Diwan Breton-medium schools being held to ransom over public funding
by Yann Rivallain
An announcement made by the Regional Council of Brittany that it will give Diwan part of its subvention for 2004 under strict conditions, is causing major concerns to the Breton language school system.
According to a press release, the Regional Council will grant a ‘100 000 euros exceptional advance on its 2004 subvention if, in the general assembly, the association agrees to ask its administrators to enter talks with France’s Education Minister, Luc Ferry, in order to insert into the Education public service a bilingual pedagogy’. This would mean as many hours of teaching in French as in Breton.
Many fear that if it had to comply with this demand, the Diwan network, which was set up in 1977 to teach Breton through the immersion method, would cease to exist. The press release issued by the President of the Region, also indicated that ‘failure to reach an agreement [with the minister] would mean that Diwan will have to remove the principle of ‘free-for-all’ which is not compatible with its current contract of association’. From the outset, Diwan was set up as a public service, is non-denominational and free, unlike the Catholic schools which have a similar status to Diwan, but which apply small fees.
Interviewed by Eurolang, Patrick Hervé, Vice-President of Diwan said that: ‘Diwan was shocked to be asked to give up its two founding principles, the immersive pedagogy and free schooling. If we give up the immersion method to integrate into the national education system, we might as well call it the end, since bilingual classes already exist in the national education system. We defend the immersion method because we are convinced it is the only way to save Breton as a language of everyday communication.’
Scientific evaluation from across Europe (see the CILT Report link, for example) also provides evidence that the immersion method is the best way for children to become effective bilinguals. Moroever, Diwan does introduce French into the curriculum in the second year of primary school, considerably earlier than other regional or stateless language medium schools (e.g. in Wales).
Regarding charging tuition fees, the Vice-President admits that opinions on the issue are divided inside the organization, saying: ‘At our general assembly in April we will discuss the matter’.
It is not clear yet why the Regional Council is insisting that Diwan should start charging tuition fees after ten years of being free, other than an attempt to prevent Diwan from remaining a public service for Bretons and assimilating it to other schools under contract, such as the Catholic schools.
Eurolang tried to contact the President of the Regional Council to ask him why the Region had moved from a declared ‘desire to find a solution to accommodate the development of the teaching of Breton and respect for the French constitution’ to a request that Diwan gives up its teaching method. However, the head of communication at the Regional Council said that the only person who could comment on this was Mr Rohan, the President, who was not available at the time.
Diwan also expressed regret that the sum offered by the Regional Council is only an advance on next year’s subvention as opposed to a special subvention to help the difficulties caused to Diwan by the refusal of the Council of State to integrate it into the public education service. ‘It is also surprising that the region is expecting us to organise a meeting on such a short notice to decide on crucial matters such as giving up our teaching method.’
As it stands, the conditions set out for the cash advance are likely to apply to the regular 380, 000 euros a year granted by the Regional Council. This would indicate that Diwan would be left with no choice in the next few months but to renounce its principles or go fully private if it hopes to keep receiving regional funding.
Three months ahead of the regional elections, which will decide whether the current conservative majority keeps hold of the region, the announcement by the Presidency appears very ambiguous. To many observers, it looks as if the current team cannot afford to let Diwan face bankruptcy in the run-up to the elections without being held responsible for its lack of support. But by only offering conditional support based on a change in the founding principles of Diwan, the Regional Council appears to give with one hand and take back with the other.
Meanwhile Diwan is determined to keep as much autonomy as possible before the elections and is intensifying its fundraising campaign, which has already generated 108 000 euros