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Nº 141 – Let’s take to the Barricades!

Saturday 21st January 2023.

Many state schools in Portugal are currently closed, as the teachers are on strike once again. The plan is to pressure the Ministry of Education. This is the way they’ve chosen to pressure the Ministry of Education and force a favourable response to their demands. In truth those finishing high school in 2023 can more or less forget about sitting their exams. Let’s take one example: at the Poeta António Aleixo school in Portimao (who wants to live there anyway?) this works in a very perfidious way: the school, just like any other, is equipped with an office. Said office holds a database on all pupils and parents, with addresses, phone numbers and emails for all registered pupils. Really they should set up a point of contact at the office to respond to pupils’ enquiries. For those are asking themselves, how long will the strike go on for, when will school start again, and so on. Nothing of the sort happens. Will the final exams even take place this year, and if so, how will that happen? In reality, the students have already suffered enough through all the lessons cancelled during the COVID pandemic. Now the fact is that the office does not communicate, not with the parents, nor with the students. Meaning that many pupils turn up for school in the morning only to be sent home again. The next day the same story… First we were told the strike would finish on 14 January. Now word has is that the strike will go on till 8 February. As you can see, in Portugal everyone can do as they please.

It’s odd that students are prepared to accept this. My generation would either have served the teachers a molotov cocktail for breakfast or gone on strike ourselves, against the teachers, against the minister of education, against a school policy of starvation as it were.

If all schools had a nominated spokesperson representing the students the latter would have some say in the matter of whether there was going to be a strike and if so, in what way. The way things stand they are silent and are herded like sheep to pasture. In many places there is no system of spokespersons in place, as the students are not organised in such a way at all. This is not the case in France and many other states of the European Union, including Germany. There, teachers enjoying tenure as civil servants are not allowed to strike. Every school has a spokesperson in place representing the students, who debate in their own parliament, in school. This is how they learn democracy. Civil servants in the pay of the state of Portugal however are allowed to strike when, where, and how they please. This turns Portugal into a muddled state incapable of action. What if the Inland Revenue went on strike, if the nursing staff in the crumbing state health system were to go on strike once again, what if the police didn’t turn up for work? What would happen d’you reckon if we citizens refused to hand over the taxes for the state’s incomplete homework?

The time has come for a major structural revolution in Portugal’s educational sector. Schools have been suffering a long-drawn out death by penny-pinching for far too long. The time has come to grant the state education system an extended remit and budget. The time has come for a new era in the schools of the state of Portugal. The fact that teachers just call a strike and stop teaching is an abomination. However, another abomination is the condescension they are being treated with by the executive. The minister is incommunicado, for weeks on end. And working teachers are reaching their limit. It would be important to have a permanent panel at national and regional level where teachers, politicians, students and parents can talk to each other and come to decisions. It would be important for the relationship of give-and-to achieve some sort of balance. Take a lot around you how things work in other European countries. You have to be able to think outside the box and look for information, otherwise you’ll always remain short-sighted and badly informed. And those without proper information might well tomorrow use their vote as a protest vote in favour of the neo-fascists of the Chega party. One thing to keep in mind: a Socialist party government ruling with an absolute majority may quickly spawn a government of neo-fascists, as happened in Italy.

 

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: Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker
Photos: Uwe Heitkamp

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