Catalans rebel at Spain language reforms
In the latest show of tension between Catalonia and the Spanish government, Catalans organise street protests against plans to reform the teaching of their language in schools
AFP , Thursday 13 Dec 2012
Catalan President elect Artur Mas and Catalan Regional Minister of Education Irene Rigau attend a meeting at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona (Photo: Reuters)
Catalans rebelling against plans to reform teaching of their language in schools planned street protests Thursday, the latest outpouring of tension between the region and the Spanish government.
Associations organising the demonstration, planned for 1700 GMT in Barcelona, branded the reform an attack on the Catalan cultural identity, which pre-dates the formation of the modern Spanish state.
The proposed changes would give central government more power over aspects of the curriculum -- and give greater weight to the Spanish language.
At the moment in Catalonia all teaching is in Catalan, under what is known as the "immersion" system. Spanish is taught as a language subject.
Last week, Spain's national Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert proposed to make the region pay for private schooling in Spanish for children whose parents demanded it.
And under the current draft of the reform, pupils would also cease to be examined in Catalan on leaving school, but would sit exams in Spanish and foreign languages.
Organisers of the protest called on teachers, parents and pupils to defend "social cohesion" against an "unprecedented attack on the model of education in Catalan".
In a protest in Barcelona on Monday that drew thousands of demonstrators, one elderly man wore a sticker over his mouth with the words: "They don't want Catalan to be spoken."
Wert however insisted on Wednesday: "The government does not at all want to do away with schooling in Catalan."
Although the reform applies to all Spain's regions, the issue is particularly sensitive in Catalonia. People here were banned from speaking Catalan in public under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975.
"There would be a model very like what we had when we were little -- an authoritarian model with tight control over the content," said Alex Castillo, 47, a parent of two schoolboys aged 10 and 13.
Other Spanish regions with their own official languages, such as Galicia and the Basque Country, already offer the choice of schooling in Spanish.
Supporters of the current Catalan model say it upholds equality among pupils in a region of mixed origins.
"As well as promoting the learning of the Catalan language and culture, what it does is eliminate differences based on pupils' backgrounds," said Eloy Cortes, a 20-year-old university student.
"I have done all my schooling through linguistic immersion. It is a system in which no one is excluded," he added.
Regardless of what language their parents speak, "all pupils receive the tools to have a very good level of Catalan and of Spanish".
Nevertheless some families in Catalonia have taken legal action for the right to have their children schooled in Spanish, and courts have ruled in their favour.
Tensions have run high in recent weeks between the national government in Madrid and Catalonia, which on November 25 held a snap election over its desire for greater autonomy.
Pro-independence parties scored strongly in the vote in the region of 7.5 million inhabitants, suffering like much of Spain in the current recession.
Ramon Grau, head teacher of a high school in Barcelona, said the reform would further fuel separatist feeling in the region.
"I would suggest that we refuse to apply the new law," he said.