State and union intransigence as Diwan Breton-medium schools face cash crisis
Bruxelles / Brussel 28/10/03, by Davyth Hicks
The Diwan Breton bilingual immersion schools are facing a cash crisis and will not be able to pay their teachers until 2004. Speaking exclusively to Eurolang, Anna Vari Chapalain, Diwan Director, called on all those 'who believe that a language should be allowed to live and who believe in linguistic diversity’ to make a donation to Diwan.
She underlined how 'Diwan is open to all, free of charge for parents, and operated like a public service. We have nearly 3,000 children at all levels of education and practice bilingualism in the schools'.
Diwan needs another 250,000 euros to tide itself over the coming months. The problem is expected to be overcome in 2004 as some of the newer schools are able to draw on public money after they have been open for five years. However, it still leaves little money for planning and development - essential for the Breton regeneration effort. Moreover, with most Breton speakers (there are an estimated 295,000 speakers) over the age of sixty, immersion education will need to expand rapidly in order to prevent a sharp decline in the number of speakers.
The Breton Regional Council, headed by Josselin de Rohan, was approached by Diwan in September for 195,000 euros, but yesterday, in a letter to Diwan, Mr Rohan stated that they would not be able to help.
Diwan have had to rely on voluntary parental contributions coupled with some state funding for their teachers, but there has never really been enough money to meet the increasing parental demand for Breton immersion education. The decision by the Conseil d'Etat in 2002 not to include the Diwan in the public sector, following complaints by trade unions such as the UNSA-Education and Federation des Conseils de Parents d’eleves des Ecoles Publiques (FCPE), struck a cruel blow against the schools.
This decision was in reaction to a plan drawn up by Minister for Education, Jack Lang, to integrate the schools allowing them to be funded by public money. It means that, while Bretons pay tax for French-medium education in Brittany anyway, if they want their children to go to a Diwan school they may voluntarily pay extra for this.
Eurolang spoke to Eddy Khaldi, a federal councillor for UNSA, to ask how they felt about the current crisis. He was of the opinion that the crisis was nothing to do with the UNSA even though they had co-sponsored the complaint that resulted in the Conseil d’Etat decision. He restated the UNSA position that it ‘did not like the immersion method’ and that such a method ‘led to segregation’. While the UNSA is ‘for the teaching of regional languages, it is also for national unity in the public sector’. He added that ‘the Republic is not able to finance all the choices’.
Gilbert Lambrecht spokesperson for FCPE also spoke to Eurolang, he emphasised that they are ‘in favour of regional languages’ but that the Diwan schools ‘must abide by the law’. He was referring to Article 2 of the constitution which states that French is the language of the Republic (established in 1992) and, by implication, publicly funded education.
‘If people want to change the constitution they must create a lobby and have a large amount of public opinion behind them’. Asked why they decided to challenge Jack Lang’s decision he said that ‘they were politicians in a rush before elections, there should have been more consultation’. When UNSA and FCPE decided that the inclusion was against French law the unions saw fit to take the issue to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest court in the land.
Eurolang asked why, even though evidence from across Europe provides ample evidence of the success of immersion education, his union was so against this teaching method. He said that the ‘immersion cannot be taken as a model’ and repeated that ‘Diwan schools must abide by the law if they wish to access public money’. He added that ‘it would make little sense to have two schools in one town, one Breton-medium, one French-medium’, despite parental demand.
Asked about the way forward out of the crisis he said that: ‘Diwan can either change their teaching method or try to change the constitution’. Eurolang said that if Breton taxpayers wanted immersion education surely they were entitled to it, ‘not if it’s against the law’, said Mr Lambrecht.
The Diwan schools teach bilingually, introducing French by the second year of primary school, but place emphasis on creating a Breton speaking milieu in the school, much like the successful Welsh and Catalan medium schools. Breton bilingual schooling makes up less than 2% of the Breton school-going population.
Breton MEP Bernard Poignant was contacted but was on holiday.
Donations to Diwan can be sent by cheque in euros made out to ‘Diwan Breizh’ to the following address: Diwan Z.A. Sant Ernel, B.P. 147, 29411 Landerne Cedex. (Eurolang)