Manuel de la Vega’s life changed the day a friend suggested that he accompany him to enroll in the Polígono Sur school for adults in Seville, known for being the poorest neighborhood in Spain. At 14, Manuel barely went to class, he left high school without finishing second in ESO, he spent a few years “doing nothing” and worked at the counter of a grocery store until, in the midst of the international financial crisis, with 22 years old, he was unemployed. “It was one of those life turning points where your life can go one way or the other,” he says. Manuel enrolled with his friend. He dropped out of compulsory high school. He then did a medium level of Vocational Training in Dependency care, and later, while working, a higher level. Influenced by the support he had received at the center, he began a career in Social Education, and when he finished he went to do a master’s degree at the University of the Basque Country. Now, at the age of 34, he remembers him by phone from Barcelona, where he works on a project to help the homeless that is financed by the City Council.
The latest OECD report on education in Spain recommends that the country promote adult education, but Manuel does not need to read it to be aware of its importance. “Entering the center made me see that through study I could achieve improvements, not just work. When you grow up in an area with high social conflict like mine, your development possibilities are very limited by those margins of exclusion. Thanks to being in the center I was able to get to know other ways of leisure, other ways of relating, other values different from what I was used to. And that gave me the possibility of being able to see that there was something else. And when I was able to see it, I wanted that thing, and I worked to achieve that other model of life, different from the only one I had known”.
The OECD report presented at the beginning of June shows that, despite having fallen sharply in the last decade, the Spanish early school leaving rate – young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who have at most ESO – continues to be high for a developed country, 13.9%. The OECD analysis included, however, a more devastating piece of information: in the 25 to 34 age group, this rate shoots up to 28%, which affects their chances of finding stable jobs, and also their health. and your self-esteem. The report called for redoubling efforts in the adult education network to alleviate it. A recommendation that comes in a context in which students of “formal adult education” (in which the Ministry of Education includes those that are used to obtain official titles or prepare to take entrance tests) has fallen by half in one of each. In the 2012-2013 academic year there were 392,271 students and in the one that just ended, 198,289.
A fact, on the one hand, good
The data is full of nuances. On the one hand, it is good news. “If there were more every year, it would be a failure of the system, because when someone shows up as an adult, it means that he did not obtain the degree when it was due,” says Cecilio Amores, head of the Adult Education service of Castilla-La Mancha. “The initial teachings, that is, the primary, are becoming more and more residual. The exception is mainly people who come from abroad and need them, but in general the national population already has them. And in high school the same thing will happen ”, he adds. Official data shows that young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who did not even have an ESO title reached 14% of the total in 2008, the moment of the economic boom that preceded the crisis, when there were many job offers. for unqualified people. And last year they had fallen to 5.5%.
In other words, an important part of the traditional applicants for adult education now start from higher educational levels. On the one hand, they have fewer steps to cover in the adult modality. And, by having ESO, they can directly enter the medium FP cycles, which is what they have been doing in recent years, contributing to their great growth.
The drop in the number of students in formal education (adult centers offer other programs that do not lead to degrees, from languages to the use of digital devices, which are in high demand) also presents less positive elements. Sources from the centers lament, for example, that they have far fewer material resources and teachers than ordinary secondary schools. And, after the OECD urged Spain to extend the hours of classes for adults, the Community of Madrid has suppressed the face-to-face baccalaureate for adults in the evening (nighttime) on the public network to leave it only in blended mode. “It will affect a lot,” believes Victoria Moreno, from the Association of Directors of Adult Education Centers in Madrid. “Our experience is that in distance learning dropout is much higher. Attendance requires discipline, it generates a habit, and direct contact with the teacher not only implies receiving classes, but also helps to acquire study techniques and other skills”.
make up for what life gives
For Manuel de la Vega, “the guidance and accompaniment” given to him by the teachers at the Polígono Sur Center for Permanent Education in Seville, who has won awards from the Ministry of Education and Unesco for his work, was very important. “Our best advertising strategy is word of mouth,” says the director and language teacher, José Joaquín Caldera. “People come to us who tell us: my cousin studied here and now he is working I don’t know where. Or: it’s that my friend got his degree here and he told me that you helped him a lot”. Caldera, who was a teacher and director of a secondary school, asked, like the rest of the center’s staff, the destination in which he is. “It has helped me to understand the true role of the school, which in this center is to compensate for what does not occur naturally in life”, he says.
Polígono Sur, like other public centers for adults, is not organized by departments, but rather in a way that is more similar to that of a primary school. The subjects are taught by fields of knowledge, and teachers from different specialties work in a coordinated manner. The center receives numerous volunteers from the University of Seville and collaborates with the social fabric of the neighbourhood. “When you talk about our environment,” says Caldera, “it’s said to be a depressed area, but it has many other wonderful things that you don’t normally see. Polígono Sur has a lot of entities and associations that collaborate with the center, it has educational centers with national and international awards, it has a cultural university, and then it has wonderful people”. At the beginning of the course, there are 25 students enrolled in the secondary classes of the center he directs. About 17 of them end up going, and almost 100% manage to graduate.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Polígono Sur
One of the center’s strategies is for students to participate in decision-making at various levels. “I, for example, am a language teacher. Imagine two classes with students between 16 and 24, where the motivation to read is minus 10. I told them: ‘We are going to read universal classics’. And the answer was: ‘Yeah, man, I’m going to read a book. I have never read a book in my life, teacher’. I insisted: ‘Let’s try it’. To begin with, we all agreed on which book we were going to read. The first was Romeo and Juliet”. Every Friday they decided in class which part they wanted to read during the following week, and they had a discussion, which did not consist of summaries, but in which the students pointed out what things had caught their attention and why, and what they did not understand. “Taking it to the personal terrain, we discovered that in Romeo and Juliet many things happen that continue to happen today. We work in a neighborhood where if someone falls in love with someone they don’t have to fall in love with, they have to leave the neighborhood. A neighborhood where there are family clashes. And that way of bringing reading closer has been brutal. In the end they have read three books of classical literature that they probably would not have read otherwise. Or they wouldn’t have done it with such a pleasant approach and the same level of understanding.”
One of the students who has graduated this course is Aroa Jiménez, 30 years old. “As soon as I arrived I said: ‘I didn’t last a month here.’ And yet, I have ended up taking ESO with an average of 8.77, after 15 years without picking up a book”. The teachers, she says, give the classes “in a different way, so that they are not so monotonous.” “And if they see you with a bad face one day, they are already asking you: ‘What’s wrong with you, don’t leave it to yourself, you’re going to be able to.’ They motivate you a lot.” Aroa, who had chained precarious jobs ―in a hairdresser’s, in a pizzeria, at the airport cleaning planes and in a Burger King― has now applied for a place in the intermediate FP degree of Nursing and Pharmacy Assistant.
Change the future of children
José Joaquín Caldera says that when a student finishes and does well, he feels “fulfilled”. “You think that you are helping not only to get a degree, but to transform people’s lives. And through them, perhaps also those of their children or future children in Polígono Sur”. The OECD report warned that children whose mothers have at most primary education are 10 times more likely to drop out of school early than those whose mothers have university studies or higher vocational training. Aroa has three children: two, six and 10 years old. And one of the reasons why she decided to go back to studying was that the oldest starts fifth grade in September. “I was saying, there is going to be a time when I won’t be able to help her, no matter how much she wants to. And now, after having resumed my studies and having refreshed her memory, it is much easier for me to start doing my homework with her ”.
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