Youngest pupils won’t thrive with distance learning, warn Portugal’s school directors

With education in Portugal ‘suspended’ till February 5, the understanding is that the government will instruct schools to move over to remote learning from the following Monday, February 8. 

But school directors are dreading it – stressing “distance learning is very unjust, very unequal”. 

For younger pupils, it is even worse.

Talking to Público, Manuel Pereira of the national association of school directors said there is no substitute for face-to-face learning, particularly when it comes to the younger age groups.

In the case of first year pupils, “this two week stoppage is a real catastrophe. We will have to start practically from the beginning with them”, he said.

And contrary to the understanding that distance learning didn’t start ‘straight away’ because schools weren’t ready, Filinto Lima – president of the national association of directors of public schools – explained schools actually had been prepared for it since last September.

“We all thought the prime minister was going to announce that schools should move over to a non-presencial regime last week – not that all activity was to be suspended. We weren’t prepared for that at all…” he told Público.

That said, remote learning in the State system is rife with issues, not just because ‘hundreds of thousands’ of children don’t have computers, or live in areas that don’t have good internet connections – but because some live in homes that don’t even afford them a quiet place to work or study in. There is no guarantee they will even receive a hot meal at lunch. “These are the inequalities we are dealing with. This kind of teaching regime prejudices the most vulnerable pupils…” said Filinto Lima.

For these two leaders within the Public School system “no one wants to see distance learning return in the form it ran last March” (during Portugal’s first national lockdown), despite this looking exceedingly likely. 

Today’s front page of Correio da Manhã carried the headline: “Schools prepare online”, with the story inside saying a return to school ‘because of the pandemic’ “doesn’t look possible”.

The move online is to take place with at least 350,000 computers purchased by the ministry of education still waiting to be delivered, says the paper.

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