The Business Year

Isabel Celaá

SPAIN - Health & Education

15 Months of Reform

Minister of Education, Spain

Bio

Born in Bilbao, Isabel Celaá is licensed in law and holds a degree in philosophy with a specialisation in English philology. She has held various positions in the Basque regional government and has been a politician in the parliament since 1998. Celaá became the Spanish Minister of Education and Professional Training on the 6th of June 2018.

TBY talks to Isabel Celaá, Minister of Education, on economic recovery, the digital revolution, and reforming the national curriculum.

2018 has been a politically complicated year. How would you evaluate these last few months, and what would you highlight as the main achievements of this ministry?

Indeed, it has taken 15 months of intense work to rebuild democratic institutions after the previous government’s serious cases of corruption and to place equity at the center of public policies after a crisis and cuts that deepened social differences. The recovery of economic activity cannot only remain in the macroeconomic figures; it must reach the lives of families, with decent employment, social services, and quality education that allow them to have true equality of opportunities. The current government does things differently. We have prioritized dialog as a way to resolve conflicts and encourage respect for democratic institutions. Furthermore, we have been present in international forums and have engaged with the countries that we have important ties to. In terms of education, we came from a hard position of cuts, ineffective and unfair educational models, and significant neglect. Public spending on education fell from 4.4% of GDP in 2011 to 3.89% in 2018, while the number of students increased. For this reason, as soon as we arrived in government, we passed a law that repealed the main cuts of the conservative government, which had increased the ratio of students per classroom by 20% and raised the minimum number of teaching hours for teachers. The second major step was the government’s approval of the draft Educational Law to repeal the law imposed by the PP and contained harmful measures and was questioned by the international educational consensus, such as segregating itineraries. The new law modernizes the system with the development of five strategic axes: children’s rights, personalization of education, gender equity, education for sustainability, and education in the digital era. The early call for elections did not allow us to process the bill in Parliament, something we hope to do in the near future. We aim to make vocational training the crown jewel of the Spanish education system. The first step we took to this end was to develop a strategic plan for vocational training, which I presented, alongside the President, to business and union organizations. The production sector is experiencing a true digital revolution, and we cannot have an obsolete system of approval of titles with which to meet the new demands of the labor market. We are approving new titles and specialization courses and incorporating modules to apply in each of the productive sectors. The agreements with various business sectors ensure the relevance of the new degrees and allow us to promote innovation and knowledge transfer in VET centers. Finally, we initiated processes of study and participation in two fundamental themes: the reinforcement and improvement of the teaching career and to ensure the full educational integration of those who have special educational needs or family and social conditions that pose additional barriers to learning.

The vast majority of companies highlight the retention of human talent, especially with technological training, as their main challenge. What strategy is the ministry following to address this situation and include technological training in the school curriculum?

The current digital revolution is drastically changing the educational and formative context. This transformation implies a new way of understanding talent, because it is changing the way we build knowledge. The necessary transformations in the educational system will be both organizational and pedagogical and impact all stages and teachings, from early childhood education to high school, vocational training or lifelong learning. To address the talent challenge, we will launch actions aimed at developing the digital competence of teachers, students, and educational centers, defining the training we want for young students and those at other stages of learning. In addition, in a meaningful and universal way, we have to launch actions to boost training in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, crucial areas in this new context that have not always received due attention or attracted as many students as they should. It is especially important to make a commitment to incorporate girls and women to these teachings (STEM), thus combating the gender gap. We will promote a state framework, aligned with the European Digital Competition Framework, capable of ensuring that young people and their teachers acquire the digital competence they need.

What are the objectives and priorities of the ministry for next year?

First, we will promote the passage of the new educational law that allows us to tackle the set of changes demanded by the Spanish education system. We will develop a strategy of digitalization in ambitious education and professional training that will be one of the levers of effective economic and social transformation of the education system and its components. We will create a school of AI in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, which will feature teacher training, the provision of resources and technological solutions, and research in these areas. In a period of one year, we will incorporate a professional module on digitalization applied to the corresponding productive sector to all VET titles. In addition, we will immediately begin to design 80 new FP offers, associated, among others, with smart manufacturing, maintenance digitalization, cybersecurity, AI, and big data, virtual and augmented reality, collaborative robotics, autonomous vehicles, and cloud computing, amongst others. We will increase the number of scholarships in the budget and carry out a reform of the study aid system, through the participation of the interested sectors, in order to make them fairer, more predictable, and appropriate, with greater endowment and simpler procedures to ensure no one is left behind. A fundamental challenge will be to reinforce the teaching profession and the working conditions of staff. Firstly, this will be achieved through initial training, then with the establishment of a system of introduction to the teaching profession through mentoring, and, finally, by promoting the evaluation of teaching performance. One of the key challenges of our country is to continue to reduce the rate of early abandonment in education. In order to achieve this, we will promote the universalization and free education for children under the age of three, which not only contributes to reducing inequality and improving the reconciliation of work and family life, but also constitutes a powerful factor to combat school failure, boosting personal development from the early stages of life. We will address an urgent modernization of the basic school curriculum, so as to ensure comprehensive training and the development of key student competencies. For this purpose, we will create an institute for curriculum development and educational innovation that will be in charge of the permanent updating and modernization of the curriculum. The new curriculum will encourage educational centers from early childhood education to enhance creativity, emotional education, the ability to solve problems, the development of skills for collaborative work, and effective communication skills.

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