The Spanish Education Minister: “Our interest is to ‘Spanishise’ Catalan students”

José Ignacio Wert, the Education Minister, made this statement at the Spanish Parliament, while defending the recentralisation measures he is trying to implement. Wert’s words have provoked major outrage in Catalonia. The Catalan Government, all the non-Spanish nationalist parties, trade unions and civil society organisations have qualified Wert’s statements as being “totalitarian”, “a barbarity”, and “pre-Constitutional”, reminding them of Franco times. Furthermore, many citizens channelled their outrage for Wert’s words through Twitter, making the related hashtag Spain’s main trending topic. Besides, results show Catalan students have better results in Spanish than Spain’s average.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

October 11, 2012 12:03 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday, the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, admitted that the Spanish Government’s “interest is to ‘Spanishise’ the Catalan students”. These words have provoked an outraged reaction among most of the Catalan political, social and educational classes. All the non-Spanish nationalist parties have heavily criticised Wert, as well as the Catalan Government. The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, considered that Wert pushing towards an “involution” is like going back “to pre-Constitutional times”. Rigau was referring to Franco’s Fascist dictatorial regime, when the Catalan language was banned and Spanish nationalists tried to homogenise Spain, imposing Spanish identity on Catalans. Rigau lamented the current Spanish Government’s “identity offensive” and the “recentralisation will”. In addition one of Spain’s two main trade unions, UGT (General Workers Union), qualified Wert’s statements as being “totalitarian”. Many citizens channelled their outrage for Wert’s words through Twitter, making the related hashtag Spain’s main trending topic. The civil society platform defending the Catalan language at school stated that “the Spanish Government wants to finish Catalonia’s educational model”. The Catalan education system has been validated twice by the Constitutional Court and praised by the European Commission and UNESCO as a good example of not segregating for language reasons and guaranteeing the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan at the end of school. Furthermore, results show Catalan students have better results in Spanish than Spain’s average.

“Our interest is ‘Spanishise’ Catalan students”

Before the Spanish Parliament, Wert was defending the recentralisation reform he is trying to have approved, by which the Catalan Government’s say in the school curriculum and its evaluation powers would be significantly reduced. Without any doubt, the Spanish Education Minister admitted that “our interest is to ‘Spanishise’ Catalan students and make them proud of being Spanish and Catalan”. Wert, who is a sociologist and was collaborating with Spanish nationalist and ultra conservative media and think tanks before becoming Spain’s Minister for Education and Culture, justified the initiative because, according to him, the Catalan education system “exaggerates […] the specificities of Catalonia”, almost “to caricature levels”. Wert stated that in Catalonia “the shared elements from Catalonia’s history within Spain are hidden” in the Catalan public education system. He justified this statement by saying that the Catalan Government had changed years ago the name of the subject taught in the last year of school previously called ‘History of Spain’ into ‘History’, which is the name it has been having in the rest of school years. Last week, in a press interview, Wert has already stated that Catalonia’s education system was promoting independence. Back then, many people reminded him that a number of people defending independence were educated under Franco’s regime.

Outraged reactions in Catalonia

Wert’s last statement has provoked many outraged reactions in Catalonia. The Spokesperson for CiU at the Spanish Senate Committee for Education and Culture, Joan Bagué, considered Wert’s words to have “a colonial touch” and that they “treat Catalans as if they were a colony”. Furthermore the Spanish Education Minister is “despising the work of Catalan teachers” and his statement has “Francoist and post Civil War dregs”. The leader of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Pere Navarro, who opposes independence and is federated to the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), considered Wert’s words to be “a barbarity”, which “confirm the recentralisation” put forward by the Spanish Government. The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) underlined the Minister’s “indoctrination and colonisation” attitudes. The Leader of the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), Joan Herrera, stated that Wert’s words are “an atrocity […] from past times”.  

A school model praised by UNESCO and the European Commission

The model, which has been in place for three decades, is defined by Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy (a sort of Constitution approved by the Spanish and Catalan Parliaments and by the Catalan people through a referendum). Furthermore, it has been validated by the Spanish Constitutional Court twice and praised by international organisations such as UNESCO and the European Commission. These international organisations consider the Catalan school model to be a best practice example of integrating two language communities, not segregating for language reasons, avoiding social fractures (as in Belgium, for instance) and guaranteeing the knowledge of both co-official languages.

Catalan students have better results in Spanish than Spain’s average

Academic results show that Catalan students have better results in Spanish language than the average of their Spanish peers. 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 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.