Catalonia, the Basque Country, Andalusia, Asturias and the Canaries oppose the Spanish Government’s Education Reform
The controversial Reform of the Education System continues its progress towards parliamentary approval, now in the Spanish Senate. The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, stated that with the new law – which “recentralises” and totally “invades” devolved powers – the Autonomous Communities are “delegations of the Central Government”. Furthermore, Rigau asked the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, “to be brave” and “eliminate” the Reform’s points regarding the language immersion principle. This Reform goes against the Catalan school model, which has been in place since the early 1980s and is backed by an almost-total consensus in Catalonia. Rigau pointed out that only 26 cases out of 1.2 million pupils in Catalonia had requested a different model than the one offered. According to her, changing the entire education system and the language equilibrium in Catalonia for 26 families is “abusive and counterproductive”.
Madrid (ACN).-The controversial Reform of the Education System continues its process through parliament. After the measure got the green light from the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of the People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government – now it is being debated in the Spanish Senate. All the Autonomous Community governments that are not run by the PP united in their opposition and this Tuesday announced the possibility of presenting a join appeal to the Constitutional Court. In addition they stated that they will do whatever is possible to make sure the new Education Reform is not implemented in their territories. The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, stated at the Senate commission analysing the new law that with the Reform – which “recentralises” and totally “invades” devolved powers – the Autonomous Communities are “delegations of the Central Government”. Furthermore, Rigau asked the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, “to be brave” and “eliminate” the Reform’s points regarding the language immersion principle. In fact, this Reform goes against the Catalan school model, which has been in place since the early 1980s and is backed by an almost-total consensus in Catalonia. Rigau pointed out that only 26 cases out of 1,200,000 pupils had requested a different model than the one offered in Catalonia. According to her, changing the entire education system and the language equilibrium in Catalonia for 26 families is “abusive and counterproductive”. Acknowledging the total opposition of 5 Autonomous Communities – which are the government level exclusively managing education in Spain – Wert offered to review the Reform’s calendar. He proposed to slow down its implementation in order to make it “more gradual”. However, the Spanish Minister totally rejected changing the law, particularly changing the points referring to the Catalan school model. Wert – who a year ago said in the Spanish Parliament that “Catalan pupils had to be Hispanicized” – stated that the Education Reform is “not recentralising” powers and neither does it aim “to homogenise”. Furthermore, the Minister accused those saying that the new Reform goes against Catalan language of “following prejudices”.
The Catalan Education Minister publicly asked Wert to eliminate from the new law the points going against Catalonia’s language immersion principle and obliging the Catalan Government to offer education being taught in Spanish. Irene Rigau stressed that she does not want two separate language communities in Catalonia. She asked Wert “to think things through” and “be brave” in order to change the Reform. She pointed out that only 26 cases from the 1.2 million children in the Catalan school system had protested against the model and asked for their children to be schooled in Spanish. Rigau stated that “legislate for 26 cases and modify” the LOFCA [the law distributing powers between the Spanish Government and the Autonomous Communities] using a back door is totally abusive and counterproductive”. The Catalan Minister recognised that the parents have the right that both Spanish and Catalan are present in the school curriculum, but she insisted that the exact way and proportion is decided by the Catalan Government.
In addition, Rigau referred to the measure that the Catalan Government is obliged to offer education in Spanish in public schools or pay the families for private schools and, if it does not do so, the Spanish Executive will deduct the money from the Catalan Executive’s funds. According to Rigau, this represents “a fine” for the Catalan Executive, “without having defined the felony”. “They say they will take away from our funds the amount that parents have to pay for an [education] option that the Constitutional Court stated they [the parents] do not have the right to ask”, Rigau added. She was referring to the fact that, according to the Constitutional Court, children have “the right and duty to know Spanish” but not the right to be schooled in this language.
The Catalan school model is based on the language immersion principle, which Wert’s Reform aims to change
In Catalonia, Catalan is the language of instruction, while Spanish is studied as a subject. This means that Mathematics, Biology or History are studied in Catalan and Spanish Literature and Language in Spanish. The model follows the language immersion principle widely recommended by pedagogues in multilingual environments and includes flexibility measures, such as transition periods and assistance for new-comers. The system was set in the early 1980s, three decades ago, and it has been praised as a successful model and best-practice example by UNESCO and the European Commission. It guarantees that pupils can master both Spanish and Catalan by the end of their studies, as results show. In fact, results show that, in some years, Catalan students have better results in Spanish than the average of their Spanish peers.
Catalonia’s Education System was set this way in order to guarantee true bilingualism and equal opportunities, since many children from Spanish-speaking environments would barely be exposed to Catalan language and therefore they would not speak it as adults. This would put them at a disadvantage relative to children from Catalan-speaking environments, who are all exposed to Spanish and speak the language. By learning Catalan at school, children master both official languages and there are not two separate language communities in Catalonia, fostering true bilingualism.
The Catalan school targeted by Spanish nationalism
However, around ten years ago, Spanish nationalist politicians and media based in Madrid started to attack the model, saying that Spanish language was being discriminated against in Catalonia. However, all studies show that Catalan is in a much weaker position in Catalonia, even though the language is more widespread than it was 30 years ago at the end of Franco’s dictatorship and decades of language persecution. However, Spanish nationalists insist that every child “has the right” to be educated in Spanish throughout Spain. However such right does not exist in the Constitution. The Spanish Constitutional Court validated the Catalan school model, since the model is totally in line with “the right and duty to know Spanish”. In addition, the Court interpreted the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy (approved in a binding referendum) and stated that “Catalan was the centre of gravity” of the school system, although Spanish could not be excluded.
However, two years later, the Spanish Supreme Court (which does not have a higher rank than the Constitutional Court) issued a judgement in the case of a group of families that wanted their children to be schooled in Spanish in Catalonia. The Court recognised that these families had this right (going against the Constitutional Court criteria). Accordingly, the Catalan Government offered individual tuition in Spanish to this group of 26 kids, but refused to change the entire education system. Then, the Spanish Government decided to intervene. When Wert announced its Reform before the Spanish Parliament, he stated that “our interest is to Hispanicise Catalan pupils”. On later occasions he linked the growth of Catalan independence to the Catalan school model and he even said that Catalan school was instructing kids “to hate Spanish culture”.
Wert accuses those opposing the new law of following “prejudices”
Answering Rigau and the other Autonomous Community Ministers opposing the new law, José Ignacio Wert accused them of following “prejudices”. The Spanish Minister, who used to participate in far-right TV debates before joining the Cabinet, totally rejected the idea that the new law was recentralising powers. In addition, he also insisted that the new law was not going against the language immersion principle, nor against Catalan language. In addition, Wert questioned whether the Catalan school model is “a successful” model, since it has “a school failure rate higher than the [Spanish] average” despite Catalonia having a GDP per capita “20% higher than the [Spanish] average”. However, Wert offered the possibility of slowing down the law’s implementation calendar, in order to make it “more gradual”. Rigau had previously stated that implementing the entire Reform “in only two years” was “a nonsense”.