Rajoy's measures against linguistic immersion questioned by Brussels and the Spanish State Council
The European Commissioner for Education, Culture and Multilingualism, promised Catalan Euro MPs to ask the Spanish Government – chaired by Mariano Rajoy - about the Education Reform it is preparing, which goes against the linguistic immersion model of Catalonia’s school system. According to the Catalan MEPs, Androulla Vassiliou was “a bit perplexed” about the Spanish Government’s initiative and the recent judicial sentences obliging teaching to be in Spanish if a single pupil in the classroom asks for it. Besides, the Spanish State Council – the Spanish Government’s top advisory body – criticised the reform’s measure obliging the Catalan Executive to pay for private schools in Spanish for the pupils who do not want to attend public schools in Catalan. The Catalan Education Minister asked the Spanish Government “to paralyse” the reform.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Government’s Education Reform, that aims to change the Catalan school model that has been in place for the last 30 years and break the linguistic immersion principle, has been questioned at European and Spanish levels on the same day. On Wednesday, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture and Multilingualism, Androulla Vassiliou, met 6 Catalan Euro MPs, who had asked to talk to her about the last initiatives against the use of the Catalan language in schools proposed by the Spanish Government – which is chaired by Mariano Rajoy. The Catalan MEPs explained that Vassiliou was “a bit perplexed” about the Spanish Government’s Education Reform and the recent judicial sentences obliging teaching to be in Spanish if a single pupil in the classroom asks for it. According to the MEPs, the European Commissioner asked up to three times if this was true. “She could not understand it”, explained Maria Badia, an MEP from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). Vassiliou promised she will ask the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, about the reform. However, she will do it “informally”, at the next European Council of Education Ministers and not by letter or in public, because “she cannot do that”, said Badia.
Besides, the Spanish State Council issued a report on Wednesday against the proposed measure to oblige the Catalan Executive to pay for private schools in Spanish for those pupils who do not want to attend public schools because they have Catalan as the instruction language. The report states that the measure should not be included as it steps on the power of the Autonomous Communities with their own official language, such as Catalonia. The State Council, which is the Spanish Government’s top advisory body, is made up of some 35 senior members mostly from Madrid’s nomenclature and whose only Catalan member was part of this body even in Franco’s time. Furthermore this institution also criticised the fact that Wert’s Education Reform aims to eliminate the subject ‘Education for the citizenry’, which teaches democratic and ethical values. In the light of this information, the Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, talked to the press in the evening and she asked Wert “to paralyse” the reform and “to rethink” his education policy. According to Rigau, “it is clear” that it is the Catalan Government that is the one that has to decide on the linguistic model in Catalonia’s schools. The Spanish Education Ministry issued a press release stating that it will “study” the State Council’s “recommendations”. However, it also emphasised that the State Council’s reports are not binding since it is only an advisory body.
In Brussels, six Catalan Members of the European Parliament met with the Commissioner for Education, Culture and Multilingualism, Androulla Vassilliou. The Catalan MEPs had requested the meeting as they are concerned about the latest attacks against the linguistic model in Catalonia’s school system, which come from the Spanish Government, Spanish nationalist media and the Spanish Supreme Court, which is made up of a large share of conservative judges (many of them having started their careers in Franco’s times). The MEPs were Ramon Tremosa and Salvador Sedó from the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), Maria Badia and Raimon Obiols from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Raül Romeva from the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV) and Ana Miranda from the Galician Nationalist Party (BNG) who was also representing the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) since they share the parliamentary seat.
“If the European Commission washes its hands of such an important issue, there will be a low turnout in the next European elections”
Vassilliou was particularly surprised about the recent judicial order asking to make Spanish the language of instruction for the entire classroom if the family of a single student asks for it and no matter if the rest of the parents are opposed. According to Badia, she asked about this up to three times, since she was quite “perplexed”. Tremosa also warned the European Commissioner that this could become a precedent in Europe against minority languages and could also create significant “economic distortions” in the education budget. “We have asked her to have a more active role, because if the European Commission washes its hands of such an important issue, there will be a low turnout in the next European elections”, Tremosa said. “Now it is the time to do something, and not when the damage is already caused”, he added. Romeva emphasised that the Commissioner was “very receptive” and she “will help as much as she can”. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, met Vassilliou last Monday. The meeting with Mas – who is also CiU’s leader – and later with the 6 MEPS from 4 different parties confirmed that support for the Catalan school model is widely shared in Catalonia. In fact, Vassilliou met all the Catalan MEPs except the two from the Spanish People’s Party (Alejo Vidal-Quadras and Santiago Fisas), the party running the Spanish Government.
The Catalan school model praised by UNESCO and the European Commission
The current Catalan school model has been in place for the last 30 years and guarantees knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan at the end of the schooling period. This model is widely supported in Catalonia, as it also guarantees social cohesion and equal opportunities since it fosters true bilingualism. Catalonia’s linguistic immersion school model is a successful model that has been recognised by several international organisations. For instance it was acknowledged as a best practice example by the European Commission’s group of high-level experts on Multilingualism in their report published in 2007.
The current model 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 this language 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. According to studies published by the Spanish Education Ministry and PISA reports, 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, despite the language immersion scheme, academic results show that children from Spanish-speaking families have worse results in Catalan than the results achieved in Spanish by children from Catalan-speaking backgrounds. Therefore, according to pedagogic experts, fewer tuition hours in Catalan would widen the gap between kids from Catalan- and Spanish-speaking families regarding their knowledge of Catalan, meaning that some children would end their studies without fully commanding the language.