed skills to work online efficiently, but the other half is still in the initial stages and that is where we must intensify the effort, especially if in the fall the virus continues among us and there is still no vaccine or treatment. In this scenario, each center must have contingency plans to respect the physical safety distance, which will make room for about 15 students in each classroom.
This is where his ministry proposes a mixed teaching model between face-to-face education and online but that does not seem to satisfy either families, due to reconciliation issues, or the educational community, which demands more human and technical resources.
Routine has become an important value, but face-to-face education at the moment has to be subject to health requirements. Obviously, this pandemic has also shown that the school cannot fully satisfy the work of conciliation that is being implicitly or explicitly demanded of it, but is a joint task of society.
But if we go to that mixed model, does a greater investment by the ministry be contemplated?
It is evident that a greater investment will be contemplated. At the moment we are identifying, together with the autonomous communities, what are the issues that we have to strengthen in the educational system to attend to these contingency plans. If in the end it is not necessary to put them into action, we will also have advanced towards this digitization, which is one of the guiding principles of our bill together with the best interests of the minor, an education for sustainable development, personalized education or modification of the curriculum.
What should that new curriculum be like?
The current one is very encyclopedic, full of data and content. We need a more competitive model through essential learning that does not focus so much on subjects to be used, but rather on scopes, in alternative projects for which physical spaces are required that allow a different distribution of students, even classrooms with a greater number of students where two or three teachers can work collegially. This would facilitate personalized teaching that helps enhance the talent of each student.
This would affect the traditional assessment system, something that is also debated when it comes to grading students who have been forced to continue training remotely …
Exactly. In fact, the agreement reached with the majority of the autonomous communities to conclude the 2019/2020 course is based on that, that is, on adapting the subject to the essential content and learning, in such a way that it is evaluated whether the student has passed qualitatively the general objectives of the curriculum and has developed the skills that allow you to promote to the next course. When we have this new curriculum that is more focused on competences, it will have to be measured in a different way, with an evaluation carried out in a collegial manner by the group of teachers who attend to each student. If Spain has a number of repeaters three times higher than the rest of European countries, it is due to a cultural bias related to the evaluation system and that needs to be corrected.
“Face-to-face education is what really equals”, maintains the minister, “by offsetting possible differences of origin through teacher-student interaction.”
Repetition, in itself, does not make the student better. Upside down. It provides her with significant emotional damage when she loses her peer group and affects her self-esteem because she is told that she is not competent. What does provide success is a personalized diagnosis that details the knowledge that each student needs to reinforce and design a treatment accordingly. This does not mean that nobody will ever repeat, because there may be a student with an immature personality whom the cast of teachers perceives collegially that it is not good to promote.
Are soft skills such as autonomy, empathy, or the ability to work as a team included in that new assessment?
The educational system has to contribute to the development of both cognitive and emotional skills. In fact, during the months of confinement the students have been able to develop emotional skills that are very important for life and that should be evaluated because that is also education. While they have trained at home, sometimes in difficult conditions, they have acquired or enhanced qualities related to self-discipline or responsibility, which is an added value that they can take advantage of when they return to the centers and will benefit their educational process.
Before the health crisis, his ministry contemplated a plan to increase public spending on education to a minimum of 5% of GDP, above the average investment of the EU (4.88%), but still far from that of countries. Referenced as examples of innovation in the classroom, such as Finland (6.75%) or Sweden (7.05%). Will they maintain that 5% commitment despite the looming economic crisis?
Yes. We cannot overcome this crisis if we precisely touch the most vulnerable or those sectors that once again have revealed themselves as the most important. Education is the best accreditation of a country, the sustainable base of present and future development and without it there is no research, which has been shown to be essential at this time, or innovation. During the pandemic, face-to-face education has become a desired but rare asset and we cannot allow anyone to undermine investment in education. It is an investment, not an expense, and we will not follow the path of the 2008 crisis, because it is the antimodel.