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In the UK, English is the official language, but coexists with Welsh, Gaelic and Irish.

 Celia Maza/C. Herrero/Pedro G. Poyatos

Representatives of twelve entities, such as the Assembly for a Bilingual School, S’ha Acabar or the Catalan Civil Society, at the presentation of Escuela de Todos a few months ago. 


 La Razón

Created    13-10-2012 | 01:55 H

Last updated    13-10-2012 | 01:55 H

London – In the UK, English is the official language, but coexists with Welsh, Gaelic and Irish.

London – In the UK, English is the official language, but it coexists with Welsh, Gaelic and Irish. The public administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are bilingual, and in education the situation varies from one part of the island to another: while Welsh is compulsory in schools in the Welsh-speaking region, Gaelic and Irish are optional subjects in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The public schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are bilingual and the situation in education varies across the island: while Welsh is compulsory in schools in the Welsh-speaking region, Gaelic and Irish are optional subjects in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The regularisation of these dialects has undergone significant changes in recent years. The UK government has consistently supported the call to make Welsh a “co-official language”, allowing local ministers to speak it at meetings in Brussels. In Wales, English and Welsh have enjoyed equal status since the Welsh Language Act 1993. The Act provides that both languages have equal status in the region’s public administration. Both are official in the new National Assembly, although any publicity or information, such as letters to parents from schools, must be written in both languages, as must road signs or place names. Many street and shop signs in Wales are bilingual. Although people from other parts of the UK are not expected to speak Welsh, Welsh is required for many jobs.

Today, about 20% of schoolchildren receive an immersion education in Welsh, while in other schools students are required to study Welsh as a second language until the age of 16. Since 1944, the public administration has been responsible for establishing Welsh schools in areas where the language has fallen behind English in community speech. According to the most recent population survey data, for the first time since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Welsh speakers grew slightly from 19 per cent to 21 per cent of the population.

The successes achieved in this region have led Scotland to follow in their footsteps in an attempt to boost Scottish Gaelic, a dialect that historically has never received the same degree of official recognition from the British government.

The most important measure in this field has been the Scottish Gaelic Language Act passed unanimously in the Scottish Parliament on 21 April 2005. The main provisions of the legislation are designed to secure the status of Gaelic as an official language of Scotland by bringing it up to the same level as English. The plans, which are still being developed, also call for bilingualism in public administration and in education, where Gaelic is currently an optional subject. According to data for primary education, only 2,092 pupils were enrolled at Gaelic-medium level. Today the language is spoken by some 60,000 people in the northern regions.

In the case of Northern Ireland, the linguistic situation is much more complicated. Since 2005, Irish has been an official working language of the European Union and with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the pact that sealed the peace between nationalists and unionists, it was officially recognised as a minority language in Northern Ireland. Government agencies and the courts offer services in Irish, which is currently taught only in Catholic schools.

Irish is used on a daily basis by some 75,000 people in the 1.7 million-strong region, although it has remained a point of friction between Protestants and Catholics since they came to power together following the May 2007 elections. This month, for example, there was uproar at Stormont after an advertisement warning parents of the importance of being involved in their children’s education was broadcast entirely in Irish.

Belgium: a tower of Babel

Brussels – Freedom of education in Belgium stems from the constitution that gave rise to its independence in 1830 and is applied by the French, Flemish and German-speaking communities into which this federal country is divided, where the language administrations hold almost all educational powers. This principle implies the free creation of schools, the free choice of parents and pedagogical freedom within each institution on condition that they respect a minimum threshold provided for by the law of the language community concerned. Each organisation can set its programmes, assess and certify its pupils, define an educational and pedagogical project and recruit its teachers. Language teaching is very complicated. In all three communities, the language of instruction must be that of the linguistic region where the school is located, although each establishment may decide to teach the second language from primary school onwards, i.e. French in the Flemish and German-speaking areas, and Dutch in the French-speaking area. In Brussels, the only officially bilingual area, there is reciprocal teaching of the two official languages in schools, although one of them as a second option. This leads to friction, with Francophones resisting learning Flemish on the grounds of its lack of international outlets and Flemish speakers believing it is an attempt to impose their identity on them.

Germanic division in the Spanish style

Madrid – In a federal and decentralised country like Germany, education is no exception. The German Constitution of 1949 grants the sixteen Länder exclusive powers in school and higher education. As a result, each Land has its own Minister of Education and its own education system. The diversity and complexity of German education makes it very difficult for families to move to another Land. The education programme in Saarland (bordering France), for example, has little in common with that of Schleswig-Holstein, which borders Denmark. Nor is it easy for teachers to practise their profession in another “Land” because of the complex system of accreditation. Paradoxically, it is easier for a teacher from another EU country to work in Germany than for a native colleague to do the same in another region of his or her own country.

Aware of these problems and in order to achieve a certain degree of homogeneity, the Conference of Education Ministers, which brings together the 16 heads of education, agreed a few years ago on basic standards to be met by all the “länder”. According to experts, the heterogeneity of education is one of the main reasons for the poor results obtained by German pupils in the PISA report.



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