The ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) was left alone on Thursday to vote in favor of its controversial draft bill overhauling the Spanish education system. No other political group offered support in Congress for the legislation, which, among other things, will give greater prominence to Spanish in the classroom, much to the annoyance of those regions with their own languages, such as Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Eleven opposition parties called for the bill, known by its acronym LOMCE, to be thrown out in its entirety. The legislation marks the seventh change to the education system since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975 and Spain’s subsequent return to democracy.
Despite the opposition to the bill, its passage through Congress was assured by the PP’s absolute majority. It will now pass on to the Senate.
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is the proposal to scrap a civic education course — introduced by the previous Socialist government — in favor of a Catholic Church-backed proposal for an alternative to religious education: a course on cultural and social values.
Opposition parties claim the proposals are ideologically driven and will fail to address the deficiencies of the current system, which has a dropout rate of 24.9 percent of students after they have completed basic secondary education (ESO). The proposed new law backs public financing for single-sex schools, even though a body of jurisprudence exists arguing that this is illegal.
The proposals have sparked protests by teachers and students, who have also been angered by sweeping cuts to the education budget as part of the government’s austerity drive.
Education minister refuses to “waste time” replying to objections “born out of prejudice”
Education Minister José Ignacio Wert claimed in Congress on Thursday that the objections of the opposition were “born out of prejudice,” saying he would “not waste his time” replying to them and that he would “not respond to insults.”
Deputy Mario Bedera of the main opposition Socialist Party, which has pledged to throw out the law if it is returned to power, accused the PP of attempting to introduce “social Darwinism” and of trying to do away with a system that had allowed an “illiterate father to have a son with a university degree.” In response, PP deputy Sandra Moneo accused the opposition of “putting its ideological interest ahead of general interests.”
On the issue of giving greater prominence to Spanish, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) said that Catalonia would not apply the law. “Franco couldn’t do away with Catalan and the government won’t either,” said a party spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) said the reforms were “especially serious” for the Basque Country, given that the region has achieved “unquestionably” high scores in international education tests.
The spokesman for Basque group Amaiur, Xabier Mikel Errekondo, was called to order by speaker Jesús Posada during Thursday’s debate in Congress after he expressed his rejection of the reforms by holding up two books in each hand, with his arms in a cross, imitating a typical classroom punishment. “This is your plan for education,” he said from the congressional dais. “Obey and keep quiet, and if you don’t, you will be punished like you once used to be at school.”