Tweets and gaffes confuse Madrids education debate

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Faced with a two-day teachers strike in the region this week, Esperanza Aguirre has further complicated the education issue with her public statements.

Esperanza Aguirre, President of the Region of Madrid, has had to use Twitter twice this month to remove her foot from her mouth. The first mix-up was on September 1, when she suggested that secondary teachers in Madrid only worked 20 hours a week, much less than most Madrileos, she claimed.

Aguirre had previously made a rather sloppy attempt at communicating her decision to try to save 80 million for the region by sending a letter to affected civil servants with spelling mistakes. The letter, which stated that secondary teachers would have to increase weekly class hours from 18 to 20, angered educators, who claimed that more teaching hours and fewer interns approximately 3,000 would hurt the quality of classes.

The regional president, of the Popular Party PP quickly apologised for insinuating that secondary teachers worked fewer hours than others. She rapidly informed her Twitter followers that she was aware that secondary teachers worked more than the stipulated 37.5 hours correcting exams on Saturdays and Sundays.

But just when it looked like she had learned her lesson, she went on to either irritate or baffle almost everyone else in the educational system with another awkward warning that more cuts were coming: if education is compulsory and free at one stage, perhaps it shouldnt be free and compulsory at other stages.

After another uproar in the education sector, Aguirre had to work herself out of that corner with another tweet: When I said today that education doesnt have to be free at all stages, I was referring to studying a masters degree.

Aguirre botched it again with her comment about masters degrees, because they are not free. Currently in Spain public education is covered 100 percent by regional governments from 3 to 18 years old. Pre-school educacin infantil 3-6 and high school 17-18 bachiller are not compulsory, but are financed by the state.

It is true that government subsidizes university education, including masters degrees and doctoral programs, but under no circumstance are they free. Undergraduate tuition rates vary according to many criteria, but on average students pay approximately 1,000 per year. Masters degree programs also vary but in state universities prices fluctuate between 1,500 and 2,000 per year.

So what was Aguirre talking about? Who knows, but shes making things seem much more complicated than they really are. These communication errors, of the kind that many of her party colleagues also seem prone to, are coming at a bad time with only two months left until the general election.

Aguirres education cuts have provoked two days of secondary teacher strikes in Madrid. Spaniards are aware that sacrifices must be made, but feel education is not the right place and now is not the right time. If PP leader Mariano Rajoy and his team are serious about securing a convincing win in Novembers elections, theyre going to have to improve their communication strategy and not depend solely on a new website and Twitter accounts.

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