Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Less Than Grand Pact For Education

Last Saturday, in the hall of Palma's Conservatory and with the accompaniment of a primary school choir, a pact was signed. This was a pact - a grand one at that - which Francina Armengol had been saying was required even before she came to form a different pact, one that she heads as president. It is a grand pact for education in the Balearics. One so grand that the following are not part of it: the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos, Podemos, the STEI-i and CCOO unions and the Plataforma Crida (the ones who have a habit of wearing the green t-shirts in support of quality, lay and Catalan education in the Balearics). At the actual signing, the PP did put in an appearance, not because they support the document that was being signed but because they wanted it to be known that they were willing to show some support for what they will doubtless have a great deal to say when the pact document turns up for parliamentary discussion.

The principal signatories to the grand pact were, therefore, the two parties of government - Francina's PSOE and Més. The principal speakers were President Armengol, Vice-President Barceló and the education minister, Martí March. Which doesn't sound as though the pact is all that grand. However, there were also representatives of Illes per un Pacte. Yes, another pact but one that has been absolutely fundamental in arriving at the pact. For three years, Illes per un Pacte, led by educationalists, has been been involving some eighty different organisations in attempting to draft a document that will pave the way for stability in Balearic education: a system that will not be liable to constant political upheaval. It managed to bring in bodies as diverse as the Assemblea de Docents (the most awkward of the awkward teaching squads), the Chamber of Commerce, the university and the federation of parents' associations. It is its document that was being signed and it is its document that will now form the basis for legislation to hopefully achieve the seemingly unachievable: once-and-for-all consensus as to the model of Balearic education.

The context for all this, if it needs restating, can be defined as the seven years from 2008 to 2015, a period during which the Castellano language was booted into the long grass of educational instruction, was left there as an endangered species and then revived on the back of the calamitous trilingual teaching project. Two governments with very differing ideologies had conspired in attempting to make the standard of Balearic public education worse than it was by their linguistic tunnel visions.

But as there is now a government similar in hue to that of 2008, why should there be any belief that history isn't simply repeating itself? Catalanism has arguably never had it so good as it currently does. However, there are those - notably the representatives from Illes per un Pacte - who are placing the emphasis where it should be and where it should have been for years: on addressing what is one of the highest rates of pupil failure in Spain. The emphasis is education in the round and not squabbling over the number of hours dedicated to teaching in which language.

This might be the hope but there is a long way to go in genuinely arriving at a grand pact that might legitimately be said to be consensual and which will be, as education minister March observed, without "rhetorical declarations, empty words and simple slogans" and will be based on "scientific facts" and basic points for educational improvement.

Until there is full disclosure of what this grand pact does actually entail, the propagandists are filling their boots in giving their interpretations. One has it that this pact is something born out of extreme left ideology that wouldn't have been out of place in Pol Pot's intellectual genocide in Cambodia. This, one fancies, is something of an exaggeration. Indeed, the leftist orientation of the pact has been queried by Podemos. One of the reasons it has not signed up is that it does not see a total rejection of the despised LOMCE, the national government's school curriculum for, supposedly, quality in education. Inherent to this, and crucially for Podemos, are LOMCE's non-secular aspects, as with the insistence on religious education. Podemos is squarely in the Crida green t-shirt camp: lay education and only lay education.

And inevitably, and much as Illes per un Pacte might not have been stressing this, there is the language issue. The pact, it is being suggested, will simply revert to the immersion in Catalan that was brought about in 2008. While schools will be given powers to decide on the use of language (which could include English if they want to), Catalan will have preferential treatment. Which is possibly how it should be. But a grand pact on education? Dream on.

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