23/11/2021

Courts corner linguistic immersion

2 min
Some children enter a classroom in a school in Barcelona on the first day of the school year.

As expected, the Supreme Court has not admitted the Generalitat's appeal on the ruling of Catalonia's High Court which, according to the Wert law, requires 25% of classes in Catalan schools to be in Castilian. If applied, it would mean the end of the system of linguistic immersion, conceived when self-government was recovered in the 80s to positively discriminate in favour of Catalan after 40 years of prohibitions during Franco's dictatorship. The confirmation of this sentence, however, comes when the Wert law is no longer in force and has been replaced by the Celaá law, which only requires the Catalan administration to guarantee the learning of Spanish and Catalan taking into account its competences. In any case, a legal precedent is established which, albeit not automatically applicable, remains like a sword of Damocles over Catalan schools depending on who is in power in Madrid. From the outset, everything suggests that, given the climate of parliamentary dependence between ERC and the PSOE-Podemos executive, the Spanish government will not execute this sentence and, therefore, as assured by Catalan education minister Josep Gonzàlez Cambray, the linguistic uses in the Catalan educational system will continue as before, among other things because academic results guarantee that the students who study in Catalonia leave with a knowledge of Spanish which is equivalent to that of students of the rest of the State.

But the fact that the current political situation guarantees the survival of immersion despite the judicial blow does not mean that this is not very serious. Firstly, because it represents a new step in the judicialisation of the education system. Secondly, because it denotes the inability, in this case by the high judiciary, to understand and accept the pluriculturality of the State: Catalan, the second most spoken language in Spain, remains under permanent suspicion and its rights are always questioned. And thirdly, because reality belies all the prejudices and assumptions underlying the ruling of the Court's ruling when, as we have recently learned, immersion in practice has long been applied in a flexible or lax manner, to the point that less than half (46.8%) of teachers habitually address their students in Catalan, while only 39.4% of students use this language when speaking to teachers (these data are the result of a macro-survey of students in their last year of compulsory education). Fifteen years ago, these percentages were 64% and 56%, respectively. In practice, then, today Spanish is the predominant language in schools in Catalonia. What sense does it make, in this context, to impose, judicially, a 25% use of Spanish in the classroom?

Immersion is the result of a broad social, political and pedagogical consensus, which has made it possible for many people from abroad to have access to the Catalan language, and has avoided a fracture for linguistic reasons, thus strengthening cohesion and equal opportunities. Given the real linguistic evolution in the classroom, what is needed, in fact, is the opposite of what the Court has ruled: it is time to increase the use of Catalan in schools if we do not want to endanger its continuity. This is what the Government must defend, both here and in the Spanish parliament.