It is common to hear that Spain has 17 educational systems, one for each autonomous community. The comment reflects, in a derogatory way —and in my opinion absolutely wrong—, one of the impacts that the decentralization process has had on education in this country. And if 17 seems like an excessive number, what would we think of 8,112?
The figure of 8,112 corresponds to the number of municipalities in Spain. The recently published map of municipal spending on education places at the center of the educational debate —and just a few months before the municipal elections— what role education should have in municipal management, an area in which, in principle, city councils have no jurisdiction some. The question is: would it make sense for them to have it?
The municipality-education binomial is articulated around four fundamental axes: educational, social, political and democratic.
The educational axis is linked to one of the biggest challenges facing schools today: how to combine the three educational contexts: formal, non-formal and informal. It is common to look at the school every time a social problem arises. Education is needed, it is always said, and eyes automatically turn to school; as if the only ones responsible for the educational processes were the teachers and the only possible space to educate were the schools.
The saying that to educate a child the entire tribe is needed has never been so accurate and in the municipality we find, in its broadest sense, that tribe that we need: public services, associations, social organizations, neighborhood movements, spaces and people from the cultural, artistic, or sports field, police, health… A complete and diverse tribe at the service of a global educational process. The challenge is to improve the synergies between what happens inside the school and outside it, to ensure that the latter contributes to the curricular development that takes place in formal school spaces.
Equity is the principle on which the second axis, the social one, is built. The municipality, understood as a scenario close and immediate to the citizenry, is the preferred space to deploy measures that guarantee greater equality of opportunities, especially in the most vulnerable children: transportation and school canteen, complementary educational offer or educational reinforcement actions are some of the actions that, offered by the city councils, as a local public administration, can guarantee their service to the most vulnerable groups, those who do not have access to that educational reality that occurs outside the classroom.
The political dimension, third axis, is linked to what has been called the second decentralization and involves providing educational powers to town halls. But since a public administration lives not only on competencies, the decentralization process necessarily implies two conditions: resources —financing, professional profiles, material resources, etc.— and participation, that is, being part of decision-making.
Understanding that the town halls must be present in the educational processes does not only imply integrating the town halls as responsible for the creation and maintenance of the centers, or the offer and management of educational services, it also implies directly participating in decision-making (planning education, schooling commissions, teacher training, etc.).
And if we understand that the role of the municipality transcends that of a mere provider of resources, services and programs, we must assume that the relationship between the municipality and the school must be bilateral —fourth axis—. It should not be considered exclusively in terms of what the municipality contributes to education, it is also necessary to think about how education and the school contribute to the construction of the municipality.
The integration of schools in municipal life not only brings educational effects on students, but also on citizens: the school is the small laboratory of the municipality and the municipality, the great stage of the school. It means integrating education, its perspective, its aims, its objectives and its principles in the different areas of citizen life: inclusion, participation, cooperation, diversity, sustainability, gender equality… These are educational values that are become citizen values. If the municipality is the unit of coexistence and social cohesion, education makes it possible to build a shared space that strengthens both pillars.
The link between the municipality and education is explained through investment figures: construction of educational centers, school services, educational offer. But above all it is defined in the way in which each municipality treats education in its role as a key tool for the development of the territory and the construction of a space for social transformation. I invite the people who are called to elect their mayors next May to also think about this when deciding their vote.
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