Image issued by the education ministry showing clearly that children are expected to write in their manuals

Nine teachers’ unions schedule first protests for next school year

“Won’t give up till government responds to main demands”

Nine unions representing schoolteachers in Portugal are already threatening the next school year, starting in September.

Children have barely begun their summer holidays – following the third consecutive year of hiatus in education (the first two blighted by measures brought in in the name of Covid) – and teachers are indicating there will be no let up in disruption carried out in the name of ‘respect for State education‘.

If the government does not respond to their ‘main demands’ (including the unfreezing of six years, six months and 23 days in which careers were ‘frozen’) industrial action affecting the academic ‘everyday’ will continue, the two unions that represent the bulk of the nation’s teachers, the national federation of teachers (FENPROF) and the national education federation (FNE), have warned.

The announcement perpetuates the essential impasse: the government has already said it cannot afford to unfreeze the years affected. It has already unfrozen two years, nine months and 18 days. Prime minister António Costa has said repeatedly that the remaining six years, six months and 23 days simply cannot go the same way…

In other words, this stand by teachers brings nothing new to ‘negotiations’ which appear to have all but stalled for the summer recess.

According to FENPROF secretary general Mário Nogueira the first protests of the coming academic year will fall on October 6, the day after World Teachers Day.

Meantime, the authorities’ strong-arm tactics have spilled over into schools themselves: there is now a further dispute muddying good relations, pertaining to the ‘return of pristine school manuals’.

This is an issue that to many will seem surreal: at the start of the last academic year (in which parents spent much of their time collecting children from schools that were hit by strikes), manuals paid by the State were given out to primary school children, with no indication whatsoever that they had to be returned in reusable condition.

These manuals are conceived for children to write in. They have sections for answers, and parts where children are asked to colour images in.

In the past, yes, parents benefitting from State-paid manuals were advised when they had to be handed back in a reusable condition (and it was always a feat to accomplish, with erasers rubbed into oblivion and Tippex used as artistically as its nature allowed).

But last year, nothing was said… until the end of the summer term. Then came the bombshell… in various fragments: some schools said that in order to receive ‘vouchers’ for the purpose of next year’s manuals, last year’s books had to be returned in perfect condition. No signs of anyone having even opened them, practically. Other schools said the manuals ‘could be returned with writing in pencil erased.’ (There was no reference to the sections in which pupils had been asked to colour images in…)

Parents who desperately need this State support in purchasing schoolbooks (which are not cheap) don’t know where they stand; the schools themselves have called for ‘orientation’.

Today, Correio da Manhã reports that school directors are already being threatened by IGEFE, the institute of financial management of education: “if there is a discrepancy between the number of non-useable manuals and money ‘returned’ (to essentially pay for them) IGEFE will proceed to issue fines, which could go up to €18,000.

School directors are indignant and call for clarification from the ministry of education”.

CM has spoken with Filinto Lima, president of the national association of directors of school groupings and State schools, asking him if it is true that some parents are already being charged for books that cannot be reused “when they guarantee no one told them at the start of the school year that this would be necessary”?

“School directors are in a delicate situation”, he conceded. “More than threats, we and the parents want clarification from the Ministry of Education, which has said nothing”.

Lima also stated the obvious: “The way in which these books are conceived makes re-use impossible”.

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