Alfonso AguilóWe must transform polarization into collaboration".

"What is urgent is to make better educational policies and what is often done is to politicize education, something quite different. We have to transform polarization into collaboration," Alfonso Aguiló, president of the Spanish Confederation of Education Centers (CECE), told Omnes after the 50th Congress in the Balearic Islands.

Francisco Otamendi-November 13, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
Alfonso Aguiló

Alfonso Aguiló, President of the Spanish Confederation of Educational Centers.

Education in today's Spain cannot be understood without Alfonso Aguiló, chairman of CECEwhich groups a third of Spanish private and subsidized education, as it cannot be understood without Catholic Schools. Both have been on the platform since 2020. More pluralin defense of educational plurality, together with other confederations, parents' associations, etc.

Hundreds of schools and vocational training centers from all over Spain have reflected in early November on burning issues in education, in the Balearic Islands, under the slogan "The School we want: training to transform", in a meeting held in the Balearic Islands. Congress which brought together more than 400 professionals from private and subsidized education.

We discussed some of them with Alfonso Aguiló, Civil Engineer (1983) and PADE from IESE Business School (2008), eleven years as director of the Tajamar school  (Madrid), and current president of the Arenales Educational Networkwhich integrates more than 30 schools in Spain, Portugal, Germany, the United States and other countries.

Since 2015 Aguiló has been the national president of CECE, and in this capacity he grants Omnes this interview, which he prepared on his return from Barcelona. In it he states, among other things, that "it would be advisable to prune the LOMLOE of various aspects that respond to ideological resabios alien to the good of education", and that "a plural society needs a plural educational system".

You chair CECE and the Arenales Educational Network, but you also advise educational institutions in 35 countries in Europe, America and Asia. Are you optimistic about the development of education in the world?

- Education is the synthesis that each generation makes of its culture in order to transmit it to the next generation. And this legacy is necessarily a plural legacy. And that plurality in turn makes it easier for society to be plural, which is normally quite positive. When there is plurality, the best experiences gain ground over the worst, and the system improves naturally, learning from each other. I believe that the freedom to teach, as well as the dynamics that facilitate the sharing of experiences and the generation of collaborative cultures, help significantly to improve the whole.

How do you see the evolution of education in Europe and Spain? In the conclusions of the Congress, they talk, for example, about the need for a constructive debate to improve education.

- Good performance in education is not an easy matter to measure. Each culture, and each family, focuses more on some points and less on others. This encourages, among other things, education to be quite pluralistic, and that is positive. But if we look at PISA, for example, or other studies that measure the most common indicators, Spain as a whole has an education system with overall results similar to those of the countries around us. And as for Europe, globally it is above, although there are countries, especially in Asia, that obtain much better academic results.

When the Spanish Ministry of Education took over from the current incumbent in 2021, you told a media outlet: "We want a good relationship and to help develop a law that we don't like, to make sure it doesn't get worse". 

- It is clear that if a law is already in force and there is no political will to change it, efforts must be focused on ensuring that its developments reduce the negative consequences that this law may produce.

Last year we asked the pedagogue Gregorio Luri about aspects of the Education Law (LOMLOE) that he would reorient, and he said: "I would bring everything back on track. I think a return to sanity is absolutely urgent". How do you see it?

- It seems to me that what is urgent is to make better educational policies and what is often done is to politicize education, which is something quite different. The LOMLOE should be pruned of several aspects that respond to ideological resabios that are alien to the good of education, and that have been incorporated by political pressures that should not be in the debate of the improvement of our educational system. For example, it is easy to detect that the law shows hostility towards subsidized education, towards special education, towards transparency in the evaluation of centers, towards the choice of center, etc.

On the obstacle to the freedom of choice of center, the same pedagogue responded: "If all the stores in Madrid sold exactly the same thing, autonomy would not be necessary. If each store sells different products, I want to be able to choose where I want to shop...". Would you add or specify anything?

- It is almost obvious. A plural society needs a plural educational system. This requires, above all, two things. The first is that there should be private education financed with public funds, because otherwise only public schools would be free and only the rich would have access to this plural school. The second is that there must be freedom to choose or change schools within this plurality, because if there is a plural offer but I am not allowed to choose, this plurality is a chimera.

What has this 50th Congress contributed to the challenge of educating today? In addition, there are topics such as neuroscience or artificial intelligence that are in full effervescence. Anthropological issues, the identity of man, etc., are also on the agenda.

- Schools must focus their purpose and mission on training each person well so that they can make the most of their talents and thus contribute to transforming and improving the society in which we live. To do this, we need educational policies that make it easier for schools to become better every day. We have reaffirmed CECE's commitment to work collaboratively with all the actors in the educational world, starting with those who draft and those who apply legal regulations, with that clear purpose in mind. We must transform polarization into collaboration, thinking more about improving education and less about party interests.

"A good private and charter school also makes public education better," you said. Can you elaborate a bit on this idea? In the conclusions, you are in favor of excellent public education, but this should not hinder the work of the subsidized schools, you say.

- We always say it, to make it clear that we want to get out of this perverse dynamic of confronting those who do not have to be confronted. All of us who work in education should want all schools to do well, not only ours or ours. That is why we want an excellent public education, and that is why we insist that the improvement of public education is not achieved by hindering the work of the subsidized schools, but by working so that all education is better every day, without antagonisms.

On the economic side, many parents, at least in environments I know, want options other than the public one, because of their convictions or for whatever reasons, and they cannot, or the effort they have to make almost exceeds their capacities. Any comments?

- After World War II, there was a wide-ranging debate that led to the declaration of so-called second-generation human rights. Ways were sought to avoid in the future the terrible experiences of the various totalitarianisms. Among these rights, the idea was clarified that the right to education could not only be quantitative, i.e., that it was not enough to guarantee a school place for each student, but that it should be a qualitative right, i.e., the right to have a school place in accordance with one's religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions. This right is vital to avoid the risk of public authorities using education as a system of mass indoctrination of the population.

And how has this right been implemented?

- This led to the need to finance private education, so that anyone can have access to the schools they consider most appropriate to their personal preferences. And that is why there is subsidized education in Spain, and there are different solutions in the vast majority of developed countries. And the existence of these schools financed with public money is due to this right to a plural education, not because the public authorities cannot provide schooling to the entire population: they could do it perfectly well, but it would lead us to an asphyxiating uniformity, typical of totalitarian regimes.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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