Sunday, September 15, 2013

In A Bad Way: Balearics education and TIL

The Pau Casesnoves secondary school in Inca is located in a residential area of the town behind the grand edifice of the Garcia printing company. As one drives past the school there is a wall on which graffiti has been sprayed. Or it had been when I last went past perhaps three months ago. This graffiti declared opposition to attacks on Catalan teaching in the school and the Balearics as a whole. The school in Inca has been one of the more prominent in making its opposition to language reforms known. On Friday, the day of the return to school, teachers from Pau Casesnoves gathered for a photo. They were wearing green t-shirts from a body known as the Plataforma Crida. The t-shirts supported the teachers' strike and called for "quality public education". The objectives of the Plataforma, in addition to quality in education, include education in Catalan. The teachers in the photo at Pau Casesnoves were wearing the t-shirt and they were also holding a flag - the Catalan flag.

The strike by teachers in the Balearics, which may last until the end of the month, is styled as one against the introduction of TIL - the integrated treatment of languages - the lack of preparation for TIL, and the heavy-handed, non-consultative approach of the regional government (which culminated in the High Court's rejection of its procedure for implementation and the immediate declaration of a government decree to get around the court's decision).

This is, however, an over-simplification. There are indeed grave misgivings and justifiable misgivings about TIL and especially the haste in which it has been introduced. Some teachers, perhaps even a majority of them, will consider this to the prime reason for strike action, but I doubt that were it just about TIL that a strike would be happening. There is more to it.

Teaching in Catalan is also an educational issue, but it is also very much a political issue. The teachers at Pau Casesnoves did, in a sense, give the game away by holding up the Catalan flag. This is a strike, where some teachers are concerned (and again it may be a majority or it may not be), about teaching in Catalan.

If it is concerns about Catalan which are really at the heart of the strike, then it is a strike which been months in the making. Despite attacks by the regional government on Catalan in other ways - reducing or eliminating requirements to speak Catalan in some public-sector jobs, banning the use of "symbols" (such as the Catalan flag) and the display of the flag on public buildings, even the nonsensical proposal to change place names to Castellano (now forgotten about it seems) - there hasn't been concerted industrial action. The teachers' strike is that concerted action, and it has been action that unions and some opposition political parties have been angling for. They now have it.

It will be lamented that schoolchildren will be the ones to suffer and are the ones who least deserve to be in the firing-line of the divisions caused over Catalan. But there are a great number of parents who support the teachers, not just over TIL but also over Catalan teaching. This is not a strike without popular support, and the unions know this.

A reflection of this support lies with what was the government's first "assault" on Catalan teaching. This was the so-called free selection of teaching language whereby parents (at primary levels) could choose between Catalan and Castellano as the language they wished their children to be taught in. It has been a colossal flop in that the percentage of parents opting for Castellano has been nothing like that which the government would have hoped.

In the space of two years since it came to power, the Partido Popular government has introduced two major changes to education - one was free selection, the second is TIL. I am convinced that TIL, and its rushed agenda, is a direct response to the failure of free selection. The government has sought a different way to reduce Catalan teaching and has found it in trilingualism. It is for this reason that the strike is as much political as it is educational.

But then there are also grounds for believing that teachers might have taken strike action had the issue solely been an educational matter to do with TIL. It would have been an extreme form of protest but one must ask why the government appears to think that introducing TIL, and especially in the ham-fisted way in which it has been introduced, will be successful in the Balearics when the islands start from a position of disadvantage when it comes to trilingualism - a disadvantage from generally low educational standards anyway and the absence of a true foreign language culture. Why also does the government believes this might be a success where the Basque Country and other parts of Europe have demonstrated that trilingual education is far from straightforward. Has the government genuinely consulted with educationalists and academics? If it has, it should present the findings of its research. It should be transparent in pointing to how, educationally, trilingualism will be rolled out effectively.

I doubt that it will because I doubt that it has any findings. Not ones that would be convincing. TIL has merits, but the government has gone about it in the wrong way. A very bad way.  

Any comments to please.


Anonymous said...

Andrew, I think you have given a fair presentation of the main issues at the heart of the teachers' strike. Yes, many teachers and parents in the state education system want to protect the "normalisation" of Catalan, which was no small feat in itself. However, the "Crida" movement would not command the support it now does had this been the only issue. Let us not forget that teachers took strike action last year in protest over reductions in teaching and support staff and in salaries,coupled with increased class sizes and increased teaching hours. Against a backdrop of cut-backs, the implementation of a system of trilingual education is very much a luxury that this government cannot afford. Where is the government-funded teacher training which will enable these teachers to deliver English language curricula? Surely when an employer requires its employees to adhere to a new system the onus is on the employer to provide and pay for training? What the Govern has done is threaten that teachers who do not reach an arbitrary level of English risk loosing their teaching position. I say arbitrary because the established level (B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference) is not high enough to deliver a subject in English. To put this into context: On the CEFR, a speaker at B2 is described as being able to "interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party". This certainly does not describe the typical interaction between a student and teacher. It is not the same for a native speaker to fill in the gaps in a B2-level speaker's use of the language as it is for a child to receive part of their compulsory education in a language which the teacher does not dominate! The typical B2-level user is speaking on a personal level to one other person, they are not addressing (an ever increasingly large) classroom of students, faced with all the usual in-built challenges that exist in this situation. Then there is the question of school failure rates. I have yet to be convinced that trilingual education will solve this problem which, according to the Govern,is the result of a bilingual education... There are many aspects to the crisis situation that state education has found itself in, but I think the final straw has been the dictatorial "Decreto" which has proven that the issue at stake is not quality education or quality-based reform, but political might.

andrew said...

Thanks, the explanation is hugely valuable in addressing the educational aspects which one fears tend to be overlooked, not least by the government which I fancy has paid them little or no attention, You hit on a key issue, namely that of failure rates, to which I would add the PISA ratings which give the Balearics such performance standings in, for example, maths. And yet maths, at secondary level, is a subject earmarked for English teaching. This surely cannot be right.

andrew said...

Sorry, I meant to say "such poor performance standings".

Eleanor said...

This issue has now appeared in the international press at:

It is interesting to read around the issue and look at how similar policies have impacted upon education in other countries. Recent articles have appeared speaking of Malaysia and Pakistan, as two examples. The conclusions are that the general level of education falls, while the level of English achieved is not high.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know all about this conflict, please search into internet information about JAUME SASTRE (the teacher who is actually "performing" the hunger strike) and the Lobby he founded Also you can search for hashtag #HungerSrikeForCatalan at twitter and its relationship with the catalonian independentism issue, which balearic people doesn't agree at all.