The process has already started in the lower grades and will go on to more. In 10 years, the classes of the second cycle of infantile, that are the first courses that usually exist in a public school, will have lost 20% of students.
In two decades, the advance of the demographic wave will have lost almost one in four students (23.4) to compulsory education, according to the forecast of the Center for Demographic Studies (CED) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, based on data from the Statistics National Institute. A reduction that will cause big changes.
The most pessimistic forecasts include the closure of classrooms and educational centers, difficult times for teachers and a resurgence of tension between the public and concerted educational networks that, according to some experts, has already appeared in the recent mobilizations against the Celaá law .
The most positive approaches defend the drop in students as a golden opportunity to, without the need to raise the public budget, increase the quality of education, lowering the ratios of students per classroom (as has already happened in much of the systemdue to the pandemic), strengthening reinforcement programs or introducing two teachers per class. And if that is not enough to absorb the decline in students, they add, the cascade of retirements expected in an aging faculty will mitigate the adjustment.
In the corridors of the Presentation of María school, located in the center of Bilbao, which will close in August after 162 years of activity, the pessimistic view commands. The Hijas de la Cruz congregation, its owner, has decided to leave it due to the drop in enrollment.
“In kindergarten and the first years of primary school there are few children, we have lost a classroom. In higher grades, on the other hand, there are no problems ”, says Rodrigo Abad, science professor. The staff, 33 people including teachers and other personnel, for a total of 200 students, is trying to maintain the activity, “even if it is under public ownership.”
“If we don’t get it? In the Basque Country, the lists of substitutions of public centers constantly demand people. But that is now, because nobody knows what will happen when the pandemic ends ”, adds the professor.
Spain reached in 2008, on the threshold of the great financial crisis, the highest number of births, 519,779, since 1981. “Below we have increasingly fewer generations. And births will continue to decrease in the coming years because there are fewer and fewer people of childbearing age, and people of childbearing age have fewer and fewer children, ”says Albert Esteve, director of the CED.
“We hope that when people born between 2000 and 2008 reach parenting age, there may be a modest increase, but the trend is for them to decrease. And even more when we see in figures the destruction that the covid is causing in fertility. In reality it is a global trend, which only sub-Saharan Africa escapes at the moment ”.
The foreseeable rebound in immigration once the pandemic ends and the economy reactivates will not change the background current, Esteve believes, because in recent years births have already continued to decrease “despite the positive influence that immigration has had.” Women of foreign nationality residing in Spain have an average of 1.59 children, and native women 1.17.
“The demographic decline is the elephant in the room of the public-private war that we are seeing in the context of the new law,” says educational policy expert Lucas Gortázar. “Public schools are already going to take part of this decline in rural areas, where there are hardly any subsidized centers, but in medium-sized cities and even some neighborhoods in large cities, both networks are going to lose out. Somehow, inevitably we have to close classrooms, centers and reduce jobs. And that means making very complicated decisions ”, he adds.
The Ministry of Education does not expect that, in global terms, there will be a marked decrease in the number of students, because outside the compulsory offer stages (from three to 16 years old), Spain has room for growth: increase enrollment in the first cycle of pre-school (from 0 to 2 years old), and reducing early school leaving (young people from 18 to 24 who have at most an ESO degree) by expanding enrollment in post-compulsory secondary school are two of the government’s big bets, he points out. the Secretary of State for Education, Alejandro Tiana.
Nor does Miguel Soler, number two of the Valencian Ministry of Education, believe that it is necessary to dramatize: “If the student body falls by 20%, reducing the ratio from 25 to 20, it would be solved. And, in addition, part of the decline can be offset with retirements ”.
Those responsible for concerted education show more concern. “The solution in Euskadi is not to increase enrollment in High School and FP, because we do not have dropout rates of 20% as in other places. That there is going to be a resituation of the educational system is imperative.
What is needed is a plan so as not to lose the assets, the professionals who have been trained ”, says Mikel Ormazábal, director of Kristau Eskola, the entity that brings together the majority of Basque religious schools.
The new educational law gives freedom to the autonomous communities to decide the programming of the offer of educational places.
That is, to decide whether to create or (if there are no students) to suppress places in the public or concerted network. Vicenta Rodríguez, general secretary of Catholic Schools in the Valencian Community, trusts despite this that the Administration shows sensitivity: “We have to ensure that the social demand is respected. If we are subject to pure and hard planning, a lot of confrontation will be generated ”.
Those responsible for the concerted agree with the Secretary General for Education of CC OO, Francisco García, that the best response to the decrease in students would be to take advantage of the improvement of the quality of the system: “What you have to do is lower ratios They are very inflated since [the then Minister José Ignacio] Wert increased it in 2012, and the reinforcement programs increased. The demographic evolution is a huge opportunity, ”says García.
The sociologist Mariano Fernández Enguita recalls that in the eighties there was a prediction of a great fall in university students that was not fulfilled because there was a “disproportionate expansion of demand, independent of the population”.
Something that now does not fit because compulsory education (from the second cycle of infant to ESO, from three to 16 years) is almost universal. Enguita also sees the decline as a great opportunity, but with a different approach: “I think the ratios drops do not solve anything. It is a thousand times better solution to have a class of 40 students with two teachers than two separate classes with 20 ”.