Religion doesn't have a prayer under socialists

23rd April 2004 at 01:00

Spain's newly elected socialist government is to repeal the previous conservative administration's controversial education reforms, which included plans for compulsory religious classes.

Led by the then Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, the right-of-centre Popular Party (PP), introduced a radical education reform Bill entitled Quality for Education, which it planned to introduce in 2004-5. The highly unpopular proposals would have made religious instruction a required part of the curriculum in state schools and increased government funding for private schools.

Incoming premier Jose Luis Zapatero said: "I want our young people to have the training they need, and above allI to ensure that no young person, no adolescent, is left out of the educational system due to economic problems or family problems, which is what is happening under the reactionary laws passed by the PP."

He said he would pay for higher spending on education by raising taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

Although 94 per cent of Spaniards are Catholic, a recent survey showed that most people favour the strict separation of church and state.

Under the new legislation, students at primary and secondary levels would have been required to study religious education for three hours, compared with five hours of mathematics.

Now, under the socialist government, religious studies will remain on the curriculum, although only for pupils who choose the subject.

Other measures which Mr Zapatero has pledged to overturn include the introduction of "occupational initiation programmes" for less-able over-15s and special classes for gifted pupils.

The teachers' union Comisiones Obreras has backed the repeal, saying the conservatives' reforms would "just benefit people close to the PP, such as businessmen of private education and the ecclesiastic hierarchy".

Mr Zapatero has also stated that he intends to merge the ministries of education and science because "teaching and research go, now more than ever, hand in hand".

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