Spanish government urged not to execute ruling on language minimums in schools

Supreme Court rejected appeal on Tuesday confirming that 25% of educational instruction must be given in Spanish

Image of a primary school class in Lleida, September 2021 (by Salvador Miret)
Image of a primary school class in Lleida, September 2021 (by Salvador Miret) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

November 24, 2021 03:22 PM

After Spain’s Supreme Court rejected hearing an appeal against a Catalan High Court ruling, thus confirming a decision that 25% of school instruction must be given in Spanish, various voices in Catalonia have called for the ruling not to be adhered to. 

“Catalan in schools must not be touched,” the president of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, said in response to the ruling. He also urged the Spanish government to "commit" to defending language immersion in Catalonia. 

In a press conference from Palma, Mallorca, Aragonès affirmed on Wednesday that the use of Catalan in schools "cannot be questioned," and warned the Spanish government that they "cannot be complicit" in the "possible setback" of the use of the language. 

For their part, the Spanish executive believes that the ruling “must be executed" like all court decisions, but adds that it will not explicitly call for anything to be done after the Supreme Court’s announcement. 

The Socialist-led administration considers that the Catalan High Court, the one that issued the original ruling, is the competent body to request that the ruling be complied with.

"It is essential that Spain clearly defends the linguistic model and commits to supporting the broad consensus that exists in Catalonia," Aragonès believes.

Over the past few years, the use of Catalan in classrooms has been declining. 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 the society being split in two separate linguistic communities.

Socialists defend mixed use of languages

Salvador Illa, the leader of the Catalan Socialist party, has defended Catalan as the working language of schools but also explained that he does not view it as a bad thing that some subjects are taught in Spanish either. 

"I don't think this will attack the model or endanger Catalan at school," he told radio station Ser Catalunya in an interview on Wednesday. 

When asked about the letter that Catalonia’s education minister, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray, sent to the directors of schools telling them no change needs to be undertaken, Illa said that the government must respect the decisions of the courts and said that it is "wrong" if it declares itself disobedient

In any case, he does not believe that the Supreme Court's decision compromises the position of Catalan as the main language in schools and called for “flexibility” in schools to reflect the “sociolinguistic reality” of each educational centre. 

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 are threatening 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.

"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.

Decline in use of Catalan in schools

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.

After 40 years of this Catalan immersion systemthe language is understood by 94.4% of the 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 published on Thursday 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 entities lobbying for a quota in streaming platforms in the Spanish law that is being prepared in Madrid.

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