Around 80,000 Portuguese citizens have voiced their support for a strong public school system, reaffirming its primary role in promoting equal opportunities and building a future of justice, progress and development.
On 18 June, capital city Lisbon was the location for a massive March for Public School. The event was organised by several organisations, including Education International (EI) affiliate Federaçao Nacional dos Professores (FENPROF), to express the view that it is unacceptable to fund private schools with public money. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), since 2001, public expenditure on private schools in Portugal amounts to about €4 billion. At the same time, huge cuts have been imposed on public education, particularly in the last four years.
The march celebrated the public school, known as ‘a school of all colours,’ as a common good representing quality education, diversity, inclusion, and democracy. It also demanded adequate funding for public education, so that it can fulfil its important role, a role assigned by the national Constitution and recognised by Portuguese society.
FENPROF: Public education a ‘quality’ education
"This march is not against anyone, but for a public, democratic and quality school for all," FENPROF General Secretary Mário Nogueira told participants.
It was a clear statement by thousands of citizens in favour of a school system that has been badly treated, especially by the government-led offensive over the last four years, he said. The broad consensus created around public education is linked to the fact that, in recent times, it has been unjustly accused of being of inferior quality or expensive.
The education union leader dismissed these charges as "false and extremely unfair to public education professionals". He added that the state budget, between 2001 and 2016, spent over €4 billion on private education.
The public education system in Portugal, Nogueira said, formed the country’s most qualified generation, which, unfortunately, was forced to emigrate in large numbers due to the imposed austerity measures.
Video of Mário Nogueira’s speech during the March in Lisbon:
This march is just one initiative in favour of public education organised in the last number of months. Others included a petition to the Portuguese Parliament (gathering over 70,000 signatures) and a public event in Lisbon, where dozens of well-known personalities (writers, musicians, academics, and politicians) made a statement on the importance of public education and on the need to channel tax money to improve free inclusive quality public education.
These initiatives follow a recent decision by the Portuguese Government to reduce the public funding of private schools where a public offer exists. This decision led to strong protests from affected private schools, which organised several demonstrations, stressing the ‘right to choose’. A recent opinion survey, however, shows that 78.7 percent of the population support the government’s decision.