Foreign children make up 16% of matriculations for new school year
After years in which authorities lamented falling birthrates, the situation appears to be changing, thanks to Portugal’s increasing number of foreign immigrants.
In September, more than 30,000 foreign children will be starting pre- or primary schools – taking the percentage of non-Portuguese children in the country’s State system of education to 16%.
The vast majority of these ‘new pupils’ (over 15,000) are from Brazil, followed by children from Angola (2,622), France (1,2273), Ukraine (935), Switzerland (795), S. Tomé e Príncipe (694) and India (690).
Indian children are now on a par with those from UK, after which come children from Guinea-Bissau (613), Cape Verde (571), Pakistan (445), Bangladesh (417), Nepal (370), Germany (322) and Spain (257).
But these are only the ‘top’ nationalities. According to Expresso, there are now no less than 140 nationalities represented in Portuguese State schools, “from the British Virgin Islands, to Uganda, Mongolia and Peru”.
This will be the second year in which Portugal’s school population has grown, following a decade in which it had been consistently shrinking.
But the change is not coming without controversy.
In some locations, the influx of foreigners has meant that there is a shortage of places, particularly when it comes to kindergartens – meaning Portuguese families are finding themselves ‘locked out’ of a facility that should (in their eyes, and according to the government’s own programme) be available to national citizens.
In others – like the municipality of Odemira, where large-scale salad-green and berry production employs overwhelmingly a South Asian workforce – migrants make up between 30% to 40% of the school population.
Expresso hears that Odemira’s birthrates over the last five years have shown almost 50% of newborns had foreign mothers (1,195 babies all told, of which 563 were to foreigners).
The government is dealing with this new phenomenon by allowing increases to class sizes; and expanding the number of subsidised places in private schools (something it had reduced considerably up until 2020). But the tide is too strong: problems particularly when it comes to pre-school places have seen an increase in the number of complaints to the State’s ‘complaints portal’.
Expresso’s research shows that “repeated complaints denounce the lack of vacancies in pre-school” which the government has ‘assured’ the country.
One of the complaints put the issue into sharp focus: “Where is the universal access to children aged three years old (approved by the government)? I feel indignant as this situation has meant that I have had to matriculate my son in a private school which makes my own financial situation unsustainable, bearing in mind they are charging €345 a month…”