The Spanish Parliament approves the Education Reform against Catalan school model with only the PP’s votes
The People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, used its absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament to pass a controversial reform of the Education System, which is not supported by the teachers’ unions or the rest of the political parties. Among several aspects, the new law goes against the Catalan school model, based on the linguistic immersion principle, which guarantees that all pupils master both Spanish and Catalan by the end of their studies, ensuring equal opportunities. The reform is the personal project of Spain’s Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, who used to collaborate in far-right television channels. The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, confirmed that she will take the new law to the Constitutional Court and stated that the reform will not be implemented in Catalonia in 2014.
Madrid (ACN).- On Thursday afternoon, the People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government – used its absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament to pass a controversial reform of the Education System. The reform is not backed by any other political party nor by the vast majority of teachers’ unions and associations. Only the small Spanish nationalist parties UPyD (a populist party whose main ideology is centralism and Spain’s unity) and Foro Asturias (a splinter group of the PP’s regional Asturias branch) abstained. All the rest, including all the left-wing parties or those in favour of a federal or multi-national Spain, voted against it. According to the opposition, the reform is “born dead”, as it will be modified immediately as soon as the parliamentary majority changes. They criticise the elimination of civil education, the return of religion as an eligible subject, the centralisation of curricula, the introduction of exams at the end of each period and more recognition to privately-owned schools. Furthermore, the new law goes against the Catalan school model, which is based on the linguistic immersion principle. This model has Catalan as the instruction language and it guarantees that all pupils master both Spanish and Catalan languages by the end of their studies, ensuring equal opportunities and social cohesion. In fact, Catalonia’s school model has been praised by UNESCO and the European Commission as a best-practice example to ensure true bilingualism. The reform is the personal project of Spain’s Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, who used to collaborate in far-right television channels. Nonetheless, ending the Catalan school model has been a goal of Spanish nationalism for many years. On Thursday, the Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, confirmed that she will take the new law to the Constitutional Court and stated that the Reform will not be implemented in Catalonia in 2014.
Finally, after months of debate and manifold protests and demonstrations, the People’s Party (PP) got its Education Reform approved by the Spanish Parliament. The new law has only taken into account 36 motions out of the more than 700 presented by the opposition parties. One of the motions included aims to guarantee that Spanish is a teaching language throughout Spain. José Ignacio Wert defended the Reform as “a tool to fight school failure”. He also rejected the idea that the new law goes against Catalan language. However, when the Reform started to be debated at the Spanish Parliament around a year go, Wert stated that Catalan pupils needed to be "Hispanicised".
Now the law will pass to the Senate and, if no changes are introduced, it can be approved by the High Chamber. If the Senate makes some changes – which are not likely to be of any significant importance – the law will go back to the Parliament for its final approval. In the Senate, the PP also has an absolute majority and, despite the criticism by left-wing parties and Catalan senators, the Reform will be approved.
From a Catalan perspective, the new law is particularly worrying because it goes against the current Catalan school model, in place since 1983, approved by a wide consensus in Catalonia and currently backed by some 80% of the Members of the Catalan Parties (all except those from the PP and the anti-Catalan nationalism populist party Ciutadans).
Spanish nationalism has been against Catalan school for years
Spanish nationalism and the PP have been criticising the Catalan school model for years, saying that Spanish language is marginalised in Catalonia. Evidence shows that Spanish has a stronger position in Catalonia, known by 100% of the population, while Catalan is in a weaker position despite the improvements of the last decades. The Catalan school model guarantees that all pupils master both Spanish and Catalan by the end of their studies. In fact, results show that Catalan pupils in some years get better results in Spanish than the average of their peers throughout Spain. In Catalan schools, Spanish is taught as a subject and many flexibility measures are included for kids not knowing enough Catalan.
Now, the new law aims to guarantee Spanish as an instruction language throughout Spain and therefore also in Catalonia. One of the measures foreseen in the new law is that, if the Catalan Government does not offer Spanish as a teaching language, the Spanish Government will give parents money to take their children to privately-owned schools teaching in Spanish. Later, the Spanish Executive will deduct the money from the funds to be transferred to the Catalan Government. However, the Association of Privately-Owned Schools is Catalonia already stated months ago that their curricula are also based on the language immersion principle since it is better from a pedagogical point of view and parents support it.
The new law will create two separate language communities
Despite all this, the new law aims that, in Catalonia, Spanish has to share the teaching time with Catalan in a proportion to be decided. Education experts insist on the need to carry on with the linguistic immersion model, as otherwise children from Spanish-speaking families will not be sufficiently exposed to Catalan. This will create a cohort of future citizens who do not know Catalan and therefore would have less job opportunities. Furthermore, in the long-term it will increase the language barrier and create two separate language communities, reducing bilingualism.
The Catalan Government will not implement the Reform and will take it to the Constitutional Court
Irene Rigau, the Catalan Education Minister, announced that the Catalan Executive will take the new law to the Constitutional Court, as it infringes Catalonia’s self-government powers and goes against linguistic rights. Furthermore, she emphasised that “the Catalan Government will lead the defence of the linguistic model” and “will not transfer the conflict to the schools”. Rigau explained that in the next school years (2014-2015), Catalan schools will be implementing the current model “with tranquillity”, following the regulations issued by the Catalan Government, as they have to do. Therefore, they will not adopt the reform’s new measures. It will be the Catalan Government that considers how to adapt its regulations to the new reform. “I am not talking about insurrection”, said Rigau, “but about very precise treatment of the reform”.