For the past 30 years, schools in Spain’s Catalonia region have taught most subjects in Catalan, not the national Spanish language.
The Catalan region is bordered on the north by France and Andorra; on the east by the Mediterranean Sea; to the west by Aragon; and to the south by the Valencian Community.
Fiona Ortiz, reporting for Reuters, says that now there are 10 million Catalan speakers in or near the region which borders France and the Mediterranean,where the language was repressed under the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Francesca Munoz, principal of Sant Miquel primary schools near Barcelona, has been leading a crusade for the language.
“We feel so proud to have achieved this, but we can’t relax now. It’s still a daily battle,” says Munoz, who led her school’s transition to Catalan three decades ago, when all the teachers were retrained.
The renaissance of Catalan has been so impressive that some parents are worried that their children will be short-changed on Spanish. The Spanish language is the second-most language spoken by native speakers in the world after Mandarin. The government in Madrid passed a law that said that the Catalan school system would have to provide more hours in the teaching of Spanish if parents petition for it.
All of this fuss has only strengthened the supporters of Catalan and of the region’s independence drive. During the Spanish economic crisis, citizens of the wealthy Catalan region felt that their taxes were financing the poorer areas of the country.
“We need our own country in order to protect our language,” Irene Rigau, education superintendent for Catalonia, said in an interview in her office in Barcelona last month.
Experts say this secession will not happen because it will be declared unconstitutional.
When democracy was restored to Spain in 1978, the teaching of Catalan began to emerge again. Catalan began to be taught and spoken by government, theater productions, newspapers, and has even become an integrator for children of the millions of immigrants from poorer regions. Ana Losada, however, is concerned.
“They argue that people learn Spanish as well as Catalan, but it’s not true. We are hearing from university professors that the level of Spanish is deficient,” says Losada, who says her group is not political and does not have a stance on the independence issue. “It’s impossible to teach it adequately in only three hours a week.”
Catalan educators do not think that the teaching of Spanish has been compromised in any way. They also believe that Catalan must be over-protected or it will disappear. This is the reason more time is spent in teaching Catalan and making Catalan the only language spoken during the school day. The Catalan supporters say that if they are not vigilant, Castilian Spanish will take over.
According to an an article for the Catalan News Agency, the Spanish government is asking the Catalan government to pay €6,057 each year for each pupil that enrolls in private education in the Spanish language, if there is no such offer in the public system.
Irene Rigau countered that there are no private schools in Catalonia offering full education in Spanish. She added that Catalan did not use the Basque model in which there are schools that teach only in Spanish, bilingual schools, and schools that teach only in Basque.
“Our model is different, we don’t separate pupils for language reasons”, she warned. “The final results at the end of compulsory education show pupils’ linguistic competence” in both Spanish and Catalan, she added.