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Nº 140 – We’re all equal, right? Or are some more equal than others after all?

Saturday 14th January 2023.

Today’s big news was this: humanity has crossed the threshold of eight billion. So what do the good teachers of Portugal do? What will we remember them for? That’s right, they’re on strike. Once again. This time the issue is their career paths within the state school system. They are striking because they are altruistically thinking of their missed prospects of promotion. Very funny. Just visualise this. Those poor poor teachers.

Fair enough, they are not exactly in a good place. Entry-level salaries are meagre, not even reaching 1,000 euros. And this after spending four to five years at uni, fighting your way through gruelling exams. And then what? Let’s take Portimão for example. You cannot find a flat to rent much below 600 euros a month. This is something the Ministry of Education should know. The cost of living in the Algarve is exorbitant. A teacher’s salary won’t get you very far there. That’s close enough to be peering at the breadline from close up. Which is why teachers don’t want to work in Portimão, and why the local school (António Aleixo) suffers with a severe shortage of teachers. The state school system is crumbling. There is a tangible lack of resources everywhere. The state is letting their schools starve at arm’s length.

 

This is no longer about modifying the curriculum of yesteryear and helping to develop a humane school system where the majority of children and adolescents can find their place, may feel at home and appreciated. This is not about our pupils’ future. Most of all this is not about adapting the antiquated curriculum to the challenges of our time. Climate change, ring a bell? Nor is this about replacing the asbestos-infested roofs of many crumbling schools. Most of all, the reason teachers are taking industrial action is not for the benefit of their pupils, they are striking only for themselves. (To find out more, read the ECO123 interview with José Pacheco in our current edition no. 33)

The teaching unions speak of lofty values, such as maintaining „dignity“. Balderdash! Whose dignity is maintained by a teacher not turning up for class on the back of their pupils? As for them, the children are trapped in a school straightjacket. Are the students asked whether they agree with their teachers’ industrial action? No. They have to go to school and learn to obtain good grades in a competition-focussed system. And now those who are supposed to accompany our kids up to leaving school are on strike? What kind of company is that, people only thinking of their own interests, sending the kids home because there’s a strike on don’t you know.

Yes, this is about our children. This is in fact why we pay taxes to the state, to enable it to develop a school system that works well, that pays teachers, nurses, the police and soldiers too. Should this not first and foremost be about the esteemed ladies and gentlemen teachers (and politicians) taking themselves a little less seriously, and concentrate on their prime object of care, our children, their pupils, on transmitting the curriculum? And this doesn’t entail a right to strike for those employed by the state, enjoying tenure – earning a safe wage without having to risk starvation. I am looking at all players within this system, including the unspeakable politicians entering this game – against the interests of the students and teachers. What if the pupils went on strike for once? For the climate? Refused to go to school? Because what is school for in these times we’re living in? What future is an adolescent facing today? Instead, pupils are sent home, or, in other words, allow themselves to be sent home. Still. In contrast, Greta Thunberg took her own free day and went on strike for the climate. Different strokes for different folks.

 

Those who enjoy a tenured permanent contract in the public sector as a civil servant should not have the right to strike. This is about our children, the students whose back each strike is fought out on. And I’m sorry, but I can’t feel solidarity with the teachers here. There are now eight billion of us on this earth, and we have to think about what we are doing to our children with strikes like this. There are better ways of engaging in conversation. What is happening today is no longer a means to leading a dialogue to a positive conclusion. Were the students asked their opinion, or indeed the parents? No. So what gives?

Once again the Christmas holidays are over. My daughter goes to school for a whole day, then she’s sent home again. If it was only a one-day strike! This pointless strike is now already entering its second week, and before we know it it’s Carnival. In Portugal people are talking at cross purposes and go on strike, while the minister himself is spending time in Angola. What I would like teachers to do is to turn up for teaching school on time and to work properly with the students: to be a shining example. Right now the striking state school teachers are getting very bad grades from me – and the Minister for Education needs to be fired. In fact, let him just stay on in Angola…

Uwe Heitkamp (62)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations Dina Adão, John Elliot, Ruth Correia, Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker
Photos: Uwe Heitkamp

 

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