Would You Like to Attend School in Spain?

Read about Pier-Paolo Ergueta’s (’22) experience at the Peñalvento school in Colmenar Viejo.



An overview of the streets of central Madrid, from which Pier-Paolo’s school was just thirty minutes!

Pier Paolo Ergueta, Community Writer

During the period of midterms and finals here at Friends, many complaints can be heard from students, contending that there are too many tests to take, or that there is too much material to cover. It might come as a shock to friends students, then, that in Spain, students have on average three large tests per week which are crucial to their grades. 

In the 2018-2019 academic year, I experienced the Spanish schooling system of Madrid first hand. Peñalvento is a half public-private Catholic school in Colmenar Viejo, a village thirty minutes from Central Madrid. The school accepted me as a student in the “Tercero de la ESO”  equivalent to the US’s ninth-grade. As one enters the school and enrolls oneself in the full school experience, major differences from the American schooling system pop out. Peñalvento school in Spain has a totally different culture that manifests in their schedule, classes, etiquette, and cafeteria. 

Álvaro del Valle, a Spanish student from Madrid and a close friend of mine, attends Peñalvento. He says, translated from Spanish to English, “We come in at nine AM, and have three classes of 45 minutes each. We then have a break, two other classes of 55 minutes, another break where we eat, and then two more classes an hour each until five PM.” The school day spans eight hours in total, in which there are two breaks and seven classes that meet each day. The function of the school was akin to that of an American boarding school. The first break, occurring daily, spans thirty minutes, in which students are allowed into the many courtyards to talk with their friends around the campus, play soccer, or KingPin, a Spanish game that requires nothing more than a small ball. This is very different from the existing life at Friends, as kids at Peñalvento were much more active throughout the day due to the variety of available activities during breaks as well as their PE classes. The second break in the school day typically lasts for around eighty minutes. Students enrolled in Spanish schools are given around forty minutes on their own and then are called into the cafeteria to get food. The food, included in the annual tuition fee, is served on trays with ceramic plates and steel silverware. Students are able to wander anywhere as long as they don’t have food with them; this is interesting to note, as Friends does maintain a similar rule. The extended amount of breaks in the open air, with many opportunities to be involved in socially stimulating events, helps bring the classes closer together. It is also widely accepted and part of the culture that phones are forbidden to all students, and in many ways, this helps social connections flourish. Therefore, both the educational and social cultures in Spain are drastically different than those of our school, WFS. 

Our classes were quite different from the American high school system as well. Similar to elementary school, all classes are all held in the same room. With around the same amount of kids in each grade as WFS, the grade is divided at the beginning of the year into two sections. Each section has different schedules and does not see the other section at all in the same classroom for the entire year. Classes and the many tests they give are based largely on memorization. In my own experience, each time a teacher entered the classroom, whether for the start of class or during a lesson, we had to stand up until we were told to sit. As soon as class started, pencils were up and scribbling furiously to be able to copy everything the teacher was giving at high speeds. Every piece of information missed would be a point you lose on the test, was the mindset. Julian Ergueta, my cousin and a student at Peñalvento, says that “the tests in Spain have a strong emphasis on memorizing facts and then spilling them on the test, there is a lot of content.” This intensity on memorization proves mentally damaging the further you get into the schooling system. Even though my school colleagues and I were only in ninth grade, achieving high grades proved extremely difficult, and used up all your time. I spent all my time at home and over weekends working and memorizing the pages upon pages that I had written in school to achieve the 90% average I managed at the end of the year. 

By reaching out to multiple members of the Friends schools campus, we were able to get the many reactions to this peculiar schooling system. Corey Silberglied ‘22 and Olivia Delgado ‘21 both believe the system has its pros and cons. “Of course the idea of starting your lessons at nine seems appealing,” says Olivia “however, there seem to be major flaws in the educational system of Spain. I am glad we don’t have here.” Corey also commented on the pushed back start to the school day: “Although being able to obtain more sleep each night by pushing the school day back would help students, it would also limit the time available to practice sports after school, a big part of our life at Friends.” During some of the time I was in Spain, faculty member Javier Ergueta toured some nearby IB schools in the Colmenar Viejo area. Most of these schools had only recently implemented the IB program into their curriculum. Mr.Ergueta commented, “Since the IB program teaches students how to approach problems in many diverse different ways, many Spanish teachers found it especially challenging to teach it to their students. They were stuck on the rigidity of the old system set on how much information they could get their kids to memorize within the school year, resulting in an ineffective IB program and ultimately exposing the many flaws of the Spanish schooling system.” Olivia Delgado agrees, “I think an emphasis on memorization takes away from actually learning and being able to apply what you know. I think this approach also doesn’t encourage absorbing information in a way that would benefit someone in a long term way.” But, reflection doesn’t end there. If you were given the option of experiencing the Spanish schooling system firsthand would you take it?