Spanish Supreme Court declares that Spanish must also be a school language of instruction

Spain’s Highest Court sentences on a case about 3 parents who wanted their children to be taught in Spanish at Catalan public schools. The decision breaks the principle of using Catalan as the language of instruction in Catalan schools. This model has been in place for the last 30 years and guarantees knowledge of both the Catalan and Spanish languages by all pupils, as exam records have been proving. Now, Spain’s Supreme Court is interpreting the Spanish Constitutional Court’s sentence from last June, which stated that Catalan was a teaching language but that Spanish should also be. The fear in Catalonia is that the country will split into 2 separated language communities and social groups will not understand Catalan.

CNA / Maria José Fidalgo / Gaspar Pericay Coll

December 22, 2010 10:01 PM

Madrid (CNA).- The Spanish Supreme Court is pushing the Catalan Government to make Spanish a teaching language in Catalan public schools. The Court sentenced on an appeal by 3 parents who took the Catalan Government to court for denying to school their children in Spanish within the Catalan public education system. The Catalan language is the teaching language in Catalan public schools, which means that subjects such as mathematics and history are taught in Catalan. Spanish is used in Spanish language classes. The Court's decision, if it had to be implemented, may create 2 split language communities, may put in danger the Catalan language, and may condemn some social groups to be monolingual and thus to be in a clear disadvantage regarding the bilingual individuals.

The current Catalan model has received international recognition by UNESCO and the European Commission. It has been considered an integration model that guarantees the complete knowledge of both languages and does not create a split in language communities. The Catalan language is in a weaker position in Catalonia, and some social groups are not exposed to Catalan at all. School is the only contact that some children may have with the Catalan language. If these children were not taught in Catalan, they would not know the Catalan language and would thus be at a clear disadvantage against students that know both official languages. In addition, the social groups not exposed to Catalan are mainly coming from working class environments. Therefore, not using Catalan in schools would increase social differences and inequalities.

The debate regarding the use of Catalan language in schools has mainly been pushed during the last years from the Madrid political circle, mainly used the Spanish nationalism. The model has been in place in Catalonia during the last 30 years and the Constitutional Court declared it Constitutional in 1994. In addition, Catalan pupils get better results than the Spanish average in the Spain-wide final high school exam; they also get better results in the Spanish language. Therefore, the current Catalan school model guarantees the knowledge of Spanish by all Catalan pupils, as well as Catalan. In fact, the Spanish Constitutional Court underlined in previous sentences that the Catalan model must guarantee that all the pupils are proficient in Spanish.

Now, the effects of the Supreme Court’s sentence in Catalonia remain to be seen. Spanish nationalist parties are happy about the sentence and pro Catalan parties either see it as an unbearable attack or as a mistake by the Spanish Supreme Court contradicting the Constitutional Court. The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Party, Convergència i Unió (CiU), which will rule the next Catalan Government, affirmed that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction on this matter, as the Constitutional Court is the highest court regarding Autonomous Communities’ rules. CiU reminded that the Constitutional Court had previously declared the Catalan model to be constitutional. The still Vice President of the Catalan Government, Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira, from the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), considered the sentence an “attack”. The still Catalan Minister for Education, the Socialist Ernest Maragall, stated that the Court's decision would not affect the Catalan education model, as it was previously recognised by the Constitutional Court. In fact, trade unions, teacher associations, parent’s associations, and the majority of the political parties defended the Catalan model and criticised the sentence. The only exception: the Catalan People’s Party (PPC) and the Anti Catalan Nationalism Ciudadanos (C’s), which together represent 15.5% of the MPs in the Catalan Parliament.