Demonstrations throughout Catalonia against the Spanish Government’s Education Reform relegating the Catalan language
More than 60 demonstrations have taken place to protest against the new law announced by the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert. The demonstrators consider it to be “an attack” against the Catalan language, as it would no longer be a ‘core subject’ and pupils could end their schooling period without taking a single Catalan language exam. Furthermore, it would end the current linguistic immersion model, which has been in place for the last 30 years and ensures that all children end their studies knowing both Spanish and Catalan. Almost the entire Catalan political class and civil society is against Wert’s reform, as well as public figures in the rest of Spain, such as the Rector of the Madrid Complutense University. The current model guarantees social cohesion and equal opportunities. It has been praised by international organisations and has been validated twice by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
Barcelona (ACN).- More than 60 demonstrations were organised throughout Catalonia on Monday evening to protest against the new law announced by the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert. The largest protest took place in Barcelona and it completely occupied Sant Jaume Square, in front of the Palace of the Catalan Government. The demonstrations were organised by the civil society platform ‘Somescola.cat’, made up of teachers, trade unions, intellectuals and citizens. The demonstrators considered the Spanish Executive’s reform to be “an attack” against the Catalan language, as it would no longer be a ‘core subject’ at school. This means that pupils could end their schooling without taking a single Catalan language exam and therefore without mastering the language. Wert’s reform would end the current linguistic immersion model that has been in place for the last 30 years and has been validated twice by the Constitutional Court as it ensures that all children end their studies knowing both Spanish and Catalan. Furthermore, the demonstrators fear the reform would split Catalan society and create two different language communities. Monday’s motto was ‘For a country for all, school in Catalan’. However, the Spanish Government, run by the People’s Party (PP), believes that Catalonia’s current education model does not respect “the right to be schooled in Spanish”, a right that does not exist in the Constitution. In addition, in October, Wert stated that the Catalan school system was fostering pro-independence feelings and that his objective was “to Spanishise” Catalan pupils. Despite many vocal critics, he reaffirmed his intentions. In fact, almost the entire Catalan political class and civil society is against Wert’s reform, as well as public figures in the rest of Spain, such as the Rector of the Complutense University of Madrid, José Carrillo. However, on Monday, hours before the demonstrations kicked off, the PP’s Secretary General, María Dolores de Cospedal, totally rejected the idea that the reform was an attack against Catalan and other co-official languages. Furthermore, she accused those protesting against the reform of “trying to confuse society” and “making politics using language”.
The President of the Madrid Complutense University supports Catalonia’s linguistic immersion model
In a press conference held on Monday in Madrid, José Carrillo stated that the Spanish Government reform has no “pedagogical reasons” and it represents “a step backwards”. Carrillo affirmed that Wert’s initiative is “ideological” and “based on a centralist nationalism”. In addition, it is “an unprecedented aggression towards the linguistic immersion” model. He explained that the current model in place in Catalonia works and that it “does not represent not knowing Spanish”. Carrillo insisted that he “does not know any Catalan who does not speak Spanish perfectly”.
In Barcelona, in a meeting to discuss the consequences for universities of Wert’s reform, the rectors of the Catalan universities also criticised the new law. The President of the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), Joan Josep Moreso, stated that Wert’s reform represents “an attack, in every sense of the word” against “a consensual model”. Imma Tubella, President of Catalonia’s Open University (UOC), qualified the initiative as a “micro coup d’état” due to its political and ideological implications.
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 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’s powers 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 the right and duty to know Spanish. According to the Constitutional Court, the current model is absolutuly respecful with 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 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 do not speak 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 perfectly command Spanish, as academic results show. In fact, results show that, despite the language immersion, 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.
Demonstrations in more than 60 Catalan towns
The civil society platform ‘Somescola.cat’ has organised more than 60 demonstrations throughout Catalonia to protest against the Spanish Government’s school reform that will consider the Catalan language not to be a ‘core subject’. With the new law, Catalan language and Catalan literature will neither be a ‘core subject’ – such as Spanish, Mathematics, History and English – nor a ‘specific subject’ – such as Music, Art, Physical Education and a second foreign language. Catalan will be relegated to a third category of courses called ‘specialisation subjects’, which do not need to be taken by all pupils.
The largest demonstration was in Barcelona, where Sant Jaume Square was fully packed, with 4,500 people gathered on Monday evening according to the local police. Their motto was ‘For a country for all, school in Catalan’. Other large demonstrations took place in Tarragona, Girona, Lleida, Manresa, Figueres, Vic and Tortosa, among other cities and towns. ‘Somescola.cat’ was asking the Catalan Government to react “with the maximum force” to defend “a school built by all” over the last 35 years, after Franco’s dictatorship. Most of the demonstrations ended with claims supporting Catalonia’s independence from Spain. “Philip V and Franco tried to exterminate the Catalan language and they could not; Wert can not do it either”, stated the writer Rodolfo del Hoyo. “Languages do not have to be perceived as a problem but as an opportunity”, stated the manifesto by ‘Somescola.cat’, which was read at the end of the Barcelona demonstration. Once it was over, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas (from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition, CiU), met with twenty representatives from ‘Somescola.cat’ to listen to their claims. Mas was joined by the Catalan Ministers for Education and Culture, Irene Rigau and Ferran Mascarell respectively.