Every year, thousands of young people in the 4th year of ESO and with them their families, face a great dilemma : choose between the 26 vocational training specialties , between science or literature, thinking about high school and a university career or … get to work . Knowing, in addition, that the OECD indicators show that the unemployment rate and precariousness decrease and the wage level improves as the level of training increases.
“What I do?” It is a question that not only affects adolescents, but also leads many parents to ask things that, perhaps, they had not considered before.
However, far from being just a question about the future of work, the choice is rooted in a social component: prestige. Because the history of education is the history of social inequalities.
The prestige of the study
The classic idea of sjolé (gr.), Which derives from schola (lat.) And school, arises from that Socratic intellectualism that identified knowledge and virtue. It was a class approach, because only those who enjoyed certain comforts could devote their time to knowledge. The sequence accommodated, free time, study, knowledge and virtue created the opposite, poor, working hours, work, uneducated and vice . Education distinguished those who had it and, therefore, it has historically been the main route for social mobility in class societies.
Until the 19th century, education in Spain was in the hands of the Catholic Church and the illiteracy rate was one of the highest in Europe. The Moyano Law (1857) was the first comprehensive educational law and was in force for 113 years. That law offered a stable framework, legislated the compulsory nature of education up to the age of nine and placed the first education in the hands of the municipalities.
There is an international consensus that education is the main weapon to combat social inequalities and injustices. More Spain is different . The Moyano Law brought a radical change in philosophy, but it also showed that education in Spain, far from being the way to modernize the country, would be, above all, a great ideological battlefield.
Suffice it to remember the anger unleashed against the Institución Libre de Enseñanza or the eight educational laws passed in the last 40 years. A dynamic that differs from that of other European countries .
Francoism and the FP
Postwar Spain needed a trained workforce. The Industrial Professional Training Law (1955) specified the purpose of VET: to offer adequate training for qualified workers. The Spain of the 25 years of Peace demanded a change in the educational system. The General Law of Education of Villar Palasí (1970) extended the obligation until the age of 14 and institutionalized a double social curriculum. The school graduate qualified to study high school and access a university whose function was to train the elites. The schooling certificate only gave access to professional training aimed at the job qualification of those who “do not like to study.”
The social imaginary, fueled by the media and the filmography of a developmental Spain that demanded university students ( Los Niños del Preu , 1967 ), saw education as the only honest way to move up the social ladder.
What role does prestige play today
Classism and the long shadow of national-Catholicism still permeate the successive educational laws. The entire ideological apparatus – including the Concordat of the Holy See and its educational concerts – think of education not as the way it is for the socio-economic development of the country and the formation of a critical citizenship, but as the fulcrum where to support ideologically the socioeconomic order.
For this reason, prestige structures an educational system that qualifies professionally and socially stratifies according to the degrees it grants: official or master’s degree, school graduate or school certificate, experts or engineers, technicians or superiors, surveyors or architects, diploma or degrees, Medium or higher FP, etc.
Efforts to achieve university recognition of some professions were framed in this social imaginary. For example, the Sanitary Technical Assistant (ATS) became a University Diploma in Nursing (DUE) in 1977 ; the physical education of the INEF joined the university in 1992 ; the tourism schools in 1996 , and so on .
Prestige and layering
Although none of the above is barely spoken, it is a survival that inhabits social memory. From Max Weber we know that prestige is a fundamental dimension of social stratification. Pierre Bourdieu also showed that social differentiation in complex societies is a combination of economic, social and cultural capitals .
The history of vocational training in Spain shows that the belief that VET is for the less qualified or studious has always been present . Although it is true that much progress has been made to eliminate this stigma, improving prestige is one of the great challenges that VET faces in Spain .
Social appreciation of VET
Among the factors that are contributing to this revaluation of VET I will point out only two.
On the one hand, the statistical data are conclusive and confirm that VET is the best option for early access to the labor market, because it offers more practical teaching and also gives access to university.
On the other hand, the university has seen the prestige that once distinguished its function diminished .
The reasons are many, but I will only mention a few.
- The decrease in academic requirements to access the university has led to the creation of zero courses (ie UC3M , UA , UNED , UGR , etc.) to fill the gaps.
- The scandalous obtaining of academic degrees by renowned politicians , the plagiarism of their academic authorities , or the corruption in the admission systems discredits the university as much as the sale of indulgences to the 16th century papacy.
- The proliferation among private universities of some that, commercially exploited by entities without academic tradition, present a very discreet research level ( U-Ranking Report 2020: 61 ), which they counteract by marketing their supply of social capital (Herrera Cuesta, 2019: 108) .
- The extension of self-learning environments and the emergence of multinationals (ie Google) offering their own degrees weaken the university monopoly of symbolic capital and the strength of academic freedom .
- The high rate of underemployment among some university graduates depreciates the cultural capital granted by the university and reveals, for these graduates , the inconsistencies of meritocracy as a myth .
Although the educational level continues to be a determining factor , some studies detect less confidence in university degrees ( cultural capital ) and point to the great role that social capital plays in accessing the labor market in Spain .
The probability that our children will achieve a better professional life no longer depends on choosing between FP or high school, or between science or letters , because employability depends a lot on the sector . In such a changing society and with such a fluid labor market, no one knows which professions will be the most in demand. The dilemma is therefore false.
The choice must seek a solid training and tend to balance between what you like and what, perhaps, will give work in the medium term. Between thinking about education as an instrument of job training and as a means of personal development. Between feeling reason and thinking about the heart.
Author Bio: Antonio Miguel Nogués is Professor of Social Anthropology at Miguel Hernández University