Education as a crucial starting point
According to an official report by the Spanish Ministry of Education, the educational gap between students from immigrant families and those from native ones is gradually higher while we go up through the Education system. Most of the so-called “New Spaniards” joint the system at the Secondary level and hardly reach the Post-secondary level, which is not compulsory and is the previous step that gives access to Higher Education, that is to say, University level. Therefore, the proportion of students of African descents (both African and Latin American) decreases deeply in Post-Obligatory levels (students over sixteen years old) and, when it’s quite easy to find Primary and Secondary schools with more than 15% of students of foreign parents, you would hardly find a 10% at University level. I will tell you my personal experience. Some news about this. Over 50% does not reach High-school. And over 80% gives up after that.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of students from immigrant backgrounds raised incredibly, as a result of the Spanish Economic Bubble in the Tourism and Construction sections. More immigrants came and so did their children, which were obliged to attend school if they were aged less than 16. So, in my Primary school we were 6 foreign students, 2 from Africa and 4 from Latin American, among which 4 of us were blacks. This is in the late 90’s. In 2004, before I graduate from Secondary school, there were more than 20% of foreign students and only few of us succeed to access the next level, the Spanish Bachillerato, and kind of Highschool or Baccalaureate. After that, we could decide either to stay at home, looking for a job in the Construction boom, either to continue with Vocation training or with Highschool. Among the6 who were in my primary school, 3 of us chose the Bachillerato. One girl gave up years before; other two got stuck through the previous courses. Among the 3 guys, we were old friends from childhood well-known by everybody.
Years later, my friend from Colombia succeed to finish his Highschool after abandoning and retaking it twice and finally got into the National Army; the brilliant Dominican black guy stopped studying in the last course of Bachillerato because of a familiar problem, that made him go from getting outstanding grades in a Science branch to failing almost everything and, he finally gave up to receive medical and psychology assistance, her sister told me. I felt so sad for him, he’s just so smart!
The only one that passed to University and graduated was me, among 6 foreign children that met up in Primary school. In the midway, something terrible should have happened. This said, I would say than over than ¾ of my Spanish fellow students did pass through the Education System and are currently recently graduated professionals. I’ve got friends that are about to start their professional internship as doctors, some who are working as lawyers, some who are architects or engineers, some teachers and others journalists and translators as I am. Because of the Spanish bankruptcy and the crash of the economic bubble, most of us do not work or are employed in jobs for which we are over-qualified.
But, returning to our topic, the fact is that something happened when after decades of massive immigrant students in the classrooms, I was the only black students in the Faculty of Communication the first 2 years, and we were only 4 out of 70 students of immigrant background students. When I finished, there were 2 or 3 more in the whole Faculty of Social Sciences and Communications. What happened? How is it possible that among more than a hundred of new immigrant students I met during my secondary and Baccalaureate education, only 2 of us reached university? Well, I got some ideas…
1) When our parents arrived, they were logically more aware of finding a job and reaching an economic stability than anything else. Like in my case, there was no time to help their children study. My mum was actually one of the few exceptions. I couldn’t have passed without her support, even if she hardly read Spanish, she was very helpful.
2) When our parents arrived, they were informed about the Spanish Education system, in which there private, public and mixed funded schools. As a result, more than 90 % of us went directly to state funded schools and only some of the students who parents had higher education and higher economic incomes could study in the mixed and privately funded schools. To be eligible to a school here, the first criterion is the proximity to the centre, and then other values. Most immigrants families tend to live next to another, especially in poorer neighbourhoods, because they found more solidarity amongst her fellow-citizens, renting a house is much cheaper, but also because access to richer areas were and still are hard due to racism and classism from some Spaniards. As a result, their children tend to go to the same schools, in which children of foreign parents are more and more numerous.
3) Many of our parents did not have previous higher education, so they could hardly help us with homework. And so they released our success in the hands of teachers and ourselves. No private tutors were possible in most of the case, as we were poor.
4) The Education curriculum itself is not bad, but was designed to produce perfect Spanish citizens, from a narrow perspective in which most of us could not find many cultural or historical mentions that included us. I love Spanish Languages and Literature, but would have loved to read books from a broader range of writers from more countries; the same applies for History and Philosophy, with hardly mentioned developing or poor countries. When they talked about Spanish Invasion of Latin American territories, I never read about the other point of view apart from the Spanish imperialistic one… I remember when my History teacher talked about slavery: it was less than 15 minutes and she said, while staring at me: ‘Such was the History, son’. Her words and look showed pity and non-comfortableness. Truth is that, Cultural education is not designed to a global classroom as we have nowadays in this country. I had to wait till high school to be able to learn a bit of Contemporary History, which talked a bit more about the World War I, Imperialism and World history. It’s undeniable that every single country chose which version of History to teach to their citizen, in order to indoctrinate them more easily. But, world is changing, and national classrooms are becoming more and more global classrooms, and it’s important to consider such a change if we want our global students to success.
5) There is a certain xenophobia and obscure circumstances that push students no to feel comfortable in the Education system, that boosted some of my fellow students to hate school, its teachers and the system. They tend to join together among other guys similar to them, to scape form system in which they felt they didn’t fit. And I think that it’s not only due to the under-presentation in the Academic curricula, but also because there are not many social references for us to look up; and especially because there is message from the media and security apparatus that tends to depict foreign people and young immigrants as criminals, even when they are only teenagers. This is terrible, and it only gets better when you walk with and dress often like white Spanish people.
6) Most of us felt lost in terms of identity, without a clear knowledge of our ancestors history, no heroes and legendary books to warm our your hearts and nourish our self-esteem, growing in a society in which we were a clear minority and have to positive role models apart of those we see on the American TV and cinema and the media that describe your original country or people of your origins only when related to crimes, drugs and coup d’états.
Unlike some countries with huge amounts of it population coming from other countries, bilingual education is only about to be set up. Most of us could choose French or English as a foreign language, but none of this happened with Arabic or Chinese. Children of immigrants were losing an important part of their original cultures, especially History and native Languages.
This is becoming to change, but we need to raise awareness among parents to study the Education system in order to avoid Ghetto schools, to make sure that their children do not spend most of their time on the road no doing anything and finally, to manage support to help us succeed academically. I know it won’t be easy, but this situation cannot go further, we need black professionals in this country, in every single field, and for this, we need to show that bigotry has no ground and we are actually qualified young people. Nobody will do this for us. Spanish Education system does not discriminate on the basis of origin or race. When a student of poor family succeeds he normally gets a grant to allow him to undertake Higher education, we must use this opportunity in an appropriate manner.
PS: Sorry for my English, I hope there aren’t many mistakes. I translate from French and English into Spanish, but normally not the other way back. Sorry for the long ‘rant’.