13,000 teachers take to streets in bid for ‘democracy’

13,000 teachers took to the streets of Lisbon yesterday – the day before national elections – to highlight the need for ‘democracy’.

As union leader Mário Nogueira explained, “elections are a moment when democracy has the conditions to function”.

“In recent elections, the levels of abstention have not dignified Portuguese democracy. It’s important that everyone, teachers too, take part by voting”.

Over 40 buses carrying educators from all over the country alighted on Lisbon for a parade that also commemorated “International Teachers Day”.

The public teaching profession has been locked in bitter negotiations with the government for years, particularly over conditions and the way teachers’ are ‘valued’ (for this read: ‘not valued’).

The overriding message from yesterday’s demo was ‘the need for more respect’.

“The people who run this country have to understand that our profession needs to be valued”, said a biology teachers from Oeiras.

Tabloid journalists heard from others in the crowd that “something has to be done to make this profession more attractive, and fast!’

What teachers here called ‘rejuvenation’ of their profession is desperately needed.

In line with a UNESCO and World Labour Organisation study, Portugal is quite literally running out of teaching staff.

The situation has seen schools up and down the country failing to complete their teaching quotas. In the Algarve for example, there is a serious shortage of geography teachers.

Said José Dias, a teacher of Portuguese and English, “no one even bids for a place teaching geography in the Algarve!”

On a global scale, UNESCO has forecast that 46.8 million teachers will need to be substituted in the next decade – and without positive policies of recruitment, the numbers simply won’t be there.

The crisis in teaching in Portugal turned a corner during the austerity years. In 2012, one primary school teacher told us: ““A teacher has to be a friend to the children, a doctor, a nurse, a figure of authority, even a parent sometimes. Our job has many roles – all of them designed to guide children into being better people. But by refusing to acknowledge these roles, by treating us as numbers, politicians are basically attacking education – leaving it always the poorer”.

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