Political parties agree on a common strategy to face the Spanish Government's Education Law against the Catalan language
Barcelona (ACN).- The parties defending the current Catalan school model – which represent 80% of Catalonia’s Parliament – met on Tuesday to discuss how to face the Spanish Government’s Education Reform, known as LOMCE. They all agreed to act together in Madrid in order to try to modify the law, which in its current formulation goes against the Catalan language and the Catalan Government’s powers as recognised by Catalonia’s main law – approved via a binding referendum and the Spanish Parliament – and the Catalan Education Law, which was based on a wide consensus with sector stakeholders and political groups. However, in today’s meeting, opposition parties also insisted on criticising the budget cuts in education implemented since 2011 by the Catalan Government to reduce public deficit. The Catalan school model is based on the linguistic immersion principle, guaranteeing equal opportunities and social cohesion, since it does not segregate students for language reason and does not create two separate communities. Furthermore, it guarantees true bilingualism since pupils at the end of their schooling period have totally mastered both Spanish and Catalan. The model has been praised as an example to follow by international organisations such as UNESCO and the European Commission. However, the Spanish Executive’s Education Reform aims to stop linguistic immersion and allow parents to choose Spanish as their children’s language of instruction, which means these children might end their schooling period without knowing Catalan. In order to do this, the Spanish Government aims to fund studies at privately-owned schools teaching in Spanish and later pass the bill to the Catalan Executive. However, the Association of Privately-Owned Schools of Catalonia already emphasised that none of their members has Spanish as the language of instruction. From Barcelona the Spanish Government’s strategy is perceived as an attempt to divide Catalan society and to marginalise the Catalan language, as it would only be known by a proportion of the population, while Spanish would be known by everybody.
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, called for the meeting with the Catalan School Council and the political parties defending the current school model after the Spanish Government approved its Education Reform project ten days ago. The Catalan School Council is formed by representatives of teacher unions, education centres except universities, parent associations, students and education experts.
In the meeting, the Catalan Government proposed to modify the LOMCE in the Spanish Parliament in order to make it honour Catalonia’s main law – approved via a binding referendum and by the Spanish Parliament – which clearly states that Catalan is the language of instruction. In addition, the Catalan parties aim to reaffirm that 45% of the school curricula is to be set by the Catalan Education Ministry, as has been the case in the last few decades. The Education Reform currently states that the Spanish Government will exclusively set the curricula of the obligatory subjects – which has not been made since Franco times – and will also set common evaluation tests for the all school students in Spain. This represents that Catalonia’s own history, language and other contents are likely to be marginalised – even ignored or presented in a biased way – and perceived by students as secondary, since they will not be in the common tests at Spanish level. The parties in the meeting agreed on the common strategy to be deployed from now on, although left-wing opposition parties also wanted to show they totally disagree with the budget cuts implemented in the Catalan education system since 2010.
A message of unity
The People’s Party (PP) holds an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan parties’ action is unlikely to succeed and change the LOMCE. However, the five political parties participating would send a strong political message of unity, which might be of paramount importance in the months and even years to come. The issue will likely be taken to the Constitutional Court – a process that might take years – and schools in Catalonia (including the privately-owned ones) are also expected to face a reform that would end the job done in the last 35 years.
The participating are the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) – which runs the Catalan Government, the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) – which has a parliamentary stability agreement with the CiU, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) – which is part of the Spanish Socialists (PSOE), the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) – which runs with the United Left (IU), and the radical left-wing and independence party CUP- which is the only one without a seat in the Spanish Parliament. These five parties represent 108 seats out of the 135-seat Catalan Parliament (80% of the MPs). The parties against the linguistic immersion principle defend Spanish nationalist stances and they are the PP – which runs the Spanish Government – and the populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s).
Political reactions after the Catalan parties' summit
At the end of the meeting, the Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, wondered how the Spanish Education Ministry can modify a language model and the Catalan Government’s powers, which have been validated twice by the Constitutional Court (the last time being in 2010) and are clearly defined in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (which is a law just below the Spanish Constitution, approved via a binding referendum). In addition, Rigau emphasised that if there is unity in Catalonia, the Spanish Government might not have time to implement its reform, since it is very likely to be modified if a change of government occurs.
The CiU is convinced that there will be unity in Catalonia while trying to modify the LOMCE, bringing the Spanish Government’s Education Reform to the Constitutional Court and not implementing the reform if it is finally approved in its current form, since it goes against Catalonia’s legislative framework and language model. The CiU explained that in the Spanish Parliament they might not present common amendments, although they also stated that amendments will all go in the same direction.
The ERC will back all the joint actions against the LOMCE although they also warned that the “threat” against the Catalan language “will only end up with independence” from Spain. The ERC also stated that the “threat” goes against “the Catalan schools and also the economy, healthcare and labour market”. They emphasised that it is “absolutely out of the question to implement” the Spanish Government’s Education Reform. Therefore, the ERC insisted on the need to keep unity in Catalonia against this reform, not only at a parliamentary level but also taking it to the Constitutional Court and to the Catalan schools.
The PSC agreed on “the spirit and the substance” of the Catalan Government’s amendments to the LOMCE which aim to guarantee the current school model based on the language immersion principle and Catalonia’s self-government levels. However, the PSC stated that they will have to study the exact text of the proposed amendments before giving their definitive support. In addition, the PSC noted that it was the main party pushing for the Catalan Education Law (LEC), approved with a wide consensus with stakeholders and the support of all the Catalan parties but the PP and C’s. The PSC stated that it will try to modify the LEC to stop giving public subsidies to privately-owned schools that split students according to their gender.
The ICV-EUiA backed the Catalan Government’s criticism of the LOMCE but it also asked for not only trying to modify the points referring to linguistic immersion. The ICV-EUiA wants to modify further points such as those setting Religion as a school subject, whose results will count towards getting into university and obtaining grants. In addition, the ICV-EUiA proposed to stop subsidies to elite schools or those that segregate students for gender reasons. The Greens criticised the budget cuts implemented in the education sector and asked for more economic resources to be given to this essential public service.
The CUP challenged the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, to send the police to oblige schools to implement the LOMCE if it is finally approved. The CUP asked for the building of “a popular wall” against the Spanish Government’s Reform in the schools, which will make the new law impossible to implement. Furthermore, the CUP lamented that the Catalan Government was not explicit enough in stating whether it will disobey the Reform or not if it is finally approved and takes over from the current Catalan school model.