José Antonio Marina
“The teaching profession should be an elite career”
Author: Nuria del Olmo Photos: Alberto Carrasco
This philosophy professor, an expert in the study of intelligence, is convinced that we could have a great educational model within five years. This is his major challenge at the moment, for which he has just presented a draft White Paper on Teachers. This study was commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Education to transform the education system and combat academic failure. Fundación MAPFRE has joined this latter fight and will be investing close to four million euros in 2016 in order to run educational programs targeting teachers, pupils and families in over 20 countries.
His ideas about changing the education system are generating lots of reaction. He defends the notion that schools must develop, that teachers must be trained, evaluated and rewarded, and that we must do away with half of the existing subjects and replace them with others, more closely related to reality. He also believes that it is necessary to reach an educational pact within one year so as to agree on and draft an education law that would remain unchanged for some 30 years. In his view, this is what the countries with the best results in this field do.
What challenges does the White Paper for Teachers address?
The first, to define the teaching profession as an elite profession that calls for great scientific, technical and practical rigor, especially with regard to the challenges facing schools in this new century, which are enormous. Moreover, we must make it an attractive, prestigious profession that allows teachers to have a rewarding, stimulating career.
You underscore the need to change how teachers are chosen, trained and remunerated. Why is that? What exactly is not working?
That it is not taken seriously enough. Schools have to be transformed from within. It is no longer acceptable for teachers to be isolated in a bubble with their students. Classrooms have to be open, teachers must collaborate with each other, because it is the center as a whole which educates, whether in the corridors, outdoors in the recess or in the cafeteria. The educational center as a whole must have a genuine passion for teaching. We are already witnessing this mobilization. I’m happy with the results and I believe great progress will be made on this front.
How can teachers be motivated?
Helping them to progress, to gain promotion, from teacher to head of studies, from head of studies to mentor for new teachers, and from there to principal of a school, member of a state educational council, university professor or educational inspector for a public authority. Should teachers choose to remain in the classroom, we must prove capable of rewarding the best, not just with the best salaries – although this too – but with study scholarships and the possibility of enjoying a sabbatical year to train elsewhere. This is the model adopted in other European countries such as Finland, where academic results are really good.
According to the latest figures, four of every 10 Spanish teachers have nobody to guide them on how they should give a class, while eight of every 10 claim that another teacher has never entered their classroom to see what could be improved.
These are data from the OECD’s Talis 2013 report, which I corroborated. It’s true, 40 percent revealed that nobody had ever told them whether they were giving good or bad classes, i.e. evaluation does not exist in Spain. I believe the teachers are not to blame. We have good professionals, but they are all self-taught. No one has ever worried about them doing their job better. For the system to work, there must be well-established procedures in place for choosing, training and evaluating our teachers.
“Road safety and financial education are subjects of the utmost importance that should be offered in a transversal fashion”
How do you think teachers have taken the fact of being assessed and that this could affect their remuneration?
To start with, really badly. Periods of transition generate nervousness, mistrust and hostile stances. The White Paper for Teachers will make it clear how to do this effectively. It raises the possibility of appropriately assessing their career, their training and how they give classes, aspects that are required in Europe and that we are going to ensure are likewise compulsory in Spain. We want to observe teachers in the classroom, rely on the opinion of other teachers and their pupils, something that is essential. We are also proposing that there should be a dossier reflecting the educational progress of pupils, not simply referring to their grades, but also to how they have progressed throughout their academic years. If we don’t correct things, we cannot make progress.
You are a staunch defender of how we need to be constantly learning and how essential it is to arouse a passion for learning. How can this be accomplished?
I believe learning is the ability our intelligence has of adapting to the surroundings and making progress in that environment. In this sense, continuous training is most important. I think schools must equip pupils with the skills and stimulus to learn and to continue learning throughout their lives. To the classic skills – linguistic, mathematical, bilingual – I would add critical thinking, which is what makes children capable of arguing their positions or understanding those of others. These are the so-called non-cognitive skills which help us pay greater attention, work hard, postpone reward, remain flexible and manage our emotions. We should also teach them to anticipate the future, set themselves targets and know how to evaluate themselves.
IN A FEW WORDS
SCHOOL: I studied at San Servando (Toledo), a wonderful secular, military-style school, extremely rare at the time. I was a good student but I didn’t have good teachers. Despite this, I remember the principal, who was a true pedagogical genius.
TEACHER: my pupils say that I showed I was interested, that I conveyed passion for what I was explaining. However, philosophy, while so useful for life, has always had a bad reputation.
INNOVATION: I would do away with half of the subjects and replace them with others that put into practice what you learn. I believe that education has to move closer to problem-solving and completing projects.
YOUNGSTERS: you must teach them how to manage failure and have an urge to excel, and convey to them the urgent need for them to be autonomous, to seek their path in life right from university. The USA is a fine example in this respect.
A REFERENCE: Finland is a country where only the finest high-school students can get into teacher training and they only become teachers after passing several tests and one year of supervised practice.
How do you think we can combat academic failure?
The latest figures suggest that, in Spain, academic failure is very close to 20 percent, which is ridiculous. My proposal is that, within five years, we could reduce this to 10 percent. For this to happen, the problem must be tackled from the school, the family and the community. At the Parents University I run, we developed an approach years ago which consisted in mobilizing a small Spanish town to seek the educational success of its youngsters. This is an initiative in which the whole population, regardless of their age or economic and social position, worked for this cause. It included solidarity actions such as people offering to collect the children of parents who, because of their work, could not do the school run when classes end. They took the other children home with them so that they could do their assignments and encouraged reading after class. The idea was to create a social network around the school, in which families – and even the local police – became involved in pursuit of the same goal.
What do you think young people are lacking to succeed in the job market? What would you recommend?
I feel the education they receive is very theoretical, very little to do with life. They are not taught how to deal with frustration, nor is there any promotion of tenacity, that hard work is required if you want to get ahead. I don’t blame the youngsters; while they appear to be the ones at fault, they are actually the victims. I believe we are making a big mistake with them. We are demanding little of them, and in the wrong way, at school and, when we let them leave, they are not sufficiently protected. We should restore a kind of social pact in which, after their time at school, our youngsters have a much greater chance of finding a job and they do not end up as they do now, feeling cheated and disappointed.
Fundación MAPFRE promotes road safety education, as well as financial and insurance education in the classroom. How do you think this could be successfully introduced?
I feel these are subjects of the utmost importance and they should be offered in a transversal fashion within civic education, engaging teachers and the families at all times. I would include financial and insurance education within economic education programs lasting no more than a week, for all pupils, where they can learn basic economic concepts. Although it may not seem so, it would be difficult for this kind of course to be accepted on a mandatory basis, given that the school curriculum is so extensive already.
José Antonio Marina (Toledo, 1939), studied Philosophy at the Complutense University of Madrid and was named doctor honoris causa by the Polytechnic University of Valencia. His research work has focused on the study of human intelligence, particularly on the artistic creativity, scientific, technological and economic intelligence mechanisms. He is the author of some 50 essays, as well as the textbook for the Education for Citizenship high-school subject. One of his most recent educational propositions was to promote and direct the Parents University, a pedagogical project designed to collaborate with families throughout their children’s educational process. He has received numerous recognitions such as the Gold Medal of Castile-La Mancha (2007) and the National Essay Prize (1993).