An Exploration of the Spanish Education System

By Henry Zimmerman, @hwzimmerman

What would I be doing right now if I had gone to school in Spain?

I was daydreaming in Spanish class when this question came into my mind. Though I ended up thinking about plenty of other things (like The Shins playing at this year’s 80/35, for example), this was the question that lingered long after the proverbial bell rang and I left the classroom.

I wondered if college classes would be any different. I wondered if the classroom would be any hotter than the one I was just in.

To find out more about my recent interest, I met with Julie Wilhelm, an award-winning instructor from Iowa State University’s Department of World Languages and Cultures.

When Julie was an undergraduate student, she studied in Spain. She told me the classes were completely different from what American college students experience. In Spanish classes, there are no quizzes and there is no homework. In fact, in one of her courses on Latin American literature, she didn’t even have to read outside of the classroom.

In Spanish courses, the students are simply expected to attend the lectures, take notes and then study for, and take a single exam at the end of the semester.

Personally, as a student, she had sold me on their system. Though I did wonder if the experience was any better for students in Spain that it was here in the United States. In the United States at the turn of the century, 35% of students said they did not like going to school. And while those numbers aren’t available for Spain, two close-by countries in Italy and Spain had higher percentages than the U.S., 38% and 37% respectively.

It’s not just about whether or not students like going to school though. The primary goal of any education system is to educate. Despite clear differences in the classroom, there is no great disparity in efficiency between the Spanish system and the American system. In that regard, the two countries had almost identical adult literacy rates, which to me is an indicator that perhaps one system isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

By the end of my conversation with Julie and the end of my research, I realized that there is no conclusive answer about which system is better. If you don’t like quizzes or homework, then Spain might be right for you. However if you dread a heavily-weighted exam at the end of each semester, then maybe it’s best to look elsewhere.

If you think you’d like to take classes in Spain just to see what they would be like, Julie Wilhelm is the co-director for the semester study abroad program in Cáceres, Spain. She can give you more information on the program, plus, she has plenty of cool stories from her time studying in Spain.

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