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Portugal: Union seeks social dialogue on pandemic impact on teachers and students

The Portuguese education union, Federaçao Nacional dos Professores, is concerned about teacher professional issues, inequities, lack of social dialogue, and assessment of teachers.

In Portugal, teacher workload has soared due to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. That information is provided by Manuela Mendonça, member of the Federaçao Nacional dos Professores (FENPROF) National Secretariat and of the Education International Executive Board
 
Teachers must be available nearly 24 hours a day to prepare lessons and materials, while having to adapt to an unprecedented model of pedagogical activity in a new and unknown context. At the same time, she stressed, teachers are doing their utmost to keep in touch with students and their families and maintain contact with the school. This has led to anxiety, exhaustion, stress and even despair among teachers, Mendonça said, as it has become extremely difficult for them to separate their work and private lives.
 
Parental evaluation of teachers during pandemic
 
FENPROF is also concerned that teachers were being evaluated by parents for their performance during the pandemic. Questionnaires were distributed by school administrations to parents and students to assess the school’s remote teaching and learning. These questionnaires were originally meant to be used as an internal evaluation tool focusing on reinforcing schools’ capacity to respond to educational and training needs in the context of remote education during the pandemic.
 
“But, in many cases, the questionnaires contained questions reaching far beyond the objective of monitoring the process and became true mechanisms to evaluate teachers’ performance, which is completely illegitimate and illegal,” Mendonça said. “We were against those types of inquiries and asked the Ministry of Education to order schools to withdraw such questionnaires.” 
 
Inequalities increased
 
The union is also concerned that inequality among students has worsened, in some cases dramatically, because of the lack of financial and material resources and of parent support. 
 
She added that social issues - for example - almost two million workers lost their jobs or remain unemployed - have a considerable impact on families. In addition, students with special educational needs suffered further discrimination and their difficulties increased without adequate support from schools.
 
Absence of social dialogue 
 
FENPROF also deeply regrets the absence of social dialogue between the Ministry of Education and teachers and their trade unions, Mendonça said.  “Every single orientation, measure, procedure that applied to schools were imposed by the Ministry without any negotiation or previous discussion, showing a profound disrespect for teachers and their representatives. We only had two meetings with the Ministry of Education during this period, only to be informed of what they had already decided to do.”
 
Educators’ voice must be heard
 
FENPROF demands that its voice be heard and to be allowed to present the educators’ views about schools and education during COVID-19 and the organisation of the next school year. 
 
“We demand to be involved in the discussion about the conditions schools must respect to begin the next school year safely and without the abuses we witnessed this year,” Mendonça insisted. “We need to discuss teachers’ working conditions and schedules, including non-classroom teaching situations, as well as the type of support they can and must receive, their professional development, and their recruitment.”
 
The union is organising online meetings with teachers to listen to their opinions and convey them to the Ministry of Education. She said: “We are not giving up, we will do whatever is necessary until the Ministry listens to us and takes our positions into account”.
 
Guidance on reopening schools
 
Education International’s Guidance on Reopening Schools and Education Institutions is available here.
 
Its publication, Forward to School, can be downloaded here.