Languages - Tied up in knots over native tongue

Plans to limit role of Catalan language face fierce opposition

Ever since Spain began its transition to democracy on the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the country's regional languages have been protected in schools.

But plans to give parents in Catalonia the right to demand that their children are taught in Spanish, rather than their native tongue of Catalan, have been announced as part of wide-ranging and controversial reforms.

The move, proposed by Spain's education minister, Jose Ignacio Wert, has met fierce opposition in the region. Critics claim that he is undermining the area's distinct heritage and culture.

Under the reforms, the Catalan government would have to pay for the children of parents who want their offspring to be taught in Spanish to attend a private school. The exclusion of Catalan from new national tests in core subjects would also take the emphasis away from the regional language, critics say.

Mr Wert controversially declared in 2012 that he wanted to "Hispanicise" Catalan schoolchildren, but educational experts claim his reforms have no educational basis.

Catalan parent groups and teaching unions have come together to oppose the reforms, under the banner of protest group Som Escola. The Catalan News Agency said the group has called for "disobedience" and stated that "Catalonia does not have to pay for the destruction of its school system".

Som Escola claims the reforms will homogenise learning in Spain and marginalise Catalonia's linguistic, historical and cultural differences.

Dr Antoni Verger, a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, told TES: "The most important message here is that this is a political discussion that does not reflect the real educational problems we have in Catalonia and Spain and, most importantly, does not have anything to do with everyday life in Catalan schools.

"From the point of view of educational effectiveness, this battle does not make any sense either: the level of Spanish of Catalan students is the same as the Spanish average."

But the plans in Catalonia are only one aspect of the reforms, known collectively as the Organic Law for Improving Education Quality (LOMCE). There is also opposition to the introduction of standardised testing at the end of each school stage, lowering the age at which children are streamed according to ability and raising the grades that students have to achieve in order to gain university scholarships.

Dr Verger argued in an article earlier this year that LOMCE is "notable for its marked managerialist approach to educational change, promoting models of school management that emulate the private sector and making the state's relations with private education centres more flexible".

Mr Wert has claimed that the reforms have been misunderstood and will raise the quality of education in Spain. But the embattled minister may not be in office long enough to find out the outcome: he has said that he made a "bad calculation" of his ability to withstand the opposition to his reforms and cuts and has no more political ambitions "of any type".

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