Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spanish Nationalist Government defends teaching a single history of Spain

Madrid (ACN).-The Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, emphasised the need to have a common and single history of Spain taught in all the Autonomous Communities. With the Education Reform he is currently proposing, the history curriculum will be imposed by Madrid and the Autonomous Communities will only be able to add a small portion referring to their own history. However, such additional contents will be excluded from the final exams and therefore pupils will tend to ignore them. With this initiative, Wert aims to impose a single interpretation of the historic facts affecting Spain’s history and nation-building. Lately, the Spanish Government, run by the People’s Party (PP), has repeatedly stated that Spain is “the oldest nation in Europe” and is now focusing on the education system to spread this idea. In addition, it is linking the increase in support for Catalan independence to the Catalan school system and the history curriculum. However, demographic data show that support for independence has increased among all age groups in similar proportions, including the people who were schooled during Franco times, when teachers were repeating that Spain was the oldest nation in Europe.

After the end of Franco’s Fascist Dictatorship, the education system was decentralised and the Autonomous Communities were given the powers to set school curricula and manage the school network. Such is the case in Catalonia, whose public education system is directly managed by the Catalan Government. However, in the current tense climate between Catalan and Spanish nationalisms, the Spanish Government has been working on a broad Education Reform designed to make Spain more homogeneous. The Reform has already been approved by the Spanish Parliament and is about to be implemented.

A single and common history instead of 17 different educational systems

During an informative breakfast organised by Spanish newspaper El Economista on Thursday, José Ignacio Wert, discussed the Education Reform further, specifically the use of the Spanish language and history as a subject. When asked if the “nationalistic fervour” in Catalonia was due in part to Education during the past 30 years, Wert said that, according to him, it “does not make sense not to have a history of Spain shared by all Autonomous Communities. Then, the history of Catalonia, the Basque Country or Cantabria can be added” to this “common history”, he explained.

When first presenting the Reform in October 2012, José Ignacio Wert stated to the Spanish Parliament that his “aim was to Hispanicise Catalan pupils”. In addition, he linked the Catalan schooling system to the rise of the independence movement, suggesting that Catalan students were brainwashed during their school years. For these reasons, the Spanish Government has now decided to impose a single version of Spanish history, which will be drafted in Madrid. Wert assumes that the Autonomous Communities such as Catalonia will be able to add their own contents to the history curriculum, but these specific contents will be made irrelevant by being excluded from the final exams.

Preventing Spanish from becoming “marginal” in Catalonia

Spanish Education Minister Wert, who used to participate in talk shows on extreme-right television channels before becoming Minister, insisted that the Education Reform was not aimed at “imposing Spanish as the teaching language” in classrooms. He stated that the Reform was designed to prevent Spanish “being excluded” and becoming “marginal”. He stressed that the new measure will not apply specifically to Catalonia, although Catalonia is the only Autonomous Community with “an exclusive use” of the co-official language as the instruction language. The main objective is for Spanish also to be able to serve as the teaching language, in accordance with rulings of the Supreme Court, he said.

In the Catalan school system, Spanish is taught as a subject but is not the main teaching language for the rest of the subjects, which are taught in Catalan. However, there are exceptions and many flexibility measures, which allow for a smooth adaptation for new-coming pupils. The system is based on the linguistic immersion principle in order to guarantee that, by the end of their studies, pupils can master both Catalan and Spanish. It has been in place for the last 35 years and results show it works: Catalan students’ results in Spanish language are the same as or even better than (depending on the years) their peers in the rest of Spain.

The Catalan model was designed to guarantee true bilingualism and equal opportunities

Experts designed this model since children coming from Spanish-speaking families were barely exposed to Catalan: they were not talking it at home, most of the media are in Spanish and Spanish is totally present on the streets. Therefore, those children were not able to speak Catalan after school. In order to foster true bilingualism and equal opportunities, and to avoid having two separate language communities, experts suggested the implementation of linguistic immersion in the entire system.

The Catalan model has been praised on several occasions by UNESCO and the European Commission. In addition, it totally respects the Spanish Constitution, which does not include “the right to be taught in Spanish”, but only “the right and duty to know Spanish”. The Constitutional Court has validated the system on two occasions, the latest in 2010.

Spanish nationalists are targeting the system

Spanish nationalists have been attacking the model for the last decade, particularly from Madrid, repeating that Spanish was marginalised in Catalonia. A small group of families presented a judicial appeal to school their children in Spanish in Catalonia. Finally the appeal arrived at the Supreme Court which ruled, against the Constitutional Court criteria, that they had the right to be schooled in Spanish. The Supreme Court does not have seniority over the Constitutional, which is the highest court on fundamental rights. The case represents a conflict between the two institutions and puts the entire Catalan system at risk. The Catalan Government then guaranteed individualised attention for the dozen kids of these families, in order not to alter a system with 1 million students. However, the families appealed as they wanted their children to be taught in Spanish in a regular class, despite the fact that the families of the rest of the class have not asked for their children to be taught in Spanish.

The Spanish Government decided to intervene a year ago with this Education Reform to oblige the Catalan Executive to make Spanish an instruction language, going against the Constitutional Court’s rule and the Catalan Statute of Autonomy endorsed by the Catalan people through a referendum.

Demanding an “alternative” to Catalan being the first language of instruction

At the informative breakfast, Wert also addressed one of the most controversial items in his Reform: obliging the Catalan Government to finance privately-owned school for families who would like their children to be taught in Spanish in Catalonia. The measure will be adopted if the Catalan Executive refuses to adapt the entire system. The problem is that private schools also decided 30 years ago to follow the linguistic immersion principle, since there is an extremely broad consensus in Catalonia about its benefits.

Wert insisted that if the Catalan Government created a new schooling system, providing “an alternative” to the current situation, the regulations and “the requirements established by the Reform may never be enforced”. He described such a measure as a “transitory” mechanism to ensure that the Catalan authorities would comply with the Reform and its objective to set Spanish as a teaching language in Catalonia.

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