(One) Spanish school compared to (one) Australian school

A few times, I’ve been asked how school in Spain is different to school in Australia. I’ve thought about this a bit, and decided that I should write a post about some of the key disparities.

BUT (here come the caveats…), at the very start, I want to say that this post is based solely on my own experiences of a public primary school in Australia, and a public primary school in Madrid. This is not exhaustive. It’s a one person, subjective sample. And I certainly appreciate that things are likely to be VERY different in other types of schools and areas. Additionally, I am not making a value judgement- the fact that things are different doesn’t mean that one is “better” than the other.

This being said, hopefully, it provides an insight into some of the differences. And I’d love to learn what others think!

Key differences between the Spanish school I work at and the Australian school I attended:

  1. Uniform.

There’s no uniform in the Spanish school. I’m still not too sure what I think about this. I appreciate that it allows students to express their individuality, but I also think that it can be problematic for those whose economic circumstances are less privileged.


2. “Grading” of classes.

In the Spanish school, all the students are together. There’s no grading (or streaming) of classes, as opposed to the Australian primary school I attended, where the more academically inclined students were grouped together. The reasoning for the lack of grading in Spain is that in the workplace and in life, you will be expected to interact with people with different abilities, and so it’s appropriate at the school to be in a mixed class.

OK, so this is true. But I do wonder about how effective this method is. In the Year 3 class, there are some students who are a few grades behind, and a couple who are way ahead. So there’s students at a Year 1 level with students at a Year 5 level. And I’m not sure how useful this is for anyone.


3. Use of textbooks.

In Spain, all of the classes follow a textbook. And by “follow”, I mean religiously. There is no deviation. No experimentation. Rather, it is a word for word regurgitation of the chosen text. In my opinion, this can make for lazy teachers and lazy teaching. Some teachers make a real effort to make the lessons interesting and fun, but others don’t. This makes me so, so sad. In the Year 5 class, I see the pupils are SO much more interested when the teacher discusses what she and her boyfriend did on the weekend (in the past tense) than when they learn the grammar rules (third person singular past tense of “went” is….).


4. Level of studies.

In Spain, the impression that I get is that students are exposed to material much earlier than in Australia. For instance, in the Year 2 classes, the kids are currently learning about the troposphere and the layers of the earth. This seems to me to be WAY more advanced than at home. I can’t remember learning this stuff until Year 4 or Year 5!


5. Language learning is technical.

OK, so my language learning consisted of two semesters of French (what can I remember? “Open the window”) and two of Japanese (memories- “I am the teacher!!!!”). But in Spain, the kids are learning really technical stuff REALLY early. The Year 4 class are studying modals, and they call them “modals.” I didn’t even know what a modal was until last year, but I could use one just fine…Seriously, is this the best way to learn?!


6. Punishment

I feel a bit uncomfortable writing this, but I think it’s best to be honest. In Australia, the focus is very much on positive reinforcement, and encouraging students to do better. In Spain, it is on punishing students who have done badly. So, if a student hasn’t done their homework, they are told off in front of the class, and they are deprived of their playground time. OK, homework is important. I understand. But to me, such punishment seems excessive. It’s better to see WHY Juan hasn’t done his homework for the past week, and try and solve this problem, rather than punishing and humiliating him. This is something I find REALLY hard to cope with. When the students are embarrassed in front of the class, and made to look foolish, I want to go and give them a hug, but I’m not allowed. This breaks my heart, because there’s often MUCH more to it than lazy students.


If someone has tried, but simply CAN’T do the task, I can’t punish them because it’s cruel and unfair. OK, I might be a pushover. But I can’t do it. And I won’t.

So, these are some of the differences between Spanish and Australian public primary schools. If you have any other ideas or questions, let me know!

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 7

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote a Cultural Wednesdays post, but I simply cannot let this week’s excursion pass without making a comment. Even the people who find Cultural Wednesdays boring (hello, Mum!) should like it. I hope….


For the past couple of weeks, I have been seeing countless ads for an M.C. Escher exhibition in Madrid.


I have always been a big fan of Escher, as I think his work is incredibly clever and interesting. I love the way that he plays with the laws of nature, and the preciseness of his wood cuts and lithographs is absolutely extraordinary, especially given that he didn’t have access to the technology (e.g. computers) that we have today.

Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon, I finally decided to visit the Escher exhibition. And I would DEFINITELY recommend it.

The venue for the exhibit, the Palacio de Gaviria, was absolutely fascinating. It reminded me a lot of the State Theatre in Sydney, with its opulent, old school decoration, and ample use of fake gold. Nothing like a bit of kitsch, I say!


I didn’t know much about Escher’s life, so it was good to find out more. He was born in The Netherlands, and his early school performance was not particularly remarkable. Apparently, he failed a lot of subjects, and decided to become an engineer, after his father suggested it. However, after a year, he realised that he enjoyed graphic design more, and started experimenting with drawing. And, to use an insufferable cliché, the rest is history.


But needless to say, the best part of the exhibition was seeing the original prints. I know it sounds cheesy, but there is something so much different about seeing artworks in real life versus seeing them in books. It was weird to think “Wow, there’s that picture I’ve seen hundreds of times sitting RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME.”

My favourites were these ones:

The image on the left was the best. Escher was unable to finish it because he didn’t know how the space would contort in the centre. So he put his signature there, and pretended it was deliberate. Many years later, some American mathematicians decided to “solve” the puzzle. It took them six months. With the aid of computers.

But probably the most fun part of the exhibition was being able to pretend to be a part of Escher’s work. Here’s some embarrassing photos of me “getting caught up in the action”, so to speak.

So if anyone is looking for an excuse to visit Madrid (hint, hint!), here’s one 🙂