A defiant Catalonia announced on Tuesday that it will not enforce a proposed national education law that aims to restrict the use of regional languages in the classroom. Catalonia will continue to apply its own regional law, said government spokesman Francesc Homs on behalf of Catalan premier Artur Mas.
“Because the Catalan language is under attack, the Catalan government will not hold back any energy or put any limits on its institutional capacities to fight [the proposed law],” said Homs after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
Education Minister José Ignacio Wert on Tuesday presented the regions with new draft legislation that would force Catalonia to limit the hours Catalan is used in schools and guarantee that Spanish becomes the official learning language in the classrooms, including at private schools. If passed, the law would also affect the Basque Country, Galicia and Valencia.
The Catalan government reacted to details of the draft bill, to which EL PAÍS had access, which ensures students are offered coursework in both languages “in balanced proportions.” If this is not the case, parents must be able to choose one main language for their children's classes, and if there is no satisfactory program in public or publicly subsidized private schools, then regional authorities must "pay the cost" of a private one.
The best thing the government can do is to call the referendum soon” ERC leader Oriol Junqueras
The document admits that a given region can "award differentiated treatment to the co-official language with regard to Castilian Spanish in reasonable proportions, but in no case may it exclude Castilian Spanish."
Catalonia’s education chief, Irene Rigau, declared on Tuesday that the plan “cannot be applied” and that the regional government should challenge any eventual law restricting the use of Catalan in schools before the Constitutional Court. She explained that the proposal fails to respect Article Three of the Spanish Constitution which states that: “The richness of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be specially respected and protected.”
Although no specific mention is made of Catalonia, the text is evidently aimed chiefly at this region, which has aggressively pursued Catalan-only schooling despite negative rulings by the Supreme Court and the Catalan regional High Court, after parents desiring a Spanish-language education took legal action against the Generalitat.
Mas has already begun to draw battle lines, drumming up support from opposition parties. The regional premier plans on meeting December 12 with representatives of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the leftist greens (ICV).
“It is time to form a front,” said Homs.
For his part, ERC leader Oriol Junqueras said that the “best thing the [Catalan] government can do is to call the referendum soon,” in reference to a sovereignty consultation Mas has said he wishes to hold during the current legislature.
As part of a time-honored tradition in which each new government enacts sweeping reforms to the school system, the Popular Party (PP) government also plans to scrap a civics education course, introduced by the previous administration and which the PP considers an attempt to indoctrinate children with Socialist values.
Instead, Wert has taken up a Catholic Church proposal of a course on values that parents can choose instead of religious studies, which is equivalent to a return to the old choice between religion and ethics prior to the Socialist reform. The new course will be called Cultural and Social Values.
The government also intends to increase its control over the content of core courses such as math or history to 65 percent of overall content in bilingual regions.
The draft legislation also reflects the continuing cuts to public education across the country. After firing teachers who helped break up the work in large classes and axing special integration classes for newly arrived immigrants, the government plans to cancel a program called PROA, which provides after-school classes for kids with learning problems to help them earn their high school diploma and bring down dropout rate.