Bilingual teaching recognized in new French Law on education

Introduction of minorised languages still to be "optional" · Bilingualism in school is already foreseen by the 1995 Bayrou circular · Teaching "of" and "in regional languages" is included in the new law · Occitan Party and Democratic Union Parties praise the text, Basque and Breton UMP representatives say it brings nothing new

The French Parliament -after two parliamentary readings by the Senate and another two by the National Assembly- has passed an article that recognises the "optional teaching" of minority languages in the new Law on the refoundation of the school, that is currently being debated by the French legislature. This teaching, Article 27 bis reads, can be of two types: "a teaching of the regional culture and language" or else "a bilingual teaching in French language and in regional language".

Up until now, bilingual teaching was recognized by the circular 95-086 of 1995, also known as Bayrou circular. Bilingual instruction on a parity basis was foreseen in that text. Thus, the change comes from the fact that for the first time ever it is a law that recognizes bilingual teaching.

Language immersion not recognized

Breton MP Marc Le Fur proposed on Tuesday that the language immersion method (non-speakers of a given language are schooled with that language as sole or main medium of instruction) was also recognized under the law. He argued that not including immersion could have negative effects on schools where this method is already used (for example in private schools Diwan in Brittany, Bressola in Northern Catalonia or Seaska in Northern Basque Country).

Commission on Cultural Affairs and Education rapporteur Yves Durand replied that the legal text had already been agreed with Senate members. A "balance" had been found and it was not interesting now to "weaken" the deal.

Finally, the amendment proposed by Le Fur on language immersion was not accepted.

Opinions are divided: "collective victory" or "no concrete progress"

MPs and regional councilors have shown that they are divided on the real importance of the new law. To David Grosclaude, Aquitania regional councilor and member of the Occitan Party, the law is a "historical" step and a "collective victory". "The law is clear, and now parents can ask that it is enforced".

Breton MP Paul Molac (Breton Democratic Union) underlines the fact that "for the first time ever" a French law recognizes bilingual teaching. A "considerable progress", if it is taken into consideration that the teaching of minorised languages shall be "favoured", Molac says.

But, as already said, another Breton MP, Marc Le Fur (conservative Union for a Popular Movement) criticizes the final text because immersion is not included. "There is no concrete progress" in the law, says Le Fur. The same opinion is held by UMP Basque regional councilor Max Brisson, who also considers that there is "no concrete progress".

Both Le Fur and Brisson oppose the current centre-left French government.

Molac has answered Le Fur by saying that immersion is unconstitutional in France. In this case, a constitutional amendment should be introduced in order to legally accept language immersion in French public schools.

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