Catalan teachers propose more class hours and more demands: "We must stop the drop in level"

A group of Catalan teachers has drawn up a decalogue of “minimum” measures from which they believe the academic level could be raised and the centrality of Catalan in school recovered.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2024 Sunday 04:21
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Catalan teachers propose more class hours and more demands: "We must stop the drop in level"

A group of Catalan teachers has drawn up a decalogue of “minimum” measures from which they believe the academic level could be raised and the centrality of Catalan in school recovered. The document has more than 9,200 signatures.

The group promoting it starts from the idea that Catalan is failing and urges the administration to repair the facilities that in other times, with the Linguistic Normalization law, guaranteed a good wealth of knowledge to children and young people.

Then, in 1983, the purpose was clear and there was political and social consensus. Not now. And not only has there not been good maintenance, but there are cuts in curricular hours and readings, reduction of reception classrooms for foreigners, new teaching profiles... losses and more losses in a delicate moment due to the replacement generation of teachers.

This year, almost 150 Catalan teachers will turn 60, the age at which they can retire. According to Educació sources, almost half (40%) usually do so. This is a natural and incessant trickle of teachers who shared, in their beginnings, the commitment and enthusiasm to give prestige to Catalan in a Castilianized school.

In exchange, the group assures through the voice of Professor Gemma Gómez, young people who have not been specifically entrusted with this mission take their place, professors who do not come from the linguistic or literary field but from the humanities or social sciences, who with the master's degree in secondary school, they teach the subject.

The loss of centrality of the language in the school in recent years, which the Ministry of Culture is now trying to recover with a general plan, coincides with the excess of objectives with which the school is burdened.

Both the PISA 2022 report and previously PIRLS 2021 indicate that Catalan students have decreased in reading comprehension, something that is already detected at an early age. The average for 10-year-old Catalan students stood at 507 points, 14 points below the Spanish average and 21 below the EU average.

In internal evaluations, such as basic competencies, there is not a drop but a gentle decline and the averages are still at optimal levels (72 out of 100), but there are more 12-year-old children who do not exceed the minimum (almost 2 out of 10 ) and every less than 16 years in the outstanding range. This situation is comparable to Spanish. In this context, what do Catalan teachers propose?

1. More class hours.

With each resume a “sheet” is lost, explains Professor Gómez, playing with the Catalan expression (“a cada bugada is losing a llençol”). That is, one hour of class. Despite the results of the evaluations, the language hours have been reduced. From 3 hours per week in the four ESO courses, now 2 hours are given in two courses and 3 hours in two others. In high school it has been reduced by one hour (now 2 hours are taught).

The Department of Education responds that “it wants to analyze in depth” the demand to increase teaching hours. In any case, consider, before making this decision, “other measures” with an impact on improving educational results can be deployed.

2. Use at school

“Catalan is the reference and learning language. Teachers, administrators, lecturers, leisure instructors, entertainers should not switch to Spanish,” says Gómez. On paper, this is so, but studies detect that 46% of teachers in high schools maintain Catalan. “Teachers who do not speak Catalan must be explained to them the importance of maintaining Catalan and how that helps students practice.” Furthermore, the group argues, Educació must stop presenting Catalan as an 'attractive' but rather a 'necessary' language," they write.

To ensure that the teacher is fluent in Catalan, the draft language regime decree stipulates the obligation to present a C2 to substitute teachers and candidates for competitive examinations, starting in the 2025-2026 academic year. Likewise, 15,000 C2 course places have been offered in three years for the current workforce.

As a star measure of the language promotion plan, the draft language regime decree is underway, which includes workshops on linguistic uses in educational centers that are being rolled out and are expected to reach 3,500 centers in 2026.

3. Not everyone can be a Catalan teacher

“The competent professional to teach the subject, including the classroom welcoming foreign students, is the graduate in Catalan Philology,” the decalogue points out. Given the lack of graduates, the minimum, the text continues, is to accredit a C2, come from a degree in linguistic or literary studies and take additional training from the department to help develop teaching. Likewise, they ask for continuous, updated, meaningful and quality training on language and also literature from practicing teachers.

The reality is that there are not enough graduates attracted to teaching and it is a specialty that is difficult to cover in the pool of substitutes. Degrees in Catalan philology have not been attractive to young people, despite the rebound in recent years (last year 105 graduated compared to 68 in the 2019-2020 academic year), but even if everyone ended up teaching, they are an insufficient number to fill the places.

For this reason, Educació expanded the range and allows graduates from other university degrees. The centers, for their part, hire teachers from other disciplines on the condition that they have a mention in Catalan in their degree.

4. Intensive Catalan for foreigners

To guarantee that new foreign students acquire the language quickly, they propose that they follow an intensive program that can be graduated during the course, with the support of the entire educational community. But that the classes they receive are from Catalan teachers and not from just any teacher, in many cases, the last one who arrives.

The Ministry explains that there are 31,000 students between 3rd year of primary school and 4th year of ESO in reception classrooms and that this is a historic figure (so is the arrival of foreigners to Catalonia). And remember that they are considering extending the intensive immersion plan tested in Barcelona for foreign students aged 14 and 15. For one term, they only receive Catalan classes and then go to their respective educational center.

5. With ESO you do not have a C1 level

“Now, with a pass in the 4th year of ESO you get a C1 in Catalan,” explains Gómez, “and that is far from being true,” he adds. In the opinion of this group, students could obtain a B2 if they obtain a “notable achievement.” And a C1 in high school with a minimum score of 7. The linguistic regime decree that is in process will correct this aspect.

6. Use the IEC grammar as a reference asks Educació to regularize the application of the new grammar of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, which must be an unquestionable reference in all Catalan schools. “It cannot be that each teacher does what he wants,” says Gómez.

7. Meaningful readings

The decalogue proposes an agreed selection of compulsory readings in ESO and high school. The readings must be, according to the consideration of this group, "significant" and agreed with the Catalan Literature departments of the universities, "which is compatible with competency teaching," they add.

In this sense they adhere to the manifesto of the Col·lectiu Pere Quart that proposes a minimum literary canon. The department maintains that we must move from teaching literature (recognizing authors and works) to literary education in which the fundamental thing is the training of the "competent reader."

8. Promote philologies

The group calls for decisive actions to promote language and literature among the youngest and awaken vocations. Thus, it recommends incorporating Catalan language and literature electives in the 4th year of ESO and investing in advertising campaigns aimed at 16 and 17 year olds so that they enroll in Catalan philology or literary studies.

9. Don't improvise

The teacher must know the changes in the department in advance - three months before the new course, as set by the group as a minimum. Not doing so, he assures, generates confusion. There are many examples of unforeseen changes in course or last-minute impositions.

A couple stand out. During the 2022-2023 academic year, it was said that the prescriptive readings for selectivity would disappear, and on September 16, 2022, once the course had started, it was reported that those from the previous year would be maintained.

The second, more current example: a few weeks before the 2023 basic competencies that evaluate all language, mathematics and science students, it was notified that oral tests on the language should be administered. Thus they would be included in the linguistic regime decree as a key element. They would be censuses in Catalan and samples in Spanish. They prepared by running and applied and evaluated. It was said, then, that this type of evaluation would be maintained in the following years. Now, in February, it has been reported that the oral tests were eliminated and that only a sample of centers would take them.

10. Work with teachers.

The group asks Educació for greater influence in the decisions that correspond to their subject. To this end, they demand the creation of a ESO and high school content commission made up of practicing teachers. “We want to decide,” they emphasize.