Catalan school system against Hispanicisation and the Spanish Government’s Education Reform
On Tuesday Catalonia’s education stakeholders – including unions, pedagogic organisations and parent associations – asked the Catalan Executive and Parliament to lead “the boycott” of the Spanish Government’s Education Reform, known as LOMQE. This reform aims to recentralise education powers, foster religion and impose Spanish as a language of instruction in Catalonia. Furthermore, on Monday evening thousands of people demonstrated in front of Catalonia’s High Court (TSJC) in support of the current school model in Catalonia, which is based on the linguistic immersion principle that guarantees the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan. Political parties, trade unions, cultural associations and teaching organisations were protesting against the TSJC’s recent ruling that imposed a requirement that 25% of a school’s curriculum be taught in Spanish if a single pupil asks for it. The TSJC was interpreting a judgement by the Spanish Supreme Court, framed in a broader offensive against Catalan language.
Barcelona (ACN).- On Tuesday Catalonia’s education stakeholders – including unions, pedagogic organisations and parent associations – asked the Catalan Executive and Parliament to lead “the boycott” of the Spanish Government’s Education Reform, known as LOMQE. This reform aims to recentralise education powers, foster religion and impose Spanish as a language of instruction in Catalonia. Furthermore, on Monday evening thousands of people demonstrated in front of Catalonia’s High Court (TSJC) in support of the current school model in Catalonia, which is based on the linguistic immersion principle that guarantees the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan. Political parties, trade unions, cultural associations and teaching organisations were protesting against the TSJC’s recent ruling that imposed a requirement that 25% of a school’s curriculum be taught in Spanish if a single pupil asks for it. The TSJC was interpreting a judgement by the Spanish Supreme Court, framed in a broader offensive against Catalan language.
The Catalan school system is up in arms against the recent initiatives to change utterly the current education model, which has been in place for the last 30 years. Spanish nationalism has been targeting the Catalan school system for the last decade, with a long series of actions trying to change a model that has an extremely broad consensus in Catalonia and that totally guarantees the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan at the end of the schooling period. In fact, the model was initially agreed in the 1980s among pedagogic experts and political parties to ensure the knowledge of both official languages by all pupils. Later it has been further developed through specific laws, which were approved with great consensus after wide consultations with stakeholders.
The system is based in the linguistic immersion, teaching most of the subjects in Catalan language. Many children coming from Spanish-speaking families – most of them arriving from other parts of Spain to Catalonia between the 1950s and 1970s – were not exposed to Catalan at all. Schooling those children in a linguistic immersion system was essential to guarantee their knowledge of Catalan and therefore their equal opportunities in the future. At the same time, pupils coming from Catalan-speaking families were exposed to Spanish since its presence is universal, and therefore they were mastering the language without the need to be entirely schooled in this language. Results show that Catalan pupils have the same or even better knowledge of Spanish (depending on the year) that their peers throughout Spain.
A model guaranteeing the knowledge of both Catalan and Spanish
During these 3 decades, the political, pedagogical and popular consensus has been to have a single education system, in order to guarantee social cohesion and to avoid having two separate language communities. In fact, the system has been praised by UNESCO and the European Commission as a best practice example, and they stressed that it fosters a true bilingualism. The Spanish Constitutional Court has validated it on two occasions, the latest being in 2010. The Court emphasised that the Constitution does not recognise “the right to be schooled in Spanish” but only “the right and duty to know Spanish”, which the Catalan model totally guarantees.
The Constitutional Court’s mess
However, in the last assessment of the model in 2010, the Constitutional Court introduced an ambiguous ruling. The Court was at that time interpreting the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia’s main law) which had already been approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006. The Court trimmed this statute, which is a sort of Catalan Constitution, and provoked great outrage in Catalan society, which felt ignored. The Court issued this judgement after its scandalous manipulation by Spain’s main political parties, the People’s Party (PP) – which currently runs the Spanish Government – and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) in order to guarantee a judgement recentralising powers. From this moment onwards, the support for Catalonia’s independence has been rampant and the Constitutional Court’s sentence is seen as one of the triggers of the current political tensions.
The Constitutional Court recognised that Catalan language was “the centre of gravity” of Catalonia’s school system but that Spanish Language could not be neglected and had to be introduced “in a proportional way” to be decided by the Catalan Government. The subjects of Spanish language and literature are taught in Spanish, but the rest are taught in Catalan. However, the system includes many flexibility measures, including individualised attention for new-comers. Furthermore, some schools teach additional subjects in Spanish, following their own autonomy and education project.
The Supreme Court also intervenes
However a dozen families insisted on having their children schooled in Spanish in the Catalan public school system. They filed several judicial complaints and there has been a series of judgements and appeals over the last few years. The issue arrived at the Spanish Supreme Court, which cannot modify existing laws and is not the highest court regarding fundamental rights. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court used the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of the Statute of Autonomy (Catalan as “the centre of gravity” but Spanish also included) to decide that these families had the right to school their children in Spanish in Catalonia. There have been a series of appeals by the Catalan Government but in late January, the Supreme Court rejected them. Furthermore, four days later the Catalan High Court (TSJC) interpreted this last judgement from the Supreme Court and ruled that schools were obliged to offer “at least” 25% of the mandatory subjects in Spanish if the family of a single pupil was asking for it, regardless of the opinion of the rest of the class. This decision initially affected 5 schools but it will affect the entire system in the mid-term. The Catalan Government has already appealed against it.
Demonstration in front of the TSJC
On Monday evening some 10,000 people (according to the organisers) and some 1,500 (according to the local police) got together in front of the TSJC building to protest against the ruling. The protest was organised by the civil-society platform Somescola.cat, which brings together teacher associations, trade unions and cultural organisations. In the last few years, this group has organised manifold protests against the Hispanicisation of Catalan school. The slogan in Monday's demonstration was “For a country for all, school in Catalan”. The President of the civil-society organisation Òmnium Cultural and Spokesperson of the campaign group, Muriel Casals, insisted that “all our youngsters, when they reach the labour market, are totally competent in both Catalan and Spanish”. “The model works and ensures that people coming from outside Catalonia can get integrated within Catalan society”, she concluded.
Education stakeholders call for a week of protests
On Tuesday morning, the MUCE platform, which brings together the education stakeholders – such as trade unions, teacher associations, school organisations and parent associations – asked the Catalan Government and the Catalan Parliament “to boycott” the Spanish Government’s Education Reform, known as LOMQE.
This law is being approved without consensus, only with the absolute majority of the PP in the Spanish Parliament. It aims to recentralise education powers, particularly those referring to setting school curricula. In addition, in line with the recent judicial ruling, it aims to guarantee that Spanish is a language of instruction in Catalonia. The Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, stated that his aim was “to Hispanicise Catalan pupils”. The law provides for obliging the Catalan Government to pay for a privately-owned school for the families that want to school their children in Spanish. Furthermore, the contents of the history curriculum will be imposed from Madrid, and topics referring to Catalonia’s own history will not be part of the final exams. On top of this, religion will have a greater presence in the system.
For all these reasons, and the budget cuts imposed on the education system in the last few years in order to reduce public deficit, the MUCE is a calling for a week of protests between the 22nd and 29th of March. They declared that Wert’s Reform is “unnecessary, useless and unfair”.