After the first day of school, teachers and parents gather in front of many town halls to defend the Catalan school model

This Monday Catalan pupils begin their school year. 1,280,232 students from elementary, primary and secondary education returned to the classrooms with normality. However, controversies are lingering over this year. The Catalan language at schools, the sixth hour of tuition and budget restrictions all frame the school year’s kick off. The day finished with teacher and parent demonstrations in front of town halls defending the Catalan school model.

CNA / María Bélmez / Gaspar Pericay Coll

September 12, 2011 11:24 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The 2011-2012 school year kicked off this Monday in Catalonia with normality despite the controversies regarding the language of instruction, the sixth hour and the budget restrictions. 1,280,232 pupils from elementary, primary, and secondary education started their classes today. After school, thousands of teachers, parents and pupils demonstrated in front of town halls across Catalonia to support the current school model, where Catalan is the language of instruction. They are defending social cohesion and opposing the separation of children for language reasons; they are defending a model that after 30 years in use has constantly proven its effectiveness, guaranteeing that all pupils are completely knowledgeable of both official languages, Spanish and Catalan, when they leave school. The controversy rose because of a sentence from the Spanish Supreme Court that obliges to change the system, to include Spanish as a language of instruction as well. However, other controversies are also affecting the start of the 2011-2012 school year: mainly the suppression of the sixth hour of classes in primary schools and the budget restrictions.

The current Catalan Government, run by the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist ‘Convergència I Unió’ (CiU), is obliged to cut public deficit and is implementing a plan to reduce public spending in all the government departments. Even though the Education department is one of the least affected, its global budget has also been reduced. With less money, a record of 1,280,232 pupils will have to be taught to the same standard. A way to save money has been to suppress the so-called sixth hour of tuition in primary schools. The Catalan Education Ministry has given schools the choice to suppress this hour or not. 442 schools have decided to keep it, most of which are in rural areas or in neighbourhoods with socio-economic difficulties. According to the Catalan Government, the number of teachers remains the same as last year, but trade unions have underlined that the number of pupils has increased. The result is that teachers will have to undertake more work, causing many to complain. However, the largest controversy lasting recent days has been the preservation of the current school model.

Demonstrations to support the current Catalan school model

In order to answer to the courts’ threat over the current Catalan school model, thousands of teachers, parents and pupils gathered after school in front of many town halls throughout Catalonia. In Barcelona, according to the organisers, 5,000 people demonstrated in Sant Jaume Square, in front of the City Hall. They were organised around the platform ‘Som escola’ (We are school) and they defend Catalan being the only language of instruction in the public system, and Spanish being taught as a subject. This model has been in place in the last 30 years and children leave school knowing perfectly both Spanish and Catalan, as exam results show and experts defend. Teaching mainly in Catalan is done precisely not to segregate pupils for language reasons and to guarantee the knowledge of both languages.

The controversy over the tuition language

In Catalonia's public schools, Catalan is the language of instruction in order to guarantee that all pupils end their studies knowing both official languages: Catalan and Spanish. The reason for this is that many children, especially from working-class and immigrant families are not exposed to Catalan language at all. On the contrary, children coming from Catalan speaking families are exposed to Spanish, since it is very present on television, on the street or in the school playgrounds. Therefore in order to guarantee equal opportunities all children taught in Catalonia’s public schools are provided with the skills to perfectly use both official languages. All subjects but Spanish and foreign languages are taught in Catalan, and Spanish is taught as a subject. The model has been in place for the last 30 years and is widely accepted.

The model works, according to education experts and exam results. Catalan pupils not only know Catalan but they also get the same results in Spanish language exams, if not better, than in the rest of Spain. In addition, the model has been praised as a “good practice” by international organisations such as the European Commission and UNESCO. The model has the benefit as well that it does not create separate language communities.

However, controversy has been growing for the past few years, mainly fuelled by Madrid-based politicians and the Spanish nationalist movement. They accuse Catalan authorities of marginalising the Spanish language, which according to them is in danger in Catalonia. As an example, they focus on the situation at the Catalan public schools. In addition, last December, the Supreme Court ruled that Spanish should be language of instruction in Catalan schools based on an appeal by 3 parents, who took the Catalan Government to court for denying to school their children in Spanish within the public education system of Catalonia. Many legal experts think that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to change the entire school model, which is already defined by several laws. Furthermore, the Spanish Constitutional Court has validated twice the Catalan school model, in 1994 and in 2010. In addition, teacher unions and parents associations back the current model, as has been proved this Monday by demonstrations across Catalonia. They insist in not modifying a model that works and that guarantees social cohesion. The Catalan Government is appealing the Supreme Court's decision and is confident that the current model will not be changed at the end.