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The Government’s Direct Attack On The Slovenian Language – It Will Abolish The Special Status Of The Mother Tongue

The Ministry of Education has recently presented a proposal for the National Education Programme, which is strongly opposed by the profession. The proposal lowers the standard of knowledge for the Slovenian language – in fact, it abolishes the special status of the mother tongue, which is a direct attack on the Slovenian language. This fact has been pointed out to the government by experts, including the renowned linguist Dr Kozma Ahačič, who says that when “reading literacy is lowered, we know who has set the new direction – downwards.” Ahačič also said that the Ministry’s measures are systematically lowering the level of languages being taught for the matura exam (the baccalaureate) and that their aim is clear: “To adapt the matura exam to those who would not be able to pass it now.”

“The virtually unanimous position of the profession has been ignored. The level of difficulty for the matura exam for the Slovenian language will be downgraded, and Slovenian will thus be given the status of a non-highlighted subject. The working group and the Minister are taking on a huge responsibility by adopting this decision. We cannot do more than warn them against it,” said Dr Kozma Ahačič, Head of the Fran Ramovš Institute of the Slovenian Language at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU).

An expert working group chaired by Janez Vogrinc prepared the final draft of the National Education Programme for the period 2023-2033 and submitted it to the Minister of Education, Darjo Felda. The proposal introduces several changes in the field of pre-school education and the general matura exam, as well as in the teaching of immigrant pupils.

Ministry of Education overrides the opinion of experts

The harmful proposals have been pointed out by the profession, not only by Dr Ahačič, but also by Dr Igor Ž. Žagar, Director of the Educational Research Institute; Dr Matej Šekli, Chairman of the National Subject Commission for Slovenian Language for the General Matura Exam, professor at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana; Dr Andreja Žele, Chairwoman of the Slovenian Language Commission at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU), professor of modern Slovenian language at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, and the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, associate member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts; Dr Marko Jesenšek, Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor, associate member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts; Dr Jožica Jožef Beg, President of the Slavic Association of Slovenia; Dr Vesna Mikolič, President of the Slovenian language Section at Slovenska matica, Head of the Institute for Linguistic Studies at the Koper Scientific Research Centre; Dr Simona Pulko, Professor of Didactics of the Slovenian Language at the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor; and Dr Boža Krakar Vogel, an expert in the didactics of Slovenian literature and an expert in the field of matura studies.

“Much has been written in the past year about the need to strengthen reading comprehension. But now we are facing the danger of making the situation systemically worse through recklessness,” noted Ahačič, adding that the comments of the linguistics profession have so far not been taken into account, or at least the authorities have not given them any signal that they intend to do so.

What is the current situation like?

The languages of instruction in the Republic of Slovenia (Slovenian, Italian and Hungarian) have had a special position since the very beginning of the matura examination, said Ahačič. Their highest mark carries 8 points, which is the same as the other matriculation subjects at a higher level. (The basic level would be 5 points.) This is an important motivation for all future matriculants. The special status of languages of instruction is crucial for modern society in an era of digital literacy and global multilingualism. Language as a basis of communication (and also as a basis of artificial intelligence) is thus sufficiently emphasised to make even those young people who might have ignored the subject feel that it is worth investing in its knowledge.

What do lower standards bring? A shot in the foot

Students could lower the level of Slovenian at the matura exam accordingly (from 8 to 5 points) without damaging their overall performance at the exam. Given the current development of society, this would be a shot in the foot for our society. And the reason for such a proposal? The desire to bring the general and vocational matura exams as close together as possible in their levels of difficulty, which some have interpreted as a desire to further lower the already lowered standards of knowledge, Ahačič said indignantly. “The initiative to have a two-level matura exam for the Slovenian language is an old one, but years ago, it was defended on the grounds that the higher level of such a matura exam would be even higher than the current one. Now this pretence is no more: the aim of the two levels is to adapt the matura exam to those who “couldn’t pass it” now. So, they intend to lower the level of proficiency”.

Abolition of Slovenian language as mother tongue?

The National Examinations Centre (RIC) has also been critical of the proposal. It noted that the National Subject Commission for Slovenian Language for the General Matura Exam supports the current special status of the mother tongue and languages of instruction – only the latter term is written in the draft law – among the subjects of the general matura exam. These languages are the state language in the Republic of Slovenia – i.e. Slovenian – and the official languages – i.e. Slovenian in the whole territory of the country, Hungarian in part of Prekmurje, and Italian in part of Istria – as well as the official languages of the European Union. It should be noted here that the term “mother tongue” does not appear at all in the draft law in relation to Slovenian, Hungarian and Italian, but is repeated in the formulation “for immigrants whose mother tongue is not Slovenian or any other language of instruction.” Similarly, despite the strategic objective of “strengthening civic education,” the constitutional categories of national language and official language are absent from the text submitted in relation to Slovenian. It is an objective fact that Slovenian is the mother tongue and the language of instruction of the majority of the citizens of the Republic of Slovenia and is the state and official language of all citizens of Slovenia as well as of all others living in this country.

The proposal did not only cause a stir among the experts of Slovenian language, but among politicians, too. MP and teacher Alenka Helbl wrote that the Robert Golob government is doing more and more harm every day and that this is yet another lowering of standards in the level of proficiency in the mother tongue in education. Dr Anton Olaj called the action shameful. “This is a direct attack on Slovenian identity, which is the foundation and condition of our chosen statehood. This foolishness will have to be abolished.” And an X user, Božo Ivec, commented: “They sacrificed Slovenian for “higher” interests. You know: multiculturalism.”

A. G.

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