More than a million Catalan schoolchildren break up for their summer holidays today following a school year that started one week early and included a March half-term, two features which have now been eliminated by the Catalan CiU government that came to power at the end of last year (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). This school year also saw the expansion of computers in classrooms in the region, under the auspices of the Educat 1x1 programme introduced by the previous Catalan government (which planned for each pupil to have access to a computer or laptop); the new government, under the education minister Irene Rigau, has also made changes in this area so that rather than ownership of pupils' laptops being given to the pupils themselves, it will remain with the school that they attend. Rigau has also made moves towards a system that combines the use of textbooks with computers (rather than excluding the former to the advantage of the latter). Today also sees the end of the sixth hour of teaching in the majority of Catalan public primary schools.
The Spanish government has decided to extend the time period for the reduced speed limit for motorways and main roads that it introduced earlier in the year as an energy-saving initiative (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). On Friday, the cabinet is due to approve an extension of the 110-kilometres-per-hour speed limit for the whole of the summer on the Spanish road network, with the aim of continuing the savings in petrol that such a move implies. However, the government has decided not to continue with the reduced price in public transport, of five percent, that was approved at the same time as the lower speed limit, in February, to encourage people to take public transport rather than private vehicles. The lower road speed limit and subsequent reduced consumption of petrol has seen a drop in the government's spending on importing fuel from abroad and it wants this saving to continue. The deadline for the lower speed limit to return to normal (120 kilometres per hour) had originally been set for June 30th.
The charity Càritas has said that the financial crisis is forcing more people here into poverty (read article in Catalan here, Avui). The precariousness of the employment market, housing and family finances is having a serious effect on the physical and mental health of many people, according to various organisations that help people at risk of or already suffering from social exclusion issues, and it's a message that the director of Càritas in Barcelona, Jordi Roglà, repeated yesterday, when the organisation delivered its figures for last year. Roglà emphasised that the cuts in loans, education and health spending and subsidies to social programmes are making the situation worse. "We are worried that more and more people can't see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Roglà. The head of programmes and services at Càritas, Mercè Darnell, added that "cuts today will mean poverty and social exclusion tomorrow. What we save now, we will have to spend four times the same amount in the future." Càritas helped 57,000 people last year, double the number it helped in 2007. More than half of those who received assistance were children and young people, and one in three had been born in Spain. The majority of help given related to housing (61 percent) with food being the next most important area of aid (19 percent).