If there is one issue that the politicians should not mess around with, it is education. While it may be oft-repeated, it is still true to say that the very future of the country depends on it. The reform announced on Tuesday by the Popular Party (PP) education minister, José Ignacio Wert, does not contain anything that leads us to hope for substantial improvement in the quality of teaching, but it does contain the seeds of unnecessary conflict, the only apparent motive of which is the defense of party interests.
Its text includes an unprecedented attack on the linguistic-immersion system that has existed in Catalonia since the region recovered its self-government, and important concessions to the retrograde demands of the Catholic Church in educational matters.
Under the pretense of the need — which is real enough — to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s June ruling, establishing that Castilian Spanish must also be a vehicular language in Catalan schools, the text stipulates that “at all the obligatory levels of education, the co-official languages be offered in the various subjects in equal proportions.” This encroaches on the powers of the regional governments, and constitutes a torpedo aimed at the system of linguistic immersion, in which the vehicular language is Catalan. Various systems of evaluation indicate that at the end of obligatory studies, Catalan schoolchildren know as much Catalan as Castilian and that, at any rate, their mastery of Spanish is not inferior to that of other pupils taught exclusively in that language.
It is hard to imagine that the minister who not long ago spoke of “Hispanicizing Catalan schoolchildren” has any other motives with this reform, which is a serious matter, given that it may create problems where they do not exist, and nourish a sense of grievance in Catalonia.
Such a view is supported by the fact that this particular point is not to be found in the drafts that had been sent to the regional education department head in Catalonia, and that it has only come to light after the Catalan elections. Given the conflagration it has set off, we can well imagine the effect it would have had on the PP’s electoral results in Catalonia had it been known about earlier.
Return to a dark past
Equally grave are the religious concessions. The text contains an ideological step backward aimed at satisfying one of the Church hierarchy’s most vehement demands: that the civic education course be suppressed, and that the course in religion, now optional, carry credits. In the current system it is assumed that the subject matter of civic education is of equal concern for all pupils, independent of their religious views. The new system — a regression to a dark past — not only grants to a certain religious denomination the privilege of imparting moral and civic formation from its own particular viewpoint, but obliges the pupil to choose between religion and a new credit-carrying course on cultural and ethical values, which will now only be taken by a limited number of students.