Spain’s Supreme Court insists on making Spanish a language of instruction in Catalonia
The Spanish Supreme Court has ruled against the Catalan school model again. The model, which is based on the linguistic immersion principle, has been in place since the mid-1980s and totally guarantees the pupils’ knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan at the end of their schooling period. On Monday the Court rejected an appeal lodged last year by the Catalan Government against a previous judgement that obliged a school to go against Catalonia’s Education Law and teach the entire class in Spanish following a single request from a little girl’s family, irrespective of the opinion of the other pupils’ families. This is another episode in a long series of judicial rulings, appeals and judgements against Catalonia’s school model and the Catalan language since 2010. Spanish nationalists, particularly Madrid-based media and the People’s Party (PP), have been attacking this model and the Catalan language for the last decade and a half, but recently they have managed to get the centralist judicial authorities to back them.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Supreme Court has ruled against the Catalan school model again. The model, which is based on the linguistic immersion principle, has been in place since the mid-1980s and totally guarantees the pupils’ knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan at the end of their schooling period. On Monday the Court rejected an appeal lodged last year by the Catalan Government against a previous ruling that obliged a school to go against Catalonia’s Education Law, the last version of which was agreed in 2006 among all the education stakeholders and supported by all Catalan parties except the Spanish nationalist ones. Now, the Court obliges an entire class to be taught in Spanish following a single request from a little girl’s family, irrespective of the opinion of the other pupils’ families. The problem is that this breaks the current model and risks children not learning enough Catalan. If this were to happen, equal opportunities would not be guaranteed, affecting social cohesion and creating two separate language communities.
The ruling goes against the linguistic immersion model, which teaches all the school subjects in Catalan except Spanish language and literature. However, the model includes many flexibility measures, including individualised attention for new-comers and the fact that some schools teach a few more subjects in Spanish, following their own education project and the social needs of the place where they are based. The linguistic immersion model was defined and implemented in the mid-1980s, following the advice of education experts. According to education experts, it is the most efficient way to guarantee the knowledge of Catalan language by the kids coming from Spanish-speaking environments, as otherwise they might not be exposed to the language. In fact, results show that even in the current model, kids from Spanish-speaking environments get worse results in Catalan than kids from Catalan speaking-environments; furthermore, these results are also worse than those of children from Catalan-speaking environments in Spanish. Therefore, with fewer hours of Catalan, kids from Spanish-speaking environments are likely not to master the local language. In this scenario, the gap regarding the knowledge of this language will be widen between kids from Spanish- and Catalan-speaking backgrounds, damaging equal opportunities, social cohesion and the normalisation of the Catalan language, seriously affected after decades of cultural repression during the Franco Dictatorship.
The Supreme’s Court pronouncement issued on Monday evening is just another episode in a long series of judicial rulings, appeals and judgements against Catalonia’s school model and the Catalan language in an offensive that has been taking place in the Courts since 2010. Spanish nationalists, particularly Madrid-based media and the People’s Party (PP), have been attacking this model and the Catalan language for the last decade and a half. However, since the Constitutional Court’s ruling against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2010 and its ambiguous definition of Catalan language as being “the centre of gravity” of the school system but insisting that Spanish could not be “excluded”, the centralist and Madrid-based Supreme Court sided with the dozen or so families who requested that their children be schooled in Spanish in Catalonia. The Spanish Constitution does not recognise “the right to be schooled in Spanish”, as the Constitutional Court acknowledged in a previous ruling in 1994. It only recognises “the right and duty to know Spanish”, which the Catalan school system totally guarantees. However, Spanish nationalists insist they have “the right” to choose the instruction language of their kids and to be schooled in Spanish, even though their kids will probably end up with a much weaker knowledge of Catalan than the rest of the students.
These families represent a marginal minority in a system with more than 1 million pupils being schooled, but they might force a change. The Supreme Court is trying to make schools change the language for the entire class if the family of only a single pupil requests it, irrespective of the opinion of the rest. The Catalan Government rejects this measure, as it fears that gradually two different education systems will be created: one following the current model and another one with Spanish as the language of instruction. Such a model is in place in Valencia, where the PP runs the regional government, and has created two separate language communities. In addition, many Valencian children end their school period without being able to talk correctly in Catalan, which is Valencia’s local language.
The conflict is also constitutional, since it means that the Supreme Court can modify a law already in place, although this is not the Supreme Court’s role. The Catalan school model is defined by a series of laws, including the Statute of Autonomy, approved through a binding referendum in 2006. In Spain, the Constitutional Court is the only judicial body that has the power to modify laws and this Court has already validated the Catalan school model based on linguistic immersion on two occasions. However, in 2010, following a tremendously politicised debate around the Catalan Statute of Autonomy – in which the Court’s composition was altered –, the Constitutional Court issued a judgement that totally changed this law. In fact, this is considered as one of the main causes of the current conflict between Catalonia and Spain and the increase of pro-independence support. In the ruling against the Statute, the Court also interpreted how the education model should be implemented. It actually said that Catalan was “the centre of gravity” of the model, but that Spanish “can not be excluded”. This ambiguous formulation has been used by Spanish nationalists to attack the model since then, despite the fact that it has been working since the mid-1980s. Results show that Catalan pupils have the same average results in Spanish language than the rest of their peers throughout Spain, and in some years the results are even better.
The Supreme Court’s pronouncement issued on Monday directly refers to the Constitutional Court’s judgement and to “the new reality created”. The Supreme Court interprets the ambiguous formulation to mean that Spanish can also be the language of instruction within the system. Two weeks ago, Catalonia’s High Court, following a previous ruling from the Supreme Court, stated that the affected schools were obliged to offer “at least 25%” of the curriculum in Spanish. The Catalan Government has already declared that it “will not change a single comma” of the current model and will also appeal this decision. It also criticised the absurdity of having a court deciding on the school curriculum by issuing an exact percentage. On top of this, the Catalan school system's main stakeholders also defended the current model and the linguistic immersion. They were also protesting against budget cuts affecting education and the Spanish Government's Education Reform, which goes against the Catalan language and recentralises powers. In addition, the Reform will downplay Catalonia's own history, which will not be part of the final exams and therefore pupils will tend to ignore it.
Catalonia’s independence claims are also mixed up in the debate, as the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, linked the current school model with the increase in support for independence. However, figures show that the support for independence has increased equally among all age groups, including those Catalans who were educated under Franco’s Fascist Regime. Despite this evidence, Wert – who used to take part in debates on extreme-right television channels – has decided “to guarantee” that kids can be schooled in Spanish in Catalonia. In his Education Reform, he has included a measure that obliges the Catalan Government to pay for kids that want to be schooled in Spanish to attend a privately-owned school if this option is not offered in the public system. The problem for him is that privately-owned schools in Catalonia also follow the linguistic immersion principle, since the model has an extremely broad consensus and there is paramount agreement on its benefits, acknowledged for the last 30 years. However, Wert does not give up since his “objective is to Hispanicise Catalan pupils”, as he stated in front of the Spanish Parliament a year ago.