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Judiciary insists on modifying Catalan school model to increase presence of Spanish

The Catalan High Court has confirmed its previous decision to oblige 5 schools to teach "at least 25%" of their mandatory subjects in Spanish if the family of a single pupil asks for it, regardless of the opinion of the other children's families. The measure should be adopted "immediately", but the Catalan Government announced that it will lodge another appeal. Two months ago, the affected schools and the Catalan Executive had already appealed a decision that interpreted a previous judgement from the Spanish Supreme Court on the complaint presented by a dozen families from Catalonia. The measure represents a threat to the knowledge of Catalan language by all Catalan children, as well as a threat to true bilingualism, equal opportunities and social cohesion. The current model follows these principles as children totally master both languages, Spanish and Catalan. In addition, the court decision is a threat against separation of powers and Catalonia's self-government.

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30 April 2014 09:50 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday the Catalan High Court confirmed its previous decision to oblige 5 schools to teach "at least 25%" of their mandatory subjects in Spanish if the family of a single pupil asks for it, regardless of the opinion of the other children's families. The measure should be adopted "immediately", but the Catalan Government announced that it will lodge another appeal. Two months ago, the affected schools and the Catalan Government had already appealed the decision, which interpreted a previous judgement from the Spanish Supreme Court on the complaint presented by a dozen families from Catalonia. These dozen families, which represent a tiny minority within a system schooling 1.2 million pupils, insisted they had "the right" to have their kids schooled in Spanish in Catalonia. However, such a right does not exist, as the Constitutional Court stated in a previous ruling. The Spanish Constitution only recognises "the right and duty to know Spanish", which is totally guaranteed by the Catalan system.


The mess started when a politicised Constitutional Court issued a judgement in 2010 on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which was approved by the Spanish Parliament and by the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006. In 2010, the Constitutional Court recognised the current model based on the linguistic immersion principle, saying that Catalan should be "the centre of gravity" of it, but that Spanish could not be put aside. Spanish nationalist judges are now using this last part of the Constitutional Court’s sentence to act as a legislative power and change the current law and system. The current model teaches almost all subjects in Catalan, except Spanish language and literature, which are obviously taught in Spanish. However, the system is very flexible and some schools teach further subjects in Spanish, using their curricular autonomy and depending on their socio-linguistic environment. In addition, there are many flexibility measures, such as individualised attention for newcomers. However the families appealing and the judicial authority consider this not to be enough and are now demanding to have the entire class being schooled in Spanish if just a single kid asks for it, even if the rest of kids in the class want to be schooled in Catalan.

Judiciary is acting as a legislative and executive power

If the Court decision is finally approved, the measure represents a threat to the knowledge of Catalan language by all Catalan children, as well as a threat to true bilingualism, equal opportunities and social cohesion. The current model follows these principles, since children totally master both languages, Spanish and Catalan, by the end of their studies. In addition, the court decision is a threat against separation of powers and Catalonia's self-government, since it completely changes a law in force and approved by the Catalan Parliament, based on  the Statute of autonomy, which was approved by the Catalan citizens in a binding referendum. This means that in a system where laws are only approved by the citizen representatives sitting in a parliament, the Spanish judicial authority – which is significantly politicised and is totally centralised – is using its hierarchic structure to make the Catalan High Court modify an existing law. The Catalan High Court replies that if executive and legislative powers refuse to act and change the system, then the judicial authority is entitled to set new rules, such as the exact share of Spanish language in the school curricula.

If the presence of Catalan is reduced, some children will not master the language

Spain's centralised judicial power has decided to increase the presence of Spanish in school, thereby reducing that of Catalan. The current model is based on the language immersion principle in order to ensure that all pupils can master both Catalan and Spanish by the end of their studies. Experts state that if the number of hours that students are exposed to Catalan language is reduced, some children from exclusively Spanish-speaking environments will not be able to master it since they will not be sufficiently in contact with Catalan. However, since Spanish has a preeminent role in communication media and is very present at street level or in the school yard, the current model guarantees that children from Catalan speaking environments master Spanish, as results show.

Students from Catalonia get similar results or even better – depending on the year – in Spanish language compared to their peers throughout Spain. Furthermore, by fostering a true bilingualism, the Catalan school model – in place for more than 30 years – ensures equal opportunities when children reach the job market and master both official languages. On top of this, it fosters social cohesion, since there are not two separate language communities, such as in other territories with two official languages. For these reasons, Catalonia's education model has been praised by UNESCO and by the European Commission. The model is also backed by an extremlly wide consensus in Catalonia. But Spanish nationalists want their kids to be schooled in Spanish in Catalonia and they do not seem to care if their knowledge of Catalan is not enough.

Spanish nationalists aim to break the Catalan society

In the current political climate, such a decision from the judicial authority fuels Catalan independence demands, since many citizens feel self-government and Catalan language are threatened by Madrid's centralist and homogenising power. In fact, in October 2012, the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, who is pushing for a reform aiming to make Spanish a language of instruction in Catalonia, stated before Parliament that the aim of Spain's Government is "to Hispanicise Catalan pupils". Wert also linked the support for independence to the Catalan education model, although opinion polls show that independence support has grown in a similar way within all age groups, including people who were educated exclussively in Spanish during Franco’s dictatorship times, when Catalan language was banned. Howevr, as former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar said a few months ago, “before Spain is broken, Catalan society will break”, and this seems to be the long-term strategy of Spanish nationalists to stop Catalan self-determination process: splitting the Catalan society into two language communities.

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  • A high-school class in Catalonia (by M. Belmez)

  • A high-school class in Catalonia (by M. Belmez)
Citizens demonstrated in February against the judiciary trying to change the Catalan school model