High Court gives Catalan government 10 days to ensure 25% of classes are in Spanish

Judges confirm Supreme Court ruling on language of instruction in Catalonia's schools

Frederic Godàs school students in Lleida in September 2021 (by Salvador Miret)
Frederic Godàs school students in Lleida in September 2021 (by Salvador Miret) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

January 21, 2022 12:09 PM

The Catalan will have 10 days to ensure 25% of all lessons in Catalonia's schools are taught in Spanish once it is notified of the sentence by the High Court.

The High Court has therefore confirmed the Supreme Court decision on the language of instruction in schools across Catalonia. In November, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal filed by the Department of Education, upholding the High Court's initial ruling.

"This is an attack on the foundations of the Catalan school perpetrated by a court far removed from the sociolinguistic reality of the education centers," the Catalan education minister, Josep Gonzàlez Cambray, said at the time. 

He also affirmed that schools "must continue to work as they have until now and must not make any change in their language projects." 

Cambray also explained that he had spoken to the Spanish minister of education, who told him that Catalan schools had to comply with the law and guarantee the learning of both languages.

Some civil society groups opposed the decision, with Iolanda Segura, the spokesperson of a major trade union in the school sector, USTEC-STEs, calling for "disobedience" as the ruling is based on "ideological but not educational" criteria. And pro-independence civil society organization Òmnium also called for authorities to "ignore" it in order to "protect" the school system.

For 40 years, Catalan has been the language used in classrooms in order to protect it as a minority language in Spain– yet recently, unionist parties such as the People's Party and Ciudadanos have been lobbying for a higher presence of Spanish in obligatory education.

Lacking legal clarification

The decision from the Supreme Court refers to the education law introduced in 2013, when the People's Party was in power with an absolute majority.

However, that law is no longer in force, since the Socialists have since passed a new education law since coming into power in 2018. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has not clarified whether its own decision is still valid with the new legislation.

Catalonia's education minister, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray, criticized that the ruling is "another anomaly," as it pertains to "an old law that is no longer in function."

Meanwhile, the unionist Ciudadanos party has threatened to bring the Catalan government to court if they do not comply with the latest ruling.

Cs parliamentary leader Carlos Carrizosa called it "absolutely unusual" for the education minister to write a letter telling school officials not to abide by the latest sentence. "This makes no sense democratically speaking and is very serious in a state of law," he said on November 24.

"We will not allow politicians to say they are above the verdict and, if this situation continues, we will not stop going to court if necessary." For Carrizosa, the decision is clear because it defends constitutional rights.

Declining use of Catalan in schools

Recent figures released by the Catalan education department reveal that 47% of teachers always or almost always speak in Catalan to 4th-year secondary school students – that is significantly lower than 15 years ago, when 63% did.

This is especially remarkable as Catalan is the working language at schools in order to protect it and avoid splitting society into two separate linguistic communities.

When Catalonia recovered its self-rule in the late 1970s after 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, its new authorities decided that classes in Catalan, rather than a choice between Catalan and Spanish, would ensure that students end their studies speaking both languages – considering that the latter is learned in society because it is the most widely used one and is studied as a foreign language at school.

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After 40 years of this Catalan immersion system, the language is understood by 94.4% of the country's population. Some 81% can speak it, 85% can read it and 65% can write it, with 64% saying they have a good command of all skills – all abilities are mastered by 97% of the population in Catalonia or more when it comes to Spanish, which suggests the system works in order to guarantee a high level of both tongues.

Yet, the study suggests that this pillar for Catalan's survival as a minority language might be trembling.

39% of pupils often use Catalan with teachers

According to the survey, made to some 50 schools towards the end of the 2020-2021 course and only to 4th-year secondary school (ESO) pupils, only 39% of students always or almost always speak in Catalan to their teachers in classrooms, which means a 17-point compared to 2006.

During group activities, only 21% of pupils often use it, which means a sharp decrease compared to 2006, when 67% of them did.

The figures reflect the same trend as that of a Barcelona local council study published in August, which stated that 28.4% of 15- to 34-year-olds in the capital used mostly Catalan (62.1% for Spanish), down from 35.6% in 2015 (56.5% for Spanish).

Another recent study, by the Plataforma per la Llengua, a lobby that defends the use of the language, states that around 4.5 million people usually speak Catalan, half a million less than in 2005.

Spanish audiovisual law

The figures come amid a debate over the use of Catalan in the audiovisual sector – pro-independence Esquerra party is one of the groups that has lobbied for a minority language quota in streaming platforms in the Spanish law.

Indeed, Esquerra helped the Spanish 2022 budget bill go ahead in its parliamentary process in exchange for the presence of the language in the audiovisual sector.