The divisive matter of Catalan vs Spanish for official matters in Catalonia is making headlines again, this time with regard to education.
Catalonia’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal from the Catalan Generalitat against an earlier ruling that required a quarter of lessons to be taught in castellano (Spanish) in schools in the northeastern region.
This means that the decision by the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) becomes final and puts an end to the linguistic immersion model that all classes apart from Spanish class and other languages such as English, be taught in Catalan.
The Minister of Education of the Catalan Generalitat government Josep González-Cambray appeared on Tuesday afternoon together with the Minister of Culture Natalia Garriga to report on the court’s decision, which he has defined as a “new frontal attack by the judges on the educational system in Catalonia”.
González-Cambray also sent a message to Catalan schools, assuring them that despite the new situation, there will be “no change” in the current system. “The centres must continue working as before and do not have to make any changes,” he said.
The minister has pointed out that the fact that “it is a judge who arbitrarily determines the percentage of hours that are necessary to learn a language is an anomaly and a contempt for education professionals”.
“School in Catalonia will be in Catalan,” he said at the end of his message to the schools.
The first ruling on this issue was back in 2014
The Catalan model of linguistic immersion has been questioned by the Justice for years and in 2014, the TSJC already established that the Department of Education should ensure a minimum of 25 percent of classes in Spanish.
At that time, the ruling referred to just eight students but stated that this was the rule to be followed when a student requests classes in Spanish.
The 2014 ruling was the first to set this percentage after several courts urged the Government of Catalonia to teach more classes in Spanish, although without specifying the percentage.
Later, in December 2020 the TSJC issued another ruling that obliged the entire Catalan educational system to teach 25 percent of its classes in Spanish, a ruling which the Catalan government appealed and now the Supreme Court has rejected.
How many students requested to be taught in Spanish?
According to the Catalan Minister of Education, there have “only been 80” families who have requested classes in Spanish since 2005 and he has denied that there is a linguistic conflict in Catalan schools.
This is despite the fact that only 14 percent of secondary school students and 35 percent of primary school students speak Catalan in the playground, according to data from the Llengua Platform.
Even though families may not have formally requested it, in the capital of Barcelona, where 25 percent of the population of Catalonia live, the University of Barcelona, says that 98 percent of those speak Spanish and only around 50-60 percent speak Catalan.
The reaction from the Catalan government and pro-Catalan associations
The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, has described the Supreme Court’s decision as a “very serious attack” and a “lack of respect for teachers”. “Catalan should not be touched be touched in schools. The immersion model that we have is a guarantee of social cohesion and equal opportunities in the country,” he added.
Aragonès assured schools that he will find “all possible ways” to overcome the situation and that he sees it as “fundamental” to increase the use of Catalan in schools further.
The Òmnium Cultural Catalan association has asked that disobedience not be ruled out to defend linguistic immersion after the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Catalan Civil Society, on the other hand, celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision, which they have defined as “a historic triumph for equal opportunities in the face of a reactionary model.”
The reaction from the Spanish government
The Spanish government believes that the judgment of the TSJC “must be carried out” like all sentences, “because it has been ruled upon”, but it will not expressly request this to happen because it believes that the TSJC itself should request compliance.
The Ministry of Education and the Ministers of Justice and Territorial Policy, Pilar Llop and Isabel Rodríguez said on Wednesday that once the ruling is final, they maintain, it is up to the sentencing court to see it through and not the government.
Around 8 million people are reported to speak Catalan, one of Spain’s six official languages.