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Running the halls

November 11, 2010 – 10:06 am

This post will either be of considerable relevance (and hopefully interest, too) – if you have children at school in Andalucia; or of none whatsoever – if you don’t. If your kids are being educated in another country, for example the UK, it will hopefully be of some interest. I’d love to hear from any UK parents of schoolkids as to how things there differ from here in Spain.

I don’t know that much about the subject, as I only have one child of school age (the younger one attends nursery), and he’s only in his second year now. The Spanish school system works as follows: 0-3 is nursery; then they go to school: 3-6 is Infantil, where my son is, and 6-12 is Primaria. In England I think they start at about 4 or 4.5 years old.

The school my son attends is a state school, so that’s all I’m really qualified to talk about so far. I’m not going to write about the practicalities or admin - of schools in Andalucia – there’s lots of great information about those on the website - but more about my impressions so far.

The kids in Infantil have the same teacher for all three years when possible, so from age 3-6. My son’s señorita is a rather stern, dry lady who asked me soon after he started if I speak English to him at home. Er no, Serbo-Croat, actually. She thought that, as his Spanish wasn’t as good as the other kids’, I should speak to him in a language which isn’t my native one, and which I don’t have a good command of (vocabulary, grammar, accent, everything). Do I want my son speaking Spanish like me? No thanks. After taking advice from lots of other English mums living abroad, I decided to stick with only speaking English to him at home. Apart from a few wobbles after periods spend abroad hearing and speaking less Spanish, he’s doing fine.

They start them young here. After just a month of school, when he’d only just turned three, we were invited to the school to have an introductory talk in the classroom about what they should be able to do on their own (go to the loo, wash their hands, take off their coats etc), accompanied by lots of stern looks. The seño showed us some pictures they’d drawn – they were supposed to be of the human body (with all its anatomy); my son’s was a big blob, with a little blob inside it, while the girls’ all had eyes, noses, mouths, hair, even some ladies’ and men’s bits.

Apparently that’s normal between the sexes, that girls progress faster, but at the time I was horrified. My son was clearly behind not only on speaking and understanding the language of the classroom, but incapable of doing a proper drawing. I was relieved to see other boys had done similarly abstract representations. Now he’s doing detailed houses complete with all his family, vehicles and imaginary pets. By the first Christmas holidays, most of them could write their names, and as my son couldn’t, that was my task for the holidays. We made it, but I did wonder how important it was for a three-year-old to write a word with 8 characters.

When the children get to Primaria, some schools have a bilingual programme (he already has an English class once a week, and even at the nursery there is some English taught too). This programme has been the subject of much debate; some school are completely bilingual; at my son’s, there’s a sorteo: 25% of kids get in. The teachers themselves are very rarely bilingual; they are helped by teaching assistants on programmes from the US and UK.

As I always say about life here, I’m learning all the time. That is especially true about school. One of the best ways to educate onself is to hang out with the other Mums – at the park, at the school gates, in the patio. I am picking things up all the time, thanks to my son’s BFF’s mum, who in the latest meeting asked if the kids learn anything about sexual equality – great question, I thought – that’s one thing you can never start them on too early, especially here in machista Spain. The response? A cold look from the seño. To be fair, the kids love her and she has a wonderfully dry sense of humour. She just isn’t too comfortable with anything outside her remit. I’m not sure if I would be either – keeping 25 four-year-olds under control would be beyond me.

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