Distance learning in Portugal: “disadvantaged children will be ‘lost’ unless government changes policy”

With Portugal’s public schools due to embark on distance learning from home after an enforced two-week break because of the pandemic, academics are urging the government to allow the nation’s disadvantaged pupils back into the classroom.

Warns Susan Peralta of the New School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE) , if these pupils are left in homes with poor conditions and parents who cannot accompany their studies the country will end up with a ‘lost generation’: children whose education simply cannot be recovered.

The issue, said Ms Peralta who coordinated the study “Children in Portugal and distance learning: a portrait) is that 25% of the nation’s schoolchildren live in homes that are damp and/ or have leaks; 13% live in homes that ‘don’t have adequate heating’ and 9% live in homes without adequate light, or even healthy meals.

Beyond this, 15% live in ‘overcrowded housing’; 6% in areas blighted by crime.

Says the investigator whose study is being publicised on national television today, “there are unimaginable things (going on) in a country that one calls developed, in the 21st century…”

She said in the Algarve, for example, her study found that 2.5% of children live in homes without a proper bathroom.

“We were shocked by the level of child deprivation in the south of the country”, she said. 

Perhaps the worst of the study’s findings is that it was compiled using data from 2018-2019 (in other words, long before the pandemic – which has caused even more poverty – further transformed people’s lives). Yet it shows that more than half the pupils up to the 9th year in 60 boroughs of the country receive State support for their educational needs (including subsidised meals) – as well as over 80% in the Trás-os-Montes region.

These children cannot afford to be ‘left’ to distance learning, says Ms Peralta who has sent Nova SBE’s study to the education ministry and the governmen in the hope that something can be done.

There is already an ‘enormous difference’ in scholastic results between the least and most disadvantaged pupils, she stressed. “Imagine now, with a crisis installed… it can only get worse”.

Meantime, the parents and children of the country ‘prepare themselves’ for another stint of distance learning, starting on Monday February 8.

Says SIC today, there are still all kinds of logistical issues to sort out: not least households without internet connections, let alone computers for each child.

The government is due to ‘review’ the situation of schools every two weeks, adds SIC.

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