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Catalonia’s Supreme Court asks for Spanish to be made a teaching language in schools if a single pupil requests it

The Catalan Education Minister will appeal the decision to the Spanish Supreme Court and meanwhile will not follow the petition of the Catalan Supreme Court (TSJC). The Minister stressed that “the classroom language cannot change just because a child asks for it”. She emphasised that only 17 families have asked to have their children schooled in Spanish. These kids received individualised attention in Spanish but the TSJC thought it was not enough. In the last few years, the Catalan school model has been put in the spotlight by Spanish nationalism, despite having been in place for the last 30 years. The model has shown that pupils perfectly command both languages by the end of their studies. It has also been praised by international organisations, as it guarantees equal opportunities and social cohesion.

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11 April 2013 12:11 AM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday, Catalonia\u2019s Supreme Court (TSJC) issued an order obliging Catalan schools to introduce Spanish as a teaching language for the entire classroom if only one pupil asks for it. The TSJC\u2019s announcement has been rejected by the Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), as well as by the rest of the opposition parties, except the Spanish-nationalist People\u2019s Party (PP) and Ciutadans (C\u2019s), an anti-Catalan nationalism party. The PP and C\u2019s represent 20% of Catalan MPs. Furthermore, the platform \u2018Som Escola\u2019, made up of teacher unions and parent associations, has declared itself to be \u201Cdeeply outraged\u201D by the TSJC\u2019s decision. The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, has announced the Catalan Government will appeal the decision to the Spanish Supreme Court and meanwhile they will not follow the Catalan Court\u2019s petition. She is convinced that \u201Cthe classroom language cannot change just because a child asks for it\u201D. Catalonia\u2019s school system is based on the language immersion system, teaching all the subjects in Catalan, except for Spanish language. The system has a transversal and almost total support in Catalonia, as it guarantees equal opportunities and social cohesion. However, it has been considerably attacked by Spanish-nationalist media based in Madrid. Furthermore, in the last few years a group of a few families have brought the issue to the court, with the support of a small association \u2018Convivencia Cívica Catalana\u2019 which says it supports bilingualism although they only use Spanish.


Kids previously received individualised attention

Irene Rigau emphasised that only 17 families from a population of 7.5 million have asked to have their children schooled in Spanish in Catalonia\u2019s public school system. These children received individualised attention in Spanish in the classroom, in order to not segregate them or create two different tracks, which may end up with two different language communities. However, the TSJC believed that individualised attention was not enough. It interpreted previous sentences from the Spanish Supreme Court on individual cases stating that Spanish has to be used as an instruction language in Catalonia\u2019s public schools. In the last few years, several court sentences have put the Catalan school model in the spotlight, despite the fact that it has been in place for the last 30 years and has shown that pupils perfectly command both languages by the end of their studies, as results show. In addition, the Spanish Constitutional Court has backed the linguistic immersion principle on two occasions, underlining the fact that there is no such right to be schooled in Spanish but there is the right to know the Spanish language, which the Catalan system guarantees. For this reason, to foster true bilingualism, the Catalan school model has been praised by international organisations such as UNESCO and the European Commission, as it guarantees equal opportunities and social cohesion, does not separate children for language reasons and does not create two language communities.

The Catalan Government has to decide on the proportion of Catalan/Spanish to be used in the classroom, according to the TSJC

Catalonia\u2019s Supreme Court issued an order on Wednesday against the individualised attention system, in place when a family asked for their children to be schooled in Spanish and not in Catalan. The TSJC asked for the \u201Cadaptation of the system to the entire classroom (or school unit) which the pupil belongs to\u201D for the children whose parents have asked to have their children schooled in Spanish through a judicial procedure. According to the Court \u201Cwhat has been agreed affects the pupil but also his classmates\u201D, as otherwise the pupil should be segregated in another class or \u201Creceive an individualised attention\u201D. The TSJC emphasised that the Spanish Supreme Court rejected the individualised attention scheme in June 2012. Therefore, the petition of a single pupil will affect the rest of the classmates, even though the parents of the other children want their children to be schooled in Catalan. However, the TSJC has not obliged schools to make the entire class in Spanish and stated that it is the Catalan Government that \u201Chas to set the [language] proportion and how the system is put into practice\u201D, \u201Ctaking into account the [education] centre\u2019s socio-linguistic reality\u201D.

