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Spain - History & Background

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSpain - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education

HISTORY & BACKGROUND

Spain, also known as the Kingdom of Spain, is made up of 504,782 square kilometers and is located on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It borders Portugal on the west and France on the north. In terms of geography, it borders the Bay of Biscay and the North Atlantic, the Pyrenees Mountains, the southwest of France, and the Mediterranean Sea. Spain is made up of a high central plateau, which is broken up by many mountains and rivers. In addition to the landmass of the peninsula, Spain also includes the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca, Cabrera, Ibiza, and Fomentra), the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Palma, Gomera, Hierro, Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote) and five territories of sovereignty on and off the coast of Morocco: Ceuta, Melilla, the Chafarinas Islands, the Peñón of Alhucemas, and the Peñón of Vélez de Gomora. The population of Spain is estimated to be 39,996,671 people, with a 0.11 percent population growth. There are three major cities: Madrid (4 million people), Barcelona (2 million), and Valencia (754,000).

In terms of religion, Spain is known to be 66.7 percent Roman Catholic, 1.2 percent Muslim, 0.8 percent Protestant, and 31.3 percent other. There are four recognized languages: Castilian Spanish, the official language spoken by 74 percent of the population; Catalan, spoken by 17 percent; Galician, spoken by 7 percent; and Basque, spoken by 2 percent. The Spanish population has a literacy rate of 97 percent. About one percent of men and two percent of women are illiterate.

During the Franco Period, there was no discussion of cultural or ethnic diversity. Spain believed that Castilian was the only permissible language. In any discussions of Basque, Catalan, or Galician peoples, the lines between ethnicity and nationalism became fused. From the perspective of the National government, Basques, Catalans and Galicians were nationalities within a larger and inclusive Spanish state or nation. However, for many Basque and Catalan nationalists, there is no Spanish nation but only a country made up of ethnic nations or autonomous communities. To further complicate this issue, one must also consider the role of immigration of peoples to these areas, especially the Basque Country and Cataluña to find work. These non-ethnic groups are faced with learning and using the languages of these areas.

In addition to Basques, Catalans, and Galicians, there is another important minority group, Spanish Gypsies. Gypsies refer to themselves as Rom and to their language as Romany. Gypsies in Spain are usually divided into two groups: Gitanos (Gypsies) and Hungaros (Hungarians). Historically, Gitanos live in the southwest and central regions of Spain. Traditionally, many have worked as street vendors and entertainers. Hungaros are said to be Kalderash; they are generally poorer and more nomadic than the Gitanos. The exact population of Gypsies in Spain is unknown. Estimates range from 300,000 to 450,000. The traditional nomadic and segregated lifestyles of the Gypsies have dictated inequitable access to welfare services, housing, and education.

Since the nineteenth Century, illiteracy in Spain had been on the decline. It was estimated that during 1860 and 1900, it was between 75 and 63 percent. It had decreased at an important rate to about 15 percent in the 1950s. The highest rate of illiteracy is found in rural areas among women.

Spain is in the progress of evolving its economy and integrating into the European Union. It suffered a recession in the 1990s and saw an upturn in 1994. However, Spain has also suffered from a very high unemployment rate of up to 25 percent. The GNP is 44.5 billion (estimated 1998) and the per capita GDP is $8,300. The most significant economic progress has been in the area of tourism.

With respect to the government, Spain is a parliamentary monarchy ruled by the Chief of State, the King, and a head of government, the president the Popular Party (PP). The Spanish legislative system is bicameral and made up of General Courts (Cortes) a type of national assembly, which is made up of a Senate whose members are directly elected by popular vote, and 51 others appointed by the Regional Legislatures and the Congress of Deputies, also elected by popular vote. Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities.

The most important political pressure groups in Spain include business and land-owning interests, the Catholic Church, the Basque group, free labor unions, the radical independence group known as Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Anti-Fascist Resistance Group (GRAPO), the Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization, the General Union of Workers (GTU), university students, and the Workers Confederation. Among the most important political parties are the Popular Party (PP), the Convergence and Union Party of Cataluña, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE).

Spain, as part of the Iberian Peninsula, is made up of an interplay between a diverse geography, which fostered a series of separate regional communities and a history of foreign invasions. Spain's geography is made up of a central plain, a series of coasts, and substantial mountain ranges. Iberia, as the political and cultural basis of modern Spain, did not exist in antiquity and only came into being as a series of small kingdoms during the Middle Ages. The indigenous people of Iberia were overrun by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Celts, and most importantly by the Romans. Iberia or Hispania as the Romans called it, became a late Roman colony. Among all the invaders of the Iberian Peninsula, it was the Romans who brought unity through a series of important cultural reforms. From the beginnings of the second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) and for the next 600 years, Iberia became part of the Roman Empire and was under Roman rule. Changes in the Roman substratum of Iberian culture were brought about through the arrival of Christianity and the invasion of the Visgoths, a Germanic people from northern Europe.

The cultural changes, which Spain experienced at this time, were profound, especially in terms of religion. The Visgoths maintained many of the Roman traditions, but only within a Christian context. At the level of language, however, Latin continued as the linguistic substratum. While Latin would eventually evolve into Castilian, Catalan, or Galician, the language of daily life, as well as the language of academic life, continued to be Latin.

