ICDBL.org© Diwan Immersion Schools

A Future for the Diwan Breton Language Immersion Schools

Lois Kuter, October 2003
Information below is drawn from articles appearing in Bro Nevez, the newsletter of the U.S. Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language (Nos. 80, Nov. 2001; 81, February 2002; 86, May 2003 & 87, August 2003)

A Quick Introduction to Diwan

Founded in 1977, the Diwan schools teach through the medium of the Breton language-what is called an "immersion" system where social activities, recess and lunch, are also the place for the Breton language. This system means that the Diwan schools have been very effective in giving children the means to learn Breton and use it as a living language. French is gradually introduced during the primary level and by the time children reach middle school they are fully bilingual and have begun studying English. With the overwhelming presence of French in the media and everyday life of Brittany, students certainly master French as fully as their peers in monolingual schools where no Breton is present.

Close to 2,800 students are found in Thirty-three pre and primary schools, four middle schools and one high school.

Because the public schools of Brittany have only until recent years (1980s) incorporated a limited amount of bilingual programming, Diwan was founded as an independent system-but has always been fully public in that admission is open to all and free of charge. In the early 1990s Diwan negotiated with the French Education system to get a particular statute as a "private" school which meant that some teachers salaries would be covered by the State. Efforts to gain incorporation into the National Education system have been spurred in more recent years by the recognition that this would greatly ease the burden of raising sufficient funding each year for the survival and growth of the schools.

Making a Public School System Public

A plan to integrate Diwan (and its immersion style) into the public school system was signed in May 2001 by the Minister of Education, Jack Lang, and several agreements were worked out with the French Education system during the spring and summer of 2001 concerning the nuts and bolts of putting all this into place.

Just as things were starting to jell for the budgeting of teachers and facilities to be fully in place for the opening of the Fall 2002 school year, the French government (Conseil d'Etat) suspended this agreement for public integration of Diwan. This was in part due to pressure from a federation of public school teacher and parent organizations who feel that the immersion system of Diwan "attacks the principle of equality and unity of the [French] Republic."

A sticking point for those who seem to confuse uniformity with unity of the French state is the French Constitution which states in Article 2 that "French is the language of the Republic." Diwan's immersion system of teaching through the Breton language appears to be against the French Constitution. This constitutional argument also blocks France's adoption of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. This Charter was signed by France in May 1999 but is yet to be ratified so that the meager protections it affords to languages like Breton can be put into place.

In a December 27, 2002, decision on this matter, the Constitutional Council clearly stated that the immersion style of teaching Breton is contrary to the Article 2 of the French Constitution. Here's how the Council states things: "The usage of a language other than French cannot be imposed on students in establishments of public education in the operation [life] of the establishment or in teaching subjects other than the language in question." This not only eliminates the use of Breton as the language for playground or cafeteria communication, but also as a language used to teach math, science or history-a restriction which could also impact regular public school bilingual programs where such subjects are taught through the medium of Breton.

It is the immersion system of using Breton as the medium for all activity at a school that is troublesome. Yet, it is this use of Breton for the life of the school that so effectively allows the youngest children (preschool and primary school) who do not come from Breton-speaking families to master the language and use it naturally. The whole point of enrolling one's child in a Diwan school is to get such immersion (which is chosen and not "imposed"). Thus any proposal for public school integration that compromises this is not acceptable to Diwan.

Diwan has proven that its pedagogical system is a success. The challenge for continued growth is financial. Many teacher's salaries are covered in a "contract" with the French State which puts Diwan in a "private school" category despite the fact that it charges no tuition and operates as a public institution open to anyone who wants to enroll. Whenever a new school is opened (and Diwan continues to grow each year) it must wait for five years before it can come under the "contract." Thus, there are currently over a dozen teachers whose salaries must be raised by fundraising. Because of its "private school" status, there have also been limits placed on the contribution of building space and public monies to support Diwan schools - no matter how willing and able a particular town and population may be to support a Diwan school. Thus, the financial challenges remain very high for Diwan to open new schools to meet the demand of parents and students.

