62% of children under three years of age are not in school in Spain | Society

62% of children under three years of age are not in school in Spain | Society

María del Pilar, 40, lives in Crevillente and has a two-year-old daughter whom she has not accepted at the municipal nursery school. In August, she finished her contract and is waiting to be called from another company. "I am outraged, I noticed that my daughter needed new stimuli, to do homework and to interact with other children, I had to pay a private one that is 250 euros per month," she says. She is separated and the cost of the tuition is shared with her ex-partner. "These months we are moving forward thanks to the support of my mother."

Although there is no national registry of how many children are left each year without a place in public nursery schools-managed by communities, municipalities or mixed consortiums-there are many cases such as María del Pilar. Despite this, Spain exceeds the average of the countries of the OECD schooling rate from zero to three years, with 37.9% compared to 33%.

The experts consulted agree that during the last decade, the country has registered an exponential increase in the number of children enrolled from zero to three years, but at different rates between communities and without regulation by the State. The current education law (LOMCE) guarantees the existence of places to cover the demand of three to six years – the second cycle of children – but not for the one from zero to three. It is not an obligatory stage, families decide. The second cycle became universal in 2002 and became free. It did not happen the same with the first one. The result is that 1.2 million children from three to six years of age are enrolled in Spain (97%), compared to 468,652 in the first cycle (37.9%).


Course 2017-2018. First cycle of Early Childhood Education

Source: own elaboration with data from the Ministry of Education and INE.

Different research shows that early schooling not only improves academic performance, but also the state of health in the future or the management of emotions to maintain a stable life and a job in the future. "The impact is especially significant in children from families with fewer resources," says Caterina Calsamiglia, a member of a research group of the University of Chicago led by the Nobel Prize in Economics James Heckman, whose educational theories appear in numerous reports of organizations such as the OECD.

Calsamiglia's work is based on the findings of Heckman, who after following a group of students from disadvantaged families who participated in early childhood education programs in the 60s, observed that 40 years later the differences were remarkable. Children who did not participate in the project were defined as "intelligent people who lack the ability to think about the future, persist in tasks or adapt to their environments". Although Heckman and his team did not detect great academic achievements in the long term, they found that they were more likely to finish high school, get a job at age 27, earn salaries close to 21,500 euros per year and not depend on subsidies from the State. "The stage from zero to three is key to learning to manage emotions, and in adolescence there is a second chance, but it is much more expensive," adds Calsamiglia.

In an attempt to improve enrollment rates at that stage in Spain, the government Y United We Can they agreed last Thursday allocate 330 million euros to the autonomous communities to guarantee the universalization and free education from zero to three, a line that is subject to the approval of the Budgets for 2019. In 2008, the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero launched the Plan Educa 3, which planned to create 300,000 seats from zero to three with a game of 1,087 million euros until 2012. The cuts came and the program was eliminated when only 71,000 had been launched.

"We do not have a defined plan", acknowledges Ana Dorte, general director of Educational Centers and Infrastructures of the Government of Canary Islands, which has the worst school enrollment rate at that stage (16.8%). Dorte criticizes that the Government does not allow them to spend the 600 million euros that they have of surplus. "We want regulation accompanied by financing. I do not know if it's good news about the 330 million, I'll know when you know how much we are entitled to, "he says.

At the other extreme is the Basque Country, which has the best enrollment rate from zero to three, 52.4%. "In 1999, we introduced classrooms for two years in the network of public and charter schools, 100% free for families. Today, 94% of two-year-old children are enrolled in school, "says Eugenio Jiménez, director of Centers and Planning of the Basque Ministry of Education. That initiative is the key to your rate. "We set it in motion to respond to the families' demands, which required it to be able to reconcile," he says. That same model exists in other regions such as Cantabria, Navarra, and Comunidad Valenciana, where this course has been launched.


First cycle of Early Childhood Education. Average percentage of students enrolled in:

Source: own elaboration with data from the Ministry of Education and INE.

In Andalusia, there is a totally different model. The 171 infant schools of the Board, the 544 of municipal ownership and the 1,226 private schools are included under the same network, so that the price is the same: 278 euros per month, with dining room, with discounts depending on the rent. "It does not matter the investment in public or private; the important thing is to offer places, "argues José María Ayerbe, Education Board. "We have not given priority to public centers for a practical reason: we inherit a very extensive network of private centers and we do not intend to exclude them. That influenced when defining this mixed model. " Andalusia has 59% of the 0-3 in private network.

Of the 468,652 students from zero to three years of schooling in Spain, 51% went to public schools and 48.6% to private schools. The difference by communities is, again, striking. In regions such as Extremadura, public education predominates, with 89.7% of children, and in others, Madrid earns private education, with 56% of students enrolled.

"The private and the concerted thus achieve loyalty to families, have their own methods and ideals. The students usually stay in that center for the following educational stages. It must be the public network that grows, it must be free and universal, "says Alonso Gutiérrez, head of education policy studies of the majority union CC OO.

For Margarita León, researcher at the Institute of Government and Public Policies of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the problem is that in contexts of "budget limits" like the current ones, coverage is extended at the expense of quality. "Service management is outsourced or staff with less qualifications are hired," he criticizes. "Education from zero to three should not be considered as an assistance resource to allow families to reconcile, but from the equality of opportunities in childhood. Thus, quality will be a priority issue ".

Laura, who prefers not to give her real name, is 40 years old, is an official and lives in Ciudad Real. The arrival of their third child has deteriorated their family economy. Her husband has had to leave work to take care of the little boy because they did not get a place in any of the municipal nursery schools. "We made accounts and it did not come in. The private costs 350 euros a month and it does not compensate us to work like crazy, go head-first, to spend what we earn, not only to pay for the day-care center, but also for someone to take it, pick it up and be with him part of the afternoon, "he says. In cases like Laura's, private is not an option.

There is no correlation with female employment

"We assume that the higher the female employment rate, the greater the demand for places in nursery schools and, therefore, the response of the communities. We have found that there is no correlation, "explains Margarita León, a researcher at the Institute of Government and Public Policies of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In the coming months, it will publish a report on the matter that is under review.

Give an example. With the data of 2017, in Murcia, with a 43.58% of female employment rate (from 25 years, according to INE data), the enrollment rate is 18.3%. In Galicia, with a similar percentage, 42.82% of female employment, the rate is much higher: 45.9% of children of that age are enrolled in school. "This leads us to believe that one of the main reasons for the development of this educational stage is the political will: they should value that those years will be crucial for the life of that child, especially in the cases of disadvantaged families."


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