Thus, the formal history of education in Spain must begin with the history of Roman education because it established the basis for subsequent educational thought and literature for many centuries. Romans brought their system of education to Spain, and it flourished as in all parts of the Roman Empire. Roman education in Spain took many forms. It usually started with the education of children in the family by parents and relatives or tutors. Fathers frequently educated their sons by using paternal precepts (pracepta paterna). It was often the case that private tutors from distant lands, at times slaves, were also used to educate children. This was especially true in the case of teachers of Greek. Primary and secondary education was in the hands of the pedagogues, preceptors, or magisters. These teachers were in charge of teaching the young the basic notions of language (Latin and Greek), as well as with the basics of literature, rhetoric, and philosophy. There also existed special schools for the specific teaching of grammar and literature. Teachers in these schools were known as grammatistes and students who attained high levels of grammar were known as grammatikos.


Higher education also flourished in Spain from the period of the late Republic onwards. Many famous orators, poets, political figures, philosophers and educators came from Roman Spain. This list might include the older and younger Seneca, Mela, Columella, Martial, and Quintilian. Quintilian was born around A.D. 35 in Calagurris in the northern Roman Spanish province known as Hispania Tarraconensis. He was a famous teacher of Latin and rhetoric. During his early years, he studied in Rome and later returned to Spain to teach rhetoric and work as a lawyer (advocate). He returned to Rome during his later years.

During the fifth century, western and southern Europe experienced large-scale invasions by the Visigoths, Germanic peoples from the north of Europe. These groups were quick to become Christianized, and they took over the control of Roman governmental administration while keeping many aspects of Roman culture.

Education in the Middle Ages became much more formalized in Spain during the Middle Ages with the establishment of monastic schools in the fifth century. It was the primary role of the Church to educate literate clergy for Spanish medieval society. In the Islamic period, Moorish invaders overran Visigothic Spain at the beginnings of the eighth century. At this time Moorish peoples from the North of Africa (mostly Berbers) crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711. Seven years later in 718, most of Iberia was under Islamic control. Of all the invasions that Spain was to experience, this was the most significant. The Moors developed a strong military and technologically advanced society in Iberia, which was known for more than eight centuries for its cultural arts and tolerance of beliefs. At this time, Christian, Muslims, and Jews—the principal populations of Spain—lived in comparative harmony.

During the second half of the ninth century, and in the tenth century, important Islamic academies were founded in Moslem Spain, especially in the city of Cordoba. In these academies, education originated mostly from close studies of the commentaries of the Koran and philology. Muslims, Spanish speaking Ibero-Roman Visigoths, and Hispanic Jews shared in each other's educational traditions. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, Judaism developed its own system of education, which was, for the most part, based on the famous Talmudic Schools of the Near East. Important changes to this system arose during the tenth century. During this time, Jewish schools changed emphasis. Spanish Jews, known as Sephardi, were strongly influenced by Islamic educational thought and thus changed their areas of focus to include philosophical, scientific, and linguistic subjects. Jews made important contributions to Spanish culture during the Middle Ages, but these contributions must be considered within the context of Islamic Spain, especially during the years 711-1100. Important Jewish communities existed in the cities of Seville, Toledo, Burgos, Valeria, and Saragossa, as well as in other cities like Cordoba and Segovia.

Jews continued to make significant contributions to Spanish culture and education throughout the late Middle Ages, especially in the areas of medicine, philosophy, and literature. Jewish education in Spain was closely tied to Jewish temples, as well as to Arabic and Christian centers of learning. Unlike today, scholars from Jewish temples, Islamic mosques, and Christian cathedrals were in constant conversation. Centers of higher learning existed throughout independent Spain and these centers were especially well known for the teaching of medicine. In Spain, medieval education was intimately connected with religion in all the three major religious faiths—Christian, Moslem, and Jewish. The system that was based on the classical traditions of the Roman Period eventually went into decline. However, the Christian system of education continued to be based on the study of the seven liberal arts (the Trivium and Quadrivium).

During the fifteenth century, Renaissance humanism spread from Italy to Spain. As in other European countries, Renaissance education in the humanities was a court phenomenon. The Spanish court of Alfonso V, in Naples, provided a direct flow of Italian educational ideas from Italy to Spain. At the center of this exchange of ideas and information was the Spanish College of San Clemente at the University of Bologna, where many Spanish students studied. During the second half of the sixteenth century, Spanish higher education started to decline; this decline began during the reign of Philip II and the application of the Ley Pragmática of 1559, whereby Castilians were prohibited from studying in foreign universities, with the exception of those in Rome or Naples. The Counter Reformation and the Spanish King's siding with the Council of Trent continued Spain's isolation and curtailed any reforms brought on by Renaissance humanism in educational thought. At the end of the seventeenth century, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a small group of Spanish thinkers began to speak out against Spain's intellectual isolation. This group of scholars, known as the Novatores denounced Spain's backwardness and called for the introduction of modern science and thought into Spain's cultural landscape.