On March 22, 2003, an estimated 15,000 people took to the streets of Rennes, Brittany, in the largest-ever demonstration for the Breton language. This was not only a confirmation of the support for the Breton language in Brittany, but a reaction of grave concern in view the continued threats to this language on the part of the French government. In blocking integration into the public school system (and public funding) for the Diwan Breton language schools, the government has shown that it has no intention of supporting future growth for the Breton language in schools. In refusing to ratify key European and international conventions for the protection of minority languages and cultures, France not only limits the opportunities children will have to master the Breton language, but also limits its presence in all of public life. Survey after survey show an overwhelming desire on the part of the Breton population to see the Breton language survive, yet the French government seems to be working harder and harder to block the road.

France: All Talk and No Action

In May 2003 French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin traveled to Quebec, Canada, and declared during his visit: "Cultural diversity is for us a political project. It is at the heart of our fight" [to combat globalization]. The Prime Minister praised Quebec on its success in protecting its values, language and culture during four centuries of Anglo-Saxon domination. Wouldn't it be nice it Mr. Raffarin was really talking about France when he talked about fighting for cultural diversity.

France: The Land of Human Rights

France and language rights brought before the European Parliament

Nine Deputies of the European Parliament of various nationalities submitted a motion for a resolution from the Parliament denouncing France's failure to respect language rights within its borders. While it is not likely that the European Parliament will pass this motion, this act brings the situation in France before the eyes of 624 European Deputies. The text follows:

European Parliament - Session Documents B5-0539/2002, 19 December 2002


Pursuant to Rule 48 of the Rules of Procedure

By Miquel i Raynal, Carlos Bautista Ojeda, Jillian Evans, Ian Stewart Hudghton, Neil MacCormick, Nelly Maes, Camilo Nogueira Román, Josu Ortuondo Larrea and Eurig Wyn

On the failure to respect language rights in France

The European Parliament,

A. having regard to the decisions of the Council of State of the French Republic of 28 October 2002 in the cases involving the Syndicat national des enseignements du second degré et al and Conseil national des Groupes académiques de l'enseignment public, UNSA et al respectively,

B. noting that these decisions call into question, on the basis of supposed illegality, the rules that were to permit the integration of 'Diwan' Breton schools into the public education system and the perpetuation and development of immersion teaching methods for indigenous languages as well as equal-footing bilingual education using such languages,

1. Points out that human rights as conceived in Europe today include collective rights such as these, which are minority rights, and respect for linguistic and cultural diversity;

2. Calls on France, therefore, to attune its language laws to the situation in Europe;

3. Expresses its total solidarity with all the families affected by these decisions, with the teachers concerned, and with the public- and private-sector establishments that have developed these teaching methods;

4. Undertakes to bring to bear all the political means at its disposal to ensure that the various language communities of France have the legal means to facilitate the forms of education most apt to repair the damage caused by the linguicidal policy which has been pursed for many centuries by that country and to ensure the harmonious joint and several development thereof in the interests of the heritage of Europe.

France: The Land of Human Rights, Part 2 - France and language rights brought to the European Court of Human Rights

Work for the Breton language continues in Brittany in the aftermath of the March rally in Rennes which gathered 15,000 demonstrators for the Breton language. At the end of May a case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights against France for its legislation which has blocked the use of regional languages in education. Those submitting the case are the Cultural Council of Brittany (a federation of some 50 cultural organizations), Diwan (the immersion Breton language schools), Calandretas (the confederation of immersion Occitan language schools in southern France), Unvaniezh ar Gelennerien Brezhoneg (Union of Breton Teachers), representatives from Diwan's staff, delegates of teachers unions and parents, and the President of Dihun (the association for parents of children in Catholic school bilingual programs). A weighty committee of supporters for the case includes writers, linguists, artists and musicians (including Alan Stivell, Gilles Servat, Denez Prigent, Robert Lafont, Eva Vetter, Joseph Martray, Louis Le Pensec, to name a few).

Underlined in the case is the fact that France's Council of State has annulled Diwan's entry into the public school system. The Council of State recognizes that France allows one to learn a regional language like Breton in the public schools, but considers an immersive style of teaching where such a language is used extensively for teaching and in the social life of the school detrimental to the place of French and not necessary to teach regional languages. Thus the State has decided that Breton and other regional languages should be taught as second languages, and should not become languages that students master for social use outside a classroom at school. In not allowing an immersive style of learning Breton in the public schools, the case argues that France violates freedom of the person and family, freedom of expression, and the freedom of thought and conscience, as well as the right to instruction which does not discriminate on the basis of language or cultural heritage.

