The Education System in Spain
The schools in Spain can be divided into three categories:
- State schools (colegios públicos)
- Privately-run schools funded by the state (colegios concertados)
- Purely private schools (colegios privados)
School TermsThe school year in Spain is divided into three terms or trimesters, with a lengthy summer break of nearly three months. The Winter Term, as the first session is called, spans from September to December; the Spring Term from January to Easter; and the Summer Term from just after Easter to late June. Students receive a two-week break around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and a one-week vacation just before Easter, known as Semana Santa, or Holy Week in Spain. Other National Holidays and Celebrations are also observed.
Education System in SpainThe system of education in Spain is essentially broken down into five levels: preschool, primary school, compulsory secondary education, post-compulsory secondary education, and tertiary education, which can include vocational studies or university education.
Preschool education (Educación Infantil or Preescolar) in Spain is non-compulsory, yet free of charge for three years, for all children ages 3-6. Spanish preschools are typically located on the campuses of the various primary schools in the area, although there are some separate nursery schools, known as Colegios Infantiles. Preschool is seen as a valuable component in the Spanish education system, as it prepares students both socially and academically for the next chapter of their education. As such, the majority of parents in Spain opt to send their children to preschool for most, if not all of the optional three years.
Primary School Education
Primary school education in Spain, known as Educación Primaria or Colegio, marks the beginning of a student’s 10-year compulsory education. Primary school education spans 6 years in duration, and is divided between three two-year cycles as follows:
- First Cycle (for students 6 to 8 years of age)
- Second Cycle (for students 8 to 10 years of age)
- Third Cycle (for students 10 to 12 years of age)
Compulsory Secondary Education
Compulsory secondary education, or Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO), involves four years of schooling, for students between the ages of 12 and 16. Like with primary education, ESO has a set curriculum laid out by the Ministry of Education. However, as students make their way through their ESO schooling they may choose to focus more heavily on academic subjects, with a goal of moving on to post-compulsory schooling and eventually a university education; or they may focus instead on vocational studies, which are offered in a variety of fields.
Students who have completed the requirements of ESO and passed their required exams receive a “Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education” (Titulo de Graduado en Educación Secundaria).
Once students have earned the secondary school completion certificate known as Titulo de Graduado en Educación Secundaria, they essentially have three choices:
- Leave school.
- Continue their education by studying for the Spanish Baccalaureate, or Bachillerato (required for students who plan to pursue university education or higher vocational studies).
- Continue their education through vocational courses—a program known as Ciclo Formativo—often offered at the same school at which they earned their ESO certificate.
Students who hope to one day pursue university or higher vocational studies can, at age 16, enter the two-year Spanish Baccalaureate or Bachillerato program, provided they have first earned a secondary school completion certificate. These studies, which are comparable to the A Levels in the UK and the French Baccalaureate, are divided into two main parts: a core curriculum, or the subjects that all students must take; and a specialist component, with a few pre-selected branches of studies to choose from.
In the core curriculum, students must take:
- Spanish Language and Literature: 2 years
- Co-Official language of Spain (Catalan, Basque, Galician): 2 years
- First foreign language (English, French, German or Italian; usually English): 2 Years
- Philosophy: 2 years
- Physical Education: 1 year only
- Spanish history: 2 year only
- Science to the contemporary world: 1 year only
- Optional subject (2 foreign language, psychology, informational technology): 2 years
- Catholic studies/World religious studies: Optional in the 1 year only
Courses: Sculpture, Artistic Drawing, Technical Drawing, Audiovisual Communication, Art History, Design, Plastic Graphic Expression Techniques, Information and Communication Technologies.
Branch: Nature and Health Sciences
Courses: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences, Mathematics
Branch: Science and Engineering
Courses: Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Technical drawing, History of the Contemporary World.
Branch: Social Sciences
Courses: Applied Mathematics, Economics, Geography, History of the Contemporary World
Courses: Latin, Greek, History of Art and Literature, History of the Contemporary World
Once students complete the Bachillerato program they become eligible to sit for the University Entrance Exam, or Pruebas de Acceso a la Universidad, popularly known as Selectividad, which can differ slightly from region to region. They are also eligible to enter the Superior-level Training Cycles for vocational training (Ciclos Formativos de grado Superior), for which the Spanish Baccalaureate is the principal requirement. After completing this level of vocational training, students can enter the workforce or, if they desire additional training, they can typically receive direct entrance into a number of related University degree programs.
Students who complete the compulsory stage of secondary education (ESO), and wish to pursue vocational education rather than the Spanish Baccalaureate, can remain in school and enter the Middle Grade Vocational Training Cycles, or Ciclos Formativos de Grado Medio. Like the Bachillerato, this stage typically spans 2 years, with the only requirement being the ESO certificate earned through compulsory secondary education. Successful completion of this Mid-grade training can lead to gainful employment in a variety of trades and disciplines.
Higher EducationHigher education in Spain is carried out by the country’s 76 universities, the majority of which are supported through state funding. Twenty-four of these universities are private, of which seven are affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Admission to the Spanish university system is determined by the cut-off grade (nota de corte) that is achieved at the close of the two-year Bachillerato. A number between 1 and 10, called the cut-off grade,” is a combination of the grade achieved from the Bachillerato exams and the average grade obtained from the university selection exam. The most popular courses of study at the public universities demand the highest cut-off grade for admission, while at private universities cost is typically the only determining factor—in other words, the most popular courses cost the most money.
The structure of higher education in Spain is now aligned with the provisions laid out in the Bologna Process—an educational reform act that aims to facilitate student transfer at universities throughout the European Union. Under this new system, university courses now have “ECTS” credits, and students will normally take 60 of these credits each year.
The degree structure at Spanish universities is now as follows:
Bachelor Program: A three-year program (180 credits)
Master’s Degree: A two-year program (120 credits)
Important to know is that after completing the Bachelor degree under this new system students are not awarded a degree; they are instead promoted to the Master’s program for the final two-years of studies. Certain courses of study do, however, allow students who are not interested in earning a Masters-level degree to pursue a 4-year study program that does lead to an undergraduate degree.
Students can also pursue doctorate-level or PhD degrees, as well as more advanced degrees in fields such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc, which typically span an additional 3-7 years depending on the area of study.
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