MADRID (AP) — Spain's government approved a law Friday to reform the country's school education system in a bid to reduce truancy and improve results.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria called it "the most important law of this legislature" with the dual role of improving the quality of education and the employability of young people.
Spain's unemployment stands at a record 27.2 percent, and is double that rate for Spaniards under 25.
The deputy prime minister said one in four students is leaving school without any form of secondary education certificate and the rate of pupils repeating years is higher than in other European Union countries.
Although the Cabinet approved the reform proposed by Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert on Friday, it must still be passed by parliament before becoming law.
The government is pressing ahead with what it labels a "law for the improvement of educational quality" despite considerable opposition by all other political parties in parliament and in the education sector.
Thousands of students and teachers staged a nationwide strike last week to protest the reforms. The stoppage affected all levels of education, and union pickets were placed at many schools and universities across the country. Organizers claimed a 65 percent turnout by teachers for the strike, while Wert's ministry put the figure at 19 percent.
Wert said his proposal included an "exceptional and temporary" mechanism that will enable the state to subsidize private tuition in Castilian Spanish for any students unable to receive education in that language because of regional political decisions that place emphasis on Spain's other co-official languages such as Catalan.
He said his ministry will set aside 5 million euros ($6.4 million) for this and would later recover the amount spent from regional governments.
Wert said results would be measured through external evaluations that are to be introduced throughout Spain at the end of each education stage.
He said citizenship education will be removed from the curriculum, and religion, as well as an alternative to it, will be reintroduced as testable subjects, in accordance with a government agreement with the Vatican.