REGISTERING YOUR CHILD FOR SCHOOL IN SPAIN

When I was cruising through an expat event (“International Day”) organized by Barcelona City Hall and saw representatives of various private schools lining up, I said why not. I don’t have children yet, but choosing a school for one’s children seems like such a big deal that I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get familiar with the subject.

Here are my two cents, based on:

  • My conversations with parents whose children are in different types of schools.
  • My experiences in school fairs and conversations with both local and international educators in Spain.

International Schools

While waiting to vote for the presidential elections in Barcelona’s Turkish Embassy, I got to meet a family who were taking advantage of Spain’s Beckham Law. They were planning to leave the country the moment tax advantages no longer applied. This meant that their 7-year-old son was likely to continue his studies anywhere else in the world. Hence, two things mattered most to this family:

  • The school of their choice followed the IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma Program all the way through.
  • Their son was entirely taught in English, so that if a year later they moved to somewhere else, he could further his studies in yet another American school or a British school that uses the IB.

It’s important to note that there is a large number of international schools out here in Spain which advertise that they are associated with the IB program. But turns out, this doesn’t mean that they actually follow the IB Diploma program all the way through. Indeed, there are international schools which reduce the IB exposure as students continue their studies. In short, if the major reason why an expat parent decides on an international school for her child is the IB, she should look closely into the details of the program and how it applies to a particular school.

A nice thing about international schools is that, unless mentioned otherwise, they are secular. The Turkish family I write about told me that the international school their son was enrolled did not put a Christmas tree or decorations during the holiday season in order not to offend families who didn’t celebrate Christmas. In that regard, we can say that these schools are “religion-free”, which brings us to concertados (semi-private) schools.

Concertados

Did I mention that international schools in Spain tend to be mind blowingly expensive, and might not be an option for families who are not crazy rich? If you are upper class or upper-middle class, you can pay those fees and then go to vacation in Hawaii. However, if you want good quality education, personal care for your children, and pay a reasonable amount of money, then concertados could be the right option for you.

I believe, concertados are similar to charter schools in the US in that they receive subsidies from the Spanish Government but also rely on family contributions. Sounds great until it doesn’t. So where is the trick?

The point is that most of these schools are built for (spreading) religion, and of course, we are talking about Catholicism here. It is one of the pillars of this funded education. So there comes the dilemma: If you are a genuinely forming a Christian family and you’re raising your children based on Christian principles, then great. But if you are agnostic, atheist, or simply belong to another religious group, the question boils down to how comfortable you are feeling about having your child be raised as a Catholic at school while you yourself don’t practice it.

I know two expats who have studied or have been studying in concertados. One of them is a young woman from Armenia who is completing her studies in Barcelona University. She says that she was 13-years-old when her family immigrated to Barcelona, and her family decided to enroll her in a public school nearby. She was traumatized there because, unlike Armenia where in public schools students “worship” teachers as a form of respect, in Catalunya, teenagers didn’t take their teachers seriously and classes weren’t taught in a serious, useful, and efficient manner. Hence, her parents had her enroll in a concertado to secure a good quality education. She had to memorize parts of Bible as homework, and do prayers and other things, but she (and her family) felt that it was a fair price to pay to get an excellent education.

The other expat family I know who registered their son to a concertado did so for the same reasons as my Armenian friend and her family. But the only difference seems to be that despite not being practicing Catholics, this expat family thinks that it is actually nice that their 5-year-old son is learning values like service, thankfulness, endurance, and compassion that are associated with Christian education. While this sounds fine to me, and I have nothing against these values, I would be concerned if my child internalized intelligent design as opposed to evolution, and original sin. I guess I’ll leave you with that.

Public Schools

One morning when I was off from work and grabbing food from Buenas Migas in Barcelona came a young mom from Latin America with her 1-year-old. They sat right by me and we started to have a conversation (and I got to hold that adorable baby girl). Turns out, this mother had an older child and he was registered to a public school. And this baby girl was also planned to enroll in a public school. Mind you, this wasn’t a poor family who had no other choice. Her husband was a surgeon in a university hospital and she was a family physician. For sure, if they wanted to enroll their son to a private school or a concertado, they could certainly afford it.  But this young mother said one thing that stuck with me: “That’s just not us”.

This mother didn’t want her children to live a bubble, and normalize their privilege. I can easily identify with her because, in the future, I want my kids to earn their position, study hard to succeed, and not assume that they deserve the best of everything just because they’re rich. The downside, of course, is that as public schools have increasingly faced cuts from public funds, and they have a hard time investing in their resources, teachers, and facilities. Unless it is an exceptional and well-known public school, it might be worthy to find ways to develop your children’s academic and social abilities outside of school to make sure that they are not left behind.

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