The Catalan Government will appeal the TSJC\u2019s decision

The Catalan Education Minister announced that they will not implement the TSJC\u2019s decision and they will appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court. Rigau emphasised that the language of the classroom cannot change because of one single child. She also remarked that parents knew what the linguistic project of the education centre was when they registered their children. \u201CThe will of a single parent\u201D cannot change the system for the rest of the families, she insisted. Rigau insisted they will not give up defending a model that has been in place for the last 30 years and that has huge support in Catalonia. In addition, she reminded the laws that back the current system, which should be respected by the courts, including the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia\u2019s main law), which was approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006.  \u201CWe lament having to continuously defend the model but we will not get tired of doing it\u201D, she said referring to the attacks over the last few years against the model. In fact, just a few months ago, the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, openly recognised that the education reform he is preparing aims to \u201CSpanishise\u201D Catalan pupils. However, Rigau emphasised that the results from the latest test given to pupils ending their obligatory schooling period (aged 15-16) showed that the knowledge of Catalan and Spanish language is \u201Cequal\u201D.

The current model guarantees equal opportunities and knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan

The current Catalan school model has been praised by the European Commission and UNESCO, as it guarantees social cohesion and equal opportunities. The model fosters true bilingualism, does not create two language communities, does not segregate for language reasons, and avoids social fractures (as has happened in Belgium, for instance). In addition, the model has been validated twice by the Spanish Constitutional Court, the last time being in 2010. The Court recognised the Catalan Government\u2019s power to define the exact model according to the laws approved by the Catalan Parliament. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court recognised Catalan as the main language of instruction and the validity of the linguistic immersion principle as it guarantees knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan. In fact, the Constitution does not include the right to be schooled in Spanish but it includes \u201Cthe right and duty to know Spanish\u201D·. According to the Constitutional Court, the current model absolutely respects this right.

In fact, results show that Catalan students have the same - or even higher, depending on the years - knowledge of the Spanish language at the end of their studies compared to the Spanish average. Furthermore, it ensures that all pupils will also have a proficient knowledge of the Catalan language. The model is based on the language immersion principle. It ensures that children who do not speak Catalan at home know the language by the end of their schooling period. Otherwise, most of them would not have the opportunity to learn Catalan, since they are not exposed to Catalan at home and Spanish has a dominant position in the streets and the media. Therefore, ensuring that all children in Catalonia know Catalan ensures equal opportunities, since the model also guarantees that all the children command Spanish perfectly, as academic results show. In fact, results show that, despite the language immersion scheme, children from Spanish-speaking families have worse results in Catalan than the results achieved in Spanish by children from Catalan-speaking backgrounds. Furthermore, the model allows for individual attention in Spanish for children arriving in Catalonia, guaranteeing the respect for individual needs. In addition, for the small group of children whose parents have asked via a judicial procedure to maintain the individualised attention (17 families this school year), individualised attention is implemented in the classroom, with the rest of the pupils and not separating the child.

Only Spanish nationalist parties agreed with the TSJC\u2019s decision

Almost all the political parties in the Catalan Parliament back the current model and fully disagree with the TSJC\u2019s decision. The only exceptions being the two Spanish-nationalist parties: the PP \u2013 which is running the Spanish Government \u2013 and Ciutadans (C\u2019s), an anti-Catalan nationalism and populist party. The PP and C\u2019s together represent 20% of the Catalan Parliament. The PP asked Rigau \u201Chow many court sentences\u201D she needed to change the model and C\u2019s reminded her that \u201Crights belong to people, not to nationalists and the Catalan Minister\u201D.

The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) underlined that courts cannot rule over laws approved by parliaments and by the majority of the Catalan people. Both Rigau and the ERC noted that the Catalan school model is backed by many laws already in place, approved by large majorities, as well as by the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia\u2019s main law), which was approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) lamented how the school system and tuition language is being used for political reasons. The PSC \u2013 which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) \u2013 fully denied the existence of a linguistic problem in Catalonia. The Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) proposed \u201Cto safeguard\u201D the current model. They also criticised those who are \u201Cfeeding the division\u201D in Catalonia. Finally, the radical left-wing and independence party CUP directly asked for the TSJC \u201Cto be disobeyed\u201D.

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  • Pupils in a school in Tarragona (by R. Segura)

  • Pupils in a school in Tarragona (by R. Segura)