[lg policy] Spanish government plans to end “Catalan-only” school language policy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Feb 16 11:09:03 EST 2018

 Spanish government plans to end “Catalan-only” school language policy
The region’s controversial system could be altered by Madrid as part of its
takeover of regional self-rule
Pilar Álvarez <https://elpais.com/autor/pilar_alvarez/a/>

   - Twitter <https://twitter.com/#!/pilaralvarezm>

Camilo S. Baquero <https://elpais.com/autor/camilo_sixto_baquero/a/>

   - Twitter <https://twitter.com/camilo_baquero>

Madrid / Barcelona 16 FEB 2018 - 17:04 CET
[image: Under the plans, parents would be able to request that their
children be taught in Spanish.] Under the plans, parents would be able to
request that their children be taught in Spanish. CONSUELO BAUTISTA

Catalan separatists’ inability to form a government following the December
21 election is prolonging Madrid’s control over regional affairs, a
situation that began after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral
independence in late October.

This increases the possibility that the central government – which now
oversees everything
from the Catalan public healthcare system to its firefighting contingency
plans – will end up making changes to the region’s controversial education

We are sensitive to the problem and we will soon announce a decision

Marcial Marín, State Secretary for Education

For years, these policies – which favor the use of Catalan at school over
Castilian Spanish – have attracted criticism from non-nationalist parents,
some of whom went to court to demand their right to choose. Despite winning
their cases, the Catalan government has always refused to offer this option.

While the topic had been mostly taboo at the political level, Ciudadanos, the
pro-unity party
that won the most votes at the December election in Catalonia, is now
openly demanding changes to correct what it views as a pro-independence
bias in regional education guidelines.

Now, Spain’s education minister, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo – who is temporarily
acting as Catalan education chief – is analyzing formulas that would allow
families residing in Catalonia to choose Spanish as the main language of
learning for their children.

At a press conference following the Friday Cabinet meeting, Méndez de Vigo
said that the Spanish executive is committed to guaranteeing parents’ right
to school their children in Spanish to the extent provided for by legal
resolutions in Catalonia. But he did not provide any details of how this
will be accomplished.

“There will be no changes to a linguistic model that was approved by a
parliament; the government cannot modify a law that was approved by the
regional chamber,” he said.

Student enrollment normally takes place in late March and early April. If
no government is formed in Catalonia by then, Madrid will be in charge of
managing this process.
An old debate

The news triggered an immediate reaction by separatist parties. The group
headed by ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, Junts per Catalunya
(Together for Catalonia), and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) expressed
confidence that they will soon reach a governing deal that will prevent
these kinds of changes from taking place.

We ask that education not be used as a weapon in the political battle

Ramon Font, teacher

The issue of language at Catalan schools had already been cause for debate
long before
<https://elpais.com/elpais/2011/09/15/inenglish/1316064042_850210.html> the
independence drive got underway. In 2012, the education minister at the
time, José Ignacio Wert – also remembered for having the lowest popularity
ratings of any minister in Spain’s democratic history – made a
controversial statement
about his plans to “*hispanicize* Catalan students” and make them “just as
proud to be Spanish as to be Catalan.”

One option on Méndez de Vigo’s table is to include a new checkbox in
student-enrollment documents letting parents choose the main language of
learning for their children.

“We’re working on it,” said Marcial Marín, secretary of state for
education, at a Thursday press conference where he was asked about the
matter. “We are sensitive to the problem and we will soon announce a

But Ciudadanos, which began life as a Catalan non-nationalist party before
making the jump to national politics, says that this measure falls short.

“This box must exist but it is not enough, we can’t make an aesthetic
change and leave it at that,” said Marta Martín, a congresswoman for

“I hope that what PM Rajoy did not do in six years, and what neither the
Popular Party nor the Socialist Party did for decades, will finally be done
now. We are asking the government to introduce trilingualism in the
2018-2019 school year,” tweeted Ciudadanos party leader Albert Rivera,
alluding to the use of Catalan, Spanish and English in the schoolrooms.
Bad news

But the plans were not well received in separatist circles.

“If the government uses Article 155 to blow up linguistic immersion, it
will be evident that it wishes to continue hurting Catalonia. It will also
evidence our own irresponsibility in failing to form a government,” said
Joan Tardà, an ERC leader who sits in Spain’s national Congress in Madrid.

“It is urgent to have a government in the coming weeks,” added Jordi Xuclà,
another congressman who represents the separatist European Democratic Party
of Catalonia (PDeCAT).
How the system works

In Catalonia, Catalan is the main working language at school. Spanish
language is taught for two hours a week in elementary school, three hours a
week in secondary school and two hours a week at the pre-university level.
As for the other subjects, teachers may choose which language to use in the

Families wishing to educate their children in Spanish have to go through a
complicated administrative procedure that involves requesting a subsidy to
enroll in a private school. According to Catalan education department data,
there were 560 requests made in the last three school years, and 50 were

A 2000 ruling by the Constitutional Court said that Spanish should also be
considered a working language, but it did not define how many hours of
classroom use this entails. It was former minister Wert who first suggested
a 25% figure as the “bare minimum.” The Catalan regional High Court has
supported this figure in at least five cases, and civic associations such
as Societat Civil Catalana (SCC) have made it a recurring demand.

The Catalan Socialists, while siding with the unionist camp on most issues,
defend the current linguistic model in Catalonia. “It is a positive element
that produces social cohesion,” said Congresswoman Meritxell Batet.

Catalonia’s education community also says it will defend the existing model.

“We ask that education not be used as a weapon in the political battle,”
said Ramon Font, spokesman for USTEC, the largest primary school teachers’


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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