Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Catalan government rejects Spanish plan against language immersion

Originally published in Vilaweb, on 4 December 2012

The Catalan President, Artur Mas, has called for a summit meeting of political leaders from PSC, ICV-EUiA, and ERC, as well as the Education Council.

The Catalan Government [Generalitat] "will apply the Catalan Education Law and will defend the fundamental linguistic rights of our country, protected by the Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Constitution," declared government spokesperson Francesc Homs, who thereby rejected applying the new law proposed by Spanish Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, which would relegate Catalan to elective status.

Homs also announced that President Artur Mas had spoken with the political leaders of various parties that over the years have supported the policy of linguistic immersion and proposed a meeting that will take place next Wednesday in the Generalitat Palace, along with representatives of the Education Council. This meeting, he said, will underline "the significance of this offensive that focuses its sights against a system that has worked very well in this country for the last 30 years, a linguistic model for the schools that has allowed our students to excel in both Catalan and Spanish".

"The current political moment—referring to the constitution of the new government and the investiture of the Parliament—takes a back seat: now it's time to join together agains this PP offensive."

Rigau [Catalan Education Minister] on Wert [Spanish Education Minister]: "He makes it very clear that we must exercise our right to self-determination"

The Minister for Education, Irene Rigau, has roundly denounced a "document that was hidden until today" from the rest of the law aimed to improve the quality of education, initiated by the Spanish government. "This proposal is so harmful, that if the central government applies it, it will lead to the destruction of both our self-government and our culture," said Rigau this morning on radio station RAC-1. "I don't see myself as a member of a government that would apply this law."

"The people of Catalunya, the educators and the education sector think more and more autonomously with each passing day. This makes its very clear that we must exercise our right to self-determination," added Rigau.

"No minister has never gone this far before"

Wert's proposal specifies that while the Generalitat has not determined which subjects will be taught in Catalan and which in Spanish, that parents can bring their children to a private school, "on the basis of the language of instruction" and that the Catalan government must underwrite the cost. In addition, the draft of the law reform establishes that a "reasonable proportion" must be determined between Catalan and Spanish. Rigau exclaims, "No minister has ever gone this far before."

Rigau explained yesterday that the draft of the reform law for Education introduced by the Spanish government and received by the Catalan Department of Education yesterday represents a "significant change". She said that it is represents an "offensive against the Catalan language, which it relegates to residual status". The minister complained that "Catalan hasn't been this scorned by a Spanish ministerial text since 1978".

The principal change is that Catalan ceases to be a required subject and instead will be an elective, which would also result in fewer class hours, according to Rigau.

The draft divides subject matter into central, extra, and electives. There are five in the first category, which must make up 50% of the school day. There have to be at least 3 and at most 5 "extra" classes, which can take up to at most 50% of the day. The electives would be at most one subject, or perhaps two in those communities that have two languages.

Among the central class subjects are Spanish and literature, the first foreign language and mathematics; among the "extras" are physical education, music, technology, art, and culture. The third category, the electives, would contain Catalan, which would end up being the fourth language taught, after Spanish, and the first and second foreign languages.

Rigau explained that this change could allow a student to obtain his or her secondary degree without testing in Catalan, in the new tests that Wert wants to establish as required for passing each educational level, since students could take a test in any of the elective subjects, and not choose Catalan.

For Rigau, this is treating Catalan as a residual language and it breaks the current Catalan school model, which uses Catalan as the language of instruction.

"Reasonable proportion"

On the other hand, Rigau said that the text that they had received also establishes that the administrations in communities with two official languages [like Catalonia] would have to provide "equal" treatment choosing the language of instruction and allows some compensation for the less normalized language "but adds that such compensation must be in a reasonable proportion". For Rigau, it's clear that they are going for a 50% split, even though the draft does not make that clear.

The text also establishes that while the communities do not determine the percentages for the two languages, the parents can choose the language of instruction in which they want their children to be educated: "They can choose to school their children in private centers and the educational administration will have to underwrite the expenses," if they choose Spanish.

Another change in the draft is that to evaluate the ability to communicate in primary school, tests will be given in the student's "mother tongue".

Rigau said that there are more aspects that contradict the Catalan school model and the jurisdiction of the Catalan government, and that she had notified the Spanish Education Minister. But, yesterday she focused on the linguistic question, which she considers particularly serious.

"The minister sees political maneuvering"

Rigau insisted that the draft is nothing like what they were presented earlier and that had been used in earlier meetings and work sessions with the Spanish Ministry of Education. She said that this was a "hidden text" that was not revealed until after the Catalan elections, and she decried the "political maneuvering". The new document has "very clear intentions" that "are quite far from its original objectives". In her opinion, the Spanish government would rather destroy the Catalan education system, more than achieve the scholastic achievement goals set by Europe.

Today Rigau will report on the new text to the government and will communicate her full opposition in the meeting of all of the Education ministers that takes place today in Madrid. If they do not make any changes to it, she will consider bringing it to the courts.

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