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Alejandro Navas García, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Scandinavian-style educational freedom

Mon, 30 Sep 2013 16:01:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The beginning of the school year is a good time to talk about Education. "PISA, the pending subject of the Spanish Education . The assessment of the OECD usually leaves Spain in the worst places on the list". This is how Diario de Navarra headlined a chronicle last September 14, on the occasion of the presentation of the latest study on the academic ability of our students: "The Spanish system is not only bad, but also expensive", reads the discouraging conclusion.

With the same regularity with which Spain is aiming for the leave zone in the rankings, Finland occupies the top positions. It is already a cliché to speak of the "Finnish miracle". Experts and educational authorities from all over the world -Navarra included- make a pilgrimage to Helsinki to try to find out the keys to its success.

Here I will mention just one of the factors responsible for this extraordinary school performance: the freedom with which schools and teachers work. It is true that the Finnish school system is eminently public and there are hardly any private schools. But its management leaves a B autonomy to schools and teachers. To endorse this commitment to freedom, the government abolished the education inspectorate some time ago. What a contrast with our country, where the withdrawal of the teaching to become an inspector is the ideal of so many teachers in the public system! Making merits to be able to avoid the classroom: sad horizon, that of our teachers.

Sweden gives us another great lesson on subject on educational freedom: the school voucher. Each family receives 10,000 euros per child per year and chooses high school, public or private, with total freedom. About twenty percent of students go to private schools. Carl Bildt's government introduced this revolutionary measure twenty years ago, and satisfaction is widespread. This policy has special merit if we consider the background. During more than fifty years of social democratic government, Sweden became the paradigm of the social and welfare state: "the Swedish model ". Statism ended up suffocating any spirit of initiative and fiscal voracity drove valuable companies and professionals out of the country, and not only elite artists and sportsmen. The state bureaucracy grew disproportionately large and became inefficient. The fight against elitism resulted in a campaign against talent and in favor of mediocrity. In the words of the minister of Education (1979): "We want the school system to look like a lawn mowed with absolute regularity. We don't want a few flowers to stand out here and there, the lawn must show perfect uniformity." At the beginning of the 1990s, the Swedish model was exhausted and a change of course was needed. It is to the credit of social democracy that it has unequivocally recognized this: pragmatism displaced ideological sectarianism. After twenty years of freedom, no one -not even the left- longs for the previous socialism.

The school voucher policy has boosted the sector educational. The variety of the offer increases the skill for the best students and, consequently, the whole system gains in quality. Private schools obtain better results in the PISA tests (by the way, when will our governments make public the data by schools? How can this fear of transparency be justified?). Private schools cannot charge a single extra crown to their students, but that does not prevent them from making a profit. The core topic is that they are managed more efficiently than public schools. About two-thirds of these schools are driven by the profit motive, and society sees this as a good thing. This new framework has also influenced the attitude of teachers. Their salaries depend on the assessment to which they are subjected by students and their parents: the sectoral agreement that standardized salaries is over. Teachers now feel more motivated and work with more submission.

"Only the tyranny of the status quo makes people believe that state monopoly is the best way to educate our children," wrote the elder Milton Friedman, the father of the school voucher, in 2004. The Universal Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as our own Constitution, expressly recognize that parents are the primary educators of their children. Statism - on the right and on the left - typical of continental Europe has marginalized parents in this crucial task. While the European left has learned its lesson and is opening up to freedom, the PSOE continues to cling to the spirit of the LOGSE. It is a pity that the PP has not dared with its educational reform to do more than tinker with some details of the LOE. Which Spanish politician group will dare to include the school voucher in its program? Which parents will mobilize to assert their right?