For the past semester, every Tuesday at 8:30am I travel to the neighboring city of Alcalá to attend a database management class. Located inside the newly built polytechnical center, the class is taught in English by a professor in his early 40’s. There are about 20 students in the class. Attending the class has given me insight into the Spanish education system. Insight that I will now share with you. Please note that the experience I will speak to is limited only to this class.
Spanish students are very much like those in America; they get distracted by Facebook, they don’t sleep enough, and they love to socialize. I found it very easy to become friends with the ones in my class. In fact, on the first day, two students approached me and asked if I would like to be part of their class WhatsApp group. While we only see each other once a week, our friendship has grown to the point where I know many of the students by name and they know mine.
However, while the social aspects of class are great, the academics are lacking. My class begins at 10am, but hardly half of the students ever arrive on time. It’s not surprising, as the first two hours of class are lab, which effectively is self taught. The professor may put up an activity on the projector, but no material is taught during this time. It is a time to work on our projects and ask questions of the professor. The lab session unofficially ends at 11:40am at which time the students make their way down to the cafeteria.
The lecture part of the class follows and falls short of expectations as well. The professor uses a powerpoint from an old databases textbook which he follows religiously. Participation is low as many of the students remain focused on their laptops throughout the class, pausing only periodically to scan the material on the projector. There are no questions. The class progresses steadily through a chapter or two each time we meet. The exams require that we memorize and regurgitate the past class’s information. After the professor dismisses us, I usually stay and chat with some of students and then catch the express bus back to Madrid.
My experience attending the class this semester has left me with jaded feelings about the Spanish education system. While from the outside, the university has the appearance of professionality and vigor, in the classroom I sense that things are different. My experience is with a professor that lacks passion. As a result, the students have become unmotivated. Education requires stimulation. Without it, students fail to realize the myriad of benefits afforded by a university education.
My time spent at the university has made me more thankful for my American education. I am glad to have been exposed to a foreign university system. It has allowed me to see how a different culture approaches higher education. It certainly is different. I am thankful because I now have a better sense of what I want. Entire book due next week? Sure thing! Bring on the research papers and laborious labs. For all the stress, coursework and costs, I prefer my American education.