Yesterday I watched on La Sexta Jordi Évole’s Salvados, this time a monographic on the Spanish schools in comparison to the best schools in the world: those of Finland (you can watch the whole programme, “Cuestión de educación”, at One of my doctoral students spent last year working there as a teacher and, so, apart from the frequent news about Finland’s very high position in all educational rankings, I have his word to rely on for a truthful view of their system. Jaume worked both with children and teenagers and he stressed the respect he had received all the time from all of them (also how well paid he was…) Évole’s programme insisted, above all, on the very selective process by which only 10% of all applicants can become teachers –a most respectful profession indeed.

Let’s sum up the main points that make the Finnish system work and you supply the corresponding equivalent for the Spanish school:

– 98% of all schools in Finland are public; there are no elite private schools
– they have a drop-out rate below 1%
– parents are deeply involved in their children’s education and frequently meet the teachers
– only students with the best grades can train to become teachers
– headmasters are free to choose their teams, teachers are free to apply to whatever school they wish to work for
– children are assumed to be quite autonomous learners and they get very few hours of schooling, with short teaching periods and frequent breaks
– the succeeding Governments do not interfere in the running of the public schools, nor do they set up any reform without the teachers’ collaboration (essentially the same system has been on for decades)
– public schools are completely free of cost to parents, and this includes school materials and also the meals children take there
– schools are very similar all over the country in terms of the mixture of minority students with the native children; those with special needs receive help from a second teacher or assistant
– teachers are usually in charge of 20 students or less
– most importantly: the whole society supports the teachers’ work

An interviewee spoke of the disastrous situation that happened in the 1990s when the post-Communist world started. Finland was then hit by a terrible economic crises as its main client, the USSR, ceased existing. The Finnish Government decided then to apply severe cuts to education and this resulted in what this man called a ‘lost generation’. Since then, the Finns have learned to implement educational policies aimed at bringing out the best features of their children, no matter what their social class may be; they see this strategy as the only way to guarantee the success of their (small) community.

I’m sure you get the reverse picture.

Évole and his team concluded that, inescapably, each culture generates a particular educational model, which means that we cannot copy the Finns. Or rather, that modeling our education on Finland would require a radical change of all Spanish society. I agree with that – but here’s the funny thing: what felt alien as I watched the programme was not the Finnish style in education, but the Spanish one.

I agreed 100% with the Finnish system and disagreed 100% with the Spanish system. Does this mean I’m secretly a Finn?? No, of course. It means that Spain is split between a rational minority struggling to educate children well, and an irrational majority doing all they can to prevent that from happening because they themselves are stupid. Not stupid in the sense of uneducated (well, that too) but stupid in the sense of not seeing into the future of the whole community beyond their individual (or class) noses.

As a person educated in the Spanish public school and working for the Spanish public university, what I most missed in Évole’s programme was a more overt reflexion about why the Finns have embraced what can only be called a socialist programme of education while here we’re trapped in a classist system which is doing all it can to stop people (like me) from declassing themselves. I’m not saying here that we need the PSOE back in power, not at all –I can very well see their own share in the sorry state of the Spanish school. What I’m saying is that we need to see our children as our main collective resource, for, as things are now, the little ones are our only hope in this hopeless, failing society.

Let’s stop all that hysterical reforming and let’s get down to working on how to build a truly egalitarian, efficient school and university (well, I can dream, can’t I?).


  1. As I see it, the problem here in Spain is that those in power want to have uneducated, easy-to-rule masses. In that way, their own children go to elitist and very expensive private schools, high schools and universities, so that they can become their successors in power (though that doesn’t mean they have the best education possible, many of them are just as stupid as their parents, but that’s also because of their mindset and reactionary ideas, I think). They can’t seem to see that a country full of unhappy people who see their future and their children’s threatened is not an easy one to handle, but more of a bomb which will explode sooner or later (seeing what I’ve heard people in serious need say, it’ll be later). They’re not even smart enough to see that they need to have the masses minimally contented to be able to continue with their elitist system. Or maybe they’re just too greedy.

    Maybe that’s the reason why, in the last years, it’s become “fashionable” or “cool” to fail as many subjects in high school as possible (that was the case in my time), or maybe it’s just a classical case of “rebel teenagers” and I’m being too much of a die-hard.

    By the way, have you read what Ana Rosa Quintana wrote on Twitter regarding Évole’s programme? She said something like “Yes, Finnish education is the best, but you can’t have a few beers and tapas outside because it’s too cold”. Ok, perfect, then I’ll go to Finland to work and study, and I’ll just come back to Spain to spend the holidays here. With people like that, Spain will always be a “holiday country”.

  2. Helena,
    Yes, Pierre Bourdieu already said something in the sense that many working-class students resist studying and so fail and even drop out because they rebel against a system that is tricking them in the very way you explain. I’ve seen the hullaballoo caused by Quintana… A Dept colleague wih small children who is now in the process of withdrawing them from their deficient public school tells me that Évole’s programme was too shallow – surely, she says, there must be class differences in Finnish schools and also, she tells me, Spanish schools with a homogenenous social background are like wise failing. It’s funny that Évole never mentioned the words ‘Catholic Church’ in relation to education in Spain…

  3. I still can’t see how they can have a dropout rate of 1% – unless the system and the people in it manage to be attentive both to the students’ needs, to their abilities and also to their limitations (i.e. the bit about only the best students qualifying for reachers – there is no dropout there if there’s no incoming of incompetent students. How that is to be done, I don’t know, but one thing is certain, in Spain the complaints about “fracaso escolar” and the complaints about students graduating with insufficient knowledge or abilities (but graduating nonetheless) do not seem to meet at any coherent mid point. It seems that lots of people are trying to graduate, with many of them succeeding, in careers that are too specialised for them and which lead to no jobs.

  4. Well, there are many things I don’t understand myself about the Finnish system. About the Spanish system, it seems to work as you say paradoxically in two failed directions: too many dropouts, and too many university graduates for the few job opportunities our economy offers. Perhaps the Finns are more realistic and they aim at producing more average students, I don’t know, whereas here we have no idea what to do with the weaker ones and are, in addition, too lenient with university admissions. Not to mention the low prestige that professional training still has.
    We need at any rate to put on our thinking caps and do something, urgently. Not another reform…

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