The eighteenth century in Spain was a period of reform and one of the principle instruments of reform was education. In fact, education offered one of the greatest possibilities for bringing about reform in Spanish society. During this time, education in Spain was in a dismal state. Some Spaniards had read about the critiques of education in the writings of Rousseau, as well as in the writing of Spanish intellectuals such as Father Benito Feijoo and Luis Antonio Verney. There was no true educational system in eighteenth-century Spain. Education was governed and controlled for the most part by municipalities, town councils, and by the church through the teaching efforts of religious orders.

The reforms put forth by the liberal Spanish governments of the early nineteenth century were similar to those of the eighteenth century. The educational thought of M. Quintana and Gil de Zárate sought to free Spanish educational institutions from the restrictions of the past. However noteworthy these attempts at reform seem to be, in the end, they failed. Spanish liberals believed that Spain had to provide for the most important services and needs of the population. Clearly, education was one of paramount importance. According to the Constitution of 1812, education was the basic responsibility of the State. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that there were any real efforts for constructing a true system of education for Spain. This systematic provision of education was not at all successful. Throughout the nineteenth century, from 1821 to 1857, a great deal of educational legislation was put forth to better Spain's educational system. Basic educational reform had to be restructured into new governmental offices.

The later half of the nineteenth century was a period of political conflict between those who sought to establish a democratic constitution and conservatives who wished to continue and restore the power of the Crown. The Revolution of 1868 and the subsequent establishment of the First Republic (1873) highlighted the importance of academic freedom and the separation of Church and State in the matters of education. With the coming of the Restoration (1874), King Alfonso XII returned to the throne and conservatives sought to re-establish church control in education. Throughout the nineteenth century, liberals and conservatives engaged in bitter battles over educational issues. One of the most important conflicts arose in 1875, when the government proclaimed the Decree of 1875. This decree directed university presidents (Rectores) to oversee that "nothing contrary to Catholic dogma or morality" would be taught in their universities. The decree set off a controversy and protests from many university professors. Opponents saw the decree as a violation of their academic freedom. Many professors were dismissed or removed from their chairs.

The Revolution of 1868, and the establishment of the First Republic in 1873, was a period of political tensions. Special attention was given to the importance of academic freedom but the vast majority of educational reforms were not successful. In 1874, after a brief period of Republican efforts, the Monarchy was restored, and education fell into a constant battle between liberals and conservatives. The political instability of this period can also be seen in the many attempts at reforms in the areas of secondary and higher education. The period of the Restoration ended with the military uprising of General Primo de Rivera in 1923 and his attacks on academic freedom in Spanish higher education. During this period, many Spanish intellectuals and university professors were exiled or silenced, among them, the noted poet-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.

With the coming of the Second Republic in 1931, a new Constitution brought new important educational reforms, including the call for free compulsory Primary Education, academic freedom and non-religious instruction. All these changes came to an end with the failure of the Republic and the success of the Nationalist forces of General Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. During subsequent years, education in Spain was converted into the transmission of Franco's views of Spanish Nationalism and Catholic ideology. There were important reforms in the 1950s with some changes to elementary and secondary education and the establishment of preuniversity course of study.

Important changes in economics and demography came to the forefront in the 1960s. This was a period of significant economic and demographic growth, as well as an intense time of industrialization. However, the authoritarian Franco government did not provide for democratic reforms; thus, this period is also characterized as a time of internal conflict, especially in Spanish Universities. Five years before the death of Franco, the Spanish government carried out its most significant educational reform since the Moyano Law of 1857. This reform, known as the General Law on Education (LGE), sought to reorganize the whole of the Spanish educational system. In the end, only limited reforms were enacted and these were quickly out of date due to the increasingly fast social and economic changes that Spanish society was forcing.

One of the most important events, which changed not only contemporary Spanish education but also the whole of Spanish society and culture after the death of Franco, was the Spanish Constitution of 1978. One of the first attempts at reform, which came about after the establishment of the new Constitution, was the Organic Law of 1980 (LOECE) which, while short lived, laid the foundations for the University Reform Law (LRU) of 1983. This reform established the basis for the Organic Law on the General Organization of the Educational system of 1990 and the subsequent Organic Law on Participation (LOPEG), which characterizes the basic nature and structure of Spanish education at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The Catholic Church has always played a significant role in the history of Spanish education. The relationship of the Church throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had been complex and significant. A series of Concordats with the Vatican have solidified these relationships. The first in 1851, established Catholicism as the official state religion of Spain. However, this Agreement was revoked in 1931 with the coming of the Second Republic and a series of anticlerical government measures. With the success of Franco, after the Spanish Civil War, the power and status of the Church was restored with the approval of the 1952 Concordat. This agreement had important implications for education. According to this agreement, Catholic religious instruction was to be mandatory in all schools, even in public schools. Additionally, the Church was given the right to establish universities. With the coming of democracy, the reduction of state subsidies for education was established. By the end of 1987, however, issues surrounding government subsidies for Church education had not been resolved. At the end of the twentieth century, the government continued to subsidize private Church-affiliated schools. In 1987, the Church received $110 million. These subsidies have continued in the creation of educational institutions that are private but receive state funds.

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