Catalan schools, in self-defence

Somescola provides information to refute the Spanish government’s accusations of indoctrination and comes out in support of Catalan language immersion

Catalonia’s education community has responded with a wealth of data to the accusations of student indoctrination and Madrid’s warnings of a tighter grip on Catalan schools. In less than twenty-four hours Somescola, a Catalan platform that brings together many groups involved in education, has come out to refute Madrid’s arguments and categorically deny any evidence that Catalonia’s school system fosters pro-independence views. “Nothing in the research we have conducted so far endorses those accusations and there is no evidence to cast doubt on the work that’s been done”, remarked Mònica Nadal, the research manager at Fundació Bofill.

A manifesto was unveiled at an event held in the Tecla Sala library of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, in an effort to send a message of unity. The document calls on Catalan society to respond to any present and future attacks. According to the document, “those who publicly advocate a homogenising regression in education, ideological indoctrination, casting doubt and encouraging legal action and language-based segregation in schools are looking to jeopardise Catalonia’s education model, which is committed to providing equal opportunities”.

The Somescola manifesto argues that Catalan schools “have contributed to creating society as we know it today, one that is plural, diverse, principled and with solid foundations that support social cohesion” and makes an appeal to safeguard this “heritage”. To that effect, Somescola —whose steering group includes over 50 organisations— insists that “joint efforts to consolidate, protect and improve Catalonia’s education model must be renewed”. Abdoulaye Fall, a spokesman for the Platform of Associations of Senegalese in Catalonia, stated that “this education model has made a very positive contribution to the upbringing of our children”. He also emphasised that “by avoiding language-based segregation”, the coexistence with and integration of migrants is guaranteed in Catalonia.

The power of language immersion programmes in Catalan schools to bind society together has been cited as one of the strongest arguments in support of the Catalan education system which has resulted in a fully bilingual society. Evidence of that is the study published by Fundació Bofill using data provided by Spain’s Education Ministry, which proves that Catalan schoolchildren obtain similar scores in Spanish and Catalan language tests, regardless of their mother tongue. While a family’s socio-economic status does have an impact on their children’s performance at school, their place of birth does not.

Another report by the same foundation, also from data provided by Madrid, shows that Catalan children are as proficient in “verbal communication” in Spanish as children outside Catalonia. In fact, Catalan students score two points higher.

One of the most recurrent criticisms against Catalan schools is that they allegedly promote secession from Spain. Such denunciations increased following the October 1 vote on independence, when unionist voices accused a number of Catalan schools of imposing partisan political debates in class. In fact, eight teachers from La Seu d’Urgell were summoned to court over an alleged hate crime after three families sought legal action. Despite the accusations, the Fundació Bofill report states that “there is no correlation between growing independence support and having been schooled in Catalonia”. The conclusion stems from a survey conducted by Dr María José Herrero on this subject, which indicates that the factors that determine the national identity of an adult who was schooled in Catalonia are the context of their neighbourhood and their family’s national affiliation.

Somescola brings together several parents’ associations, the main teachers’ union (Ustec) and Catalonia’s Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC), and their response comes a day after the Spanish government announced new plans to give Spain’s School Inspectorate a higher profile in Catalonia to ensure that Catalan schoolchildren are able to study in Spanish. This is yet another push by PM Rajoy’s government to make the most of the interim period resulting from Article 155 to intervene in the day-to-day running of Catalan schools. If confirmed, the Spanish government would be able to take action in Catalan schools without violating the Statute. This strategy would allow the PP to show some muscle on a subject which so far has been the domain of Ciudadanos, the party that has traditionally waved the flag of student indoctrination by teachers in Catalonia.