Students return to classes and there is already a strike scheduled for the first days

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Kelly Sikkema / unsplash

About 1.2 million students in compulsory education start classes this week, which kicks off with a strike announced in a year marked by the beginning of the learning recovery plan still in a pandemic environment.

When they arrive at schools, the atmosphere will be similar to last year: there are circulation corridors, the use of masks is mandatory and students continue to be only with their colleagues in their “bubble”.

Bars and vending machines could be one of the few visible changes, as the sale of health-damaging foods such as pastries, chips, sodas, chocolates or Berlin balls is now banned.

But about 120 thousand teachers have long been preparing changes, which students will discover when they arrive in the classrooms, between Tuesday and Friday, and start the Plan 21/23 School +.

The idea is that by 2023 students will recover the learning lost during the confinement of the last two academic years, but principals and teachers complain that this year there has not been a new reinforcement of the teams.

“This will be a huge challenge for schools, because we will have to do more with the same resources“, said to Lusa the vice president of the National Association of Schools and Grouping Directors (ANDAEP), David Sousa.

David Sousa explained that in the last school year there was a reinforcement of teams in schools: “Each class was entitled to a credit of eight more hours per week”.

A program was created that allowed educational establishments to hire specialized technicians and teachers, and these contracts were extended to this year. The schools that last year did not join the program were able to do so in this one, but, in addition, “from last year to this year there has been no increase”, he lamented.

Faced with criticism, the Minister of Education, Tiago Brandão Rodrigues he said that this was “a false issue”, stressing that the work of recovering learning began precisely in the last school year, when schools were given the possibility to hire more teachers and technical assistants.

“The recovery of learning does not start in 2021/2022. On 20/21 there were already concrete actions and pedagogical plans by the schools”, he said, explaining that “the resources that the Ministry of Education gave over this last year cost many hundreds of millions of euros and are now supplemented in a plan for two years which is estimated at more than 900 million”.

The work teams arrived at schools in early September last year. “Obviously these human resources would be discontinued if we didn’t have this learning recovery plan. But it is necessary to say clearly that we have these and more resources”, he added, giving as an example the teams that support inclusive education that were able to double the number of available hours.

Tiago Brandão Rodrigues also underlined that the 21/23 Escola + Plan is “a foundation of measures that go far beyond just giving human resources to schools”. There are more than 50 measures that allow schools curricular and pedagogical possibilities to respond to the problems they encounter.

Nonetheless, the minister’s words do not convince the unions from teachers who guarantee that there is a lack of reinforcements: “We have received many complaints about the lack of professionals. I mean, we are going to work with the same number of people as there were in schools last year when there was no recovery plan”, said the general secretary of Fenprof, in statements to Lusa.

The new academic year will also be marked by the transfer of education skills to municipalities. This change, which will be completed by the end of March 2022, is one of the reasons for the teachers and non-teaching staff strike announced by the Union of All Teachers (STOP).

The four days of strike – enter September 14th and 17th – coincide precisely with the beginning of the new school year in the different educational establishments.

In addition to the municipalization of Education, the protest is also against competitions for teachers, which unions classify as unfair, precariousness, assessment with quotas, retirement age, the lack of transport and accommodation subsidies and salaries.

This will also be the year in which the Ministry of Education and unions start negotiations to review the norms of the teacher placement competitions.

To Lusa, the minister of Education said that the tutelage hopes with this process “to be able to give more stability to schools and teachers”, being, therefore, “a strong fight against precariousness”.

Tiago Brandão Rodrigues recalled that in recent years they have linked 25,000 workers, half of whom are teachers.

In a year of general competition for teachers and with an increase in retired teachers – almost 1,600 this year – the unions have warned that this year there should be again classes without all the assigned teachers.

The General Directorate of School Establishments (Dgeste) has authorized the constitution of classes with fewer students than the minimum established by law, writes the Público newspaper.

The solution is defined on a case-by-case basis and has been expanded over the last two years, taking into account the context of the pandemic, making it