Puerto Rico: English to replace Spanish in classrooms

The Puerto Rican public school system is about to start a program intended to replace Spanish with English as the language used in teaching most courses, Education Secretary Edward Moreno Alonso told the Spanish wire service EFE on June 8. The change will begin this August at 66 of the system’s 860 schools: at 31 schools children ages 5-9 will be taught all courses in English except history and Spanish; the other 35 schools will offer at least some of the course work in English. The government plans to complete the switch to English in all schools within 10 years.

Moreno Alonso said the change is in response to parents’ demands, but critics suggested that the real motive lay in an effort by Gov. Luis Fortuño and his rightwing New Progressive Party (PNP) to have Puerto Rico annexed to the US as its 51st state. Héctor L. Pesquera, co-president of the Hostosian National Independence Movement (MINH), predicted that the program would be a failure. “[R]egrettably our students will be the victims of this pedagogical and political blunder,” he told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina on June 9.

“It may be that many [teachers] know English,” María Elena Lara, president-elect of the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), said in a radio interview on June 8, “but they weren’t trained to teach in English.” Like Pesquera, she expected “a big failure.” “Much of our school population is in special education because they have trouble learning in their maternal language,” Aida Díaz, president of the smaller Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR), said on the same program. “Imagine [learning] mathematics and science in English!”

Both union leaders said they supported teaching English as a second language, along with other languages. Mandarin is an important language to learn for business, Díaz noted; the problem “is wanting to substitute one language for another purely as an ideological matter.”

Both English and Spanish are official languages in Puerto Rico, but only 30% of Puerto Rico’s 3.9 million residents speak English at a high level, according to EFE, while Spanish is the primary language for 96%. English was used as the language of school instruction starting in 1900, two years after the US took control of the island from Spain; the practice was ended in 1948. (EFE, June 8, via Fox News Latino; El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, June 8; Prensa Latina, June 9)

Machetero pleads guilty
In other news, on June 15 Norberto González Claudio, a former member of the rebel Boricua Popular Army (EPB)-Macheteros, pleaded guilty in a Connecticut federal court to charges stemming from the group’s 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford. In exchange for the plea, US prosecutors agreed to recommend a five-year prison sentence. González Claudio spent 25 years as a fugitive before being arrested in Puerto Rico in May 2011. In a letter (PDF) to federal judge Alfred Covello, González Claudio wrote that “[t]he circumstances surrounding the struggle for Puerto Rican independence are different today from when I was younger.” He expressed hope that the struggle would now follow a “path…of peace and understanding.” (END, June 15; EFE, June 16, via Fox News Latino)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 17.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.