The following is a statement given at the press conference on May 30, 2003 in Rennes when the case was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. It was given by Bojan Brezigar, a Slovenian, and President of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), a body created in 1982 at the initiative of members of the European Parliament. Mr. Brezigar is a member of the support committee assembled for the case.

Many of you certainly are asking yourselves why I [as President of the EBLUL] am present at this press conference. Isn't this subject an internal problem for the French Republic: there are citizens who speak regional language who want their children to be educated in these languages. Certain representatives of the State wanted to respond to this desire by giving the Diwan schools public status. In the end, the Council of State did not permit this, annulling decisions made by the National Ministry of Education. Some thus demand the modification of the Constitution so that regional languages can be recognized, but at this time there is no political will expressed in favor of such a change.

Let me tell you that I truly do not see why the Constitution must be modified. The protection and promotion of regional languages and even the entry of the Diwan schools into the public education system has nothing to do with the official language of the State. In Italy, a state with a judicial system based on the same principles of unity, the new law on linguistic minorities (the term used in Italy for what you call regional languages) foresees in its Article 1 that Italian is the official language of the State.

Nevertheless, the other languages are also promoted and protected and they represent no danger for the Italian State. I think that France must adopt the same principle: French is a great language which possesses an important cultural patrimony, centuries of written tradition and an essential international role. Can anyone seriously believe that the Breton language menaces French?

I insist on this point because I want to underline that I see no cultural or judicial reason to prevent the recognition of the Diwan schools or the granting of public status to them. But we affirm that these are the reasons advanced [to block Diwan from public school entry]. and I am here to support an initiative that will permit Breton children to follow their studies through the Breton language, while benefiting also from classes in French, to become perfectly bilingual.

Our support rests on the generally known principle that cultural diversity is part of the collective patrimony of Europe. I verify that the President of the European Convention, Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, announced that linguistic diversity is inscribed in the principles of the European Constitution. We all remember equally that at the summit in Nice, in December 2000, Mr. Jacques Chirac, the French President of the Republic and President of the European Council at that time, announced with pride the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental rights of the European Union, a charter which includes respect for linguistic diversity in its Article 22.

I must insist on the fact that cultural and linguistic diversity have long been a part of European values. It has been almost 25 years since the European Parliament started to work on this question which has grown in importance in parallel to the development of Europe.

But on the verge of the largest expansion Europe has ever known, we are on the one hand preoccupied by the future for the European Union which is divided by war and peace, and on the other, preoccupied equally by the construction of this future. We want a Europe that is strong, competitive in the world, and we realize that this will only be possible if cultural and linguistic diversity are respected. This is our wealth; we must be proud of it and we must promote it.

The support we bring to the request brought before the European Court of Human rights by Diwan, its parents and teachers, the Cultural Council of Brittany, Union of Breton Teachers, Dihun and the Occitan Calandreas schools is tied to our profound conviction that in supporting this initiative we defend the collective patrimony of Europe as well as the process of European integration. We wish, in fact, for a Europe strong on the economic and political front and rich in its languages and cultures. France, with its wealth of regional languages, must be an important element in this.

It could only be people who truly understand nothing about the political challenges of the 21st century who would think that your action [the case presented to the court] is against democracy, liberty and against the principles of the Charter of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, a pedestal of France. I have confidence in the European Court that it will recognize the legitimacy of your course of action. I underline it because you are not fighting for yourselves, but for your children because you want them to live in a Europe whose citizens live in peace and flourish while conserving the language of their ancestors. I emphasize - this is not a combat against something or someone, but a fight for the future we construct all together.

Should the European Court of Human Rights accept the case, it would be at least three years before a decision is delivered. In the meantime you can be certain that Bretons will continue at all levels of government to work for the future of the Breton language.

Diwan Continues to Fight for a Future

Work has continued during the summer of 2003 to raise funds and to work with local, regional and national level politicians to find ways to insure support for the expansion of schools, especially at the middle school and high school levels. Diwan representatives will also be meeting with members of the National Education system and government leaders to continue to seek public status for Diwan schools. After 25 years of success in giving children the tools to master both Breton and French as living languages for all aspects of everyday life, Diwan is not going to make any compromises on the immersion style of teaching and conducting school life through the Breton language.

And work continues to open new classes and sites, including a Diwan school in Paris. Given the strong number of Bretons living in the Paris region, this is not at all surprising. The number necessary to open a class has been found; the fund-raising continues with hopes to open a school in September 2004. For more information you can consult the website: diwanparis.free.fr

For those who might want this information, the current leadership team of Diwan Breizh is as follows:

Anne le Corre and Patrig Hervé - Co-Presidents
Joël le Baron, Tresorer
François-Gaël Rios, Secretary
Herlé Denez, Vice-President
Fanch Langoet, Vice-President

Diwan's main office address is:
Diwan Breizh
ZA Sant Ernel - BP 147

Telephone: 02 98 21 34 95
Website: www.diwanbreizh.org

Appendix 1 - The Challenges of Teacher Training

Teachers for Bilingual Education in Brittany Exiled

Despite a shortage of teachers for bilingual programs in the public and Catholic schools of Brittany, teachers completing their training are being posted to schools far away from Brittany. This is contrary to an agreement by the Rector of the Academy of Rennes (the head of the school district encompassing much of Brittany) on a Convention on Bilingualism which as added to the "Contrat de Plan état-Région 2002-2006" that states that the National Ministry of Education will make an effort to keep in the Academy of Rennes all teachers certified in Breton and to bring back those teachers capable of teaching their discipline in Breton or of teaching Breton, when those teachers request so.

Despite those words expressing support for bilingual education two teachers who had been posted to schools in Versailles and Créteil (Paris region) have not been reassigned to schools in Brittany as they have requested. Three teachers who have competence to teach subjects through the medium of Breton have been named to posts in Amiens, Martinique (a Caribbean island), and French Guyana (South America), despite their request to be part of bilingual programs in Brittany. With growing numbers of students interested in learning Breton, sending qualified Breton teachers out of Brittany, and even out of France, to teaching positions where they will never use their language or even have the chance to speak Breton in a social setting outside of school is inexcusable.

Note: France has a number of territorial "possessions" throughout the world where the French flag is the official flag and Bastille Day is a national holiday. French Guyana, Martinique, Reunion and Guadeloupe are "Overseas Departments". New Caledonia and French Polynesia are perhaps the best known among a dozen tiny islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific which are called "dependent areas" or "overseas territorial collectives." They have locally elected governments but are ultimately ruled by France and the French Constitution. New Caledonia has had a simmering independence movement that makes world news from time to time. French Polynesia was in the news in the early 1990s when France was using an island there for nuclear testing.

Appendix 2 - Bilingual Programs in Schools of Brittany

While Diwan has been the spearhead in the effort to get Breton into the schools of Brittany, a great deal of important work is also being done in bilingual programs in the public schools and in the Catholic schools, and Brittany has a very dynamic association for Breton language teachers (from all schools). Teachers and parents in the bilingual programs work closely with Diwan to help advance all educational options for the Breton language.

The bilingual programs in public schools celebrated their 20th anniversary 9n 2003 - some 3,000 students are enrolled in these programs from preschool through high school in all five departments of Brittany.

Div Yezh (the association of parents of children in the public schools)
10 allée Gilbert
22110 Rostrenen France
e-mail: paul.molac@wanadoo.fr
tel: 02 96 29 23 33
fax: 02 96 29 34 66

The first bilingual programs in the Catholic schools started in 1990, and today there are close to 2,500 in these schools from preschool through high school in all five departments of Brittany.

Dihun (association of parents of children in the Catholic schools)
1 rue des Patriotes
56000 Vannes France
e-mail: dihun.breizh@freesbee.fr
website: www.dihun.com
tel: 02 97 63 43 64
fax: 02 97 63 47 88

The Union of Breton Teachers was founded in 1982 and includes some 200 teachers from Diwan as well as the bilingual public and Catholic school programs.

Unvaniezh ar Gelennerien Brezhoneg (Union of Breton Teachers)
2 hent Kreiz ar Vourc'h
29270 Sant Hern
e-mail: BranruzGV@aol.com or ugb.mail@free.fr
website: www.ugbrezhoneg.com