Under a clear and sunny sky, thousands took to the streets in Barcelona’s Passeig de Sant Joan to defend the Catalan language immersion system in schools (see pictures). Demonstrators chanted the motto “Now and always”, referring to the need to use Catalan as a working language in education centers across the country in order to protect the minority language.

On Saturday, Barcelona Guàrdia Urbana police said that over 35,000 people gathered following the call from Som Escola, which groups together most of the parent associations and teacher unions. During the manifestation, it was possible to hear people shouting “we’ll win this battle” as well as “united towards a common goal,” while waving green cardboard hands. At the end of the demonstration, organizers read a manifestourging politicians to create laws to protect Catalan languages in schools as well as highlighting that Courts’ decisions are only based on “ideologic criteria.”

The Catalan high court imposed on December 10 that a school in Canet de Mar, a seaside town around 40km north of Barcelona, complies with the recent court ruling that says that at least 25% of classes must be done through Spanish. This also implies that 25% of the lessons of a P5 class – 5-year-olds – are no longer in Catalan, after the family of a single student requested it and judges agreed.

Decreased use

New figures released by the Catalan education department reveal that 47% of teachers always or almost always speak in Catalan to 4th year secondary school students – that is significantly fewer than 15 years ago, when 63% did. This is especially remarkable as Catalan is the working language at schools in order to protect it and avoid the society being split in two separate linguistic communities.

When Catalonia recovered its self-rule in the late 1970s after 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, its new authorities decided that classes in Catalan, rather than a choice between Catalan and Spanish, would ensure that students end their studies speaking both languages – considering that the latter is learned in society because it is the most widely used one and is studied as a foreign language at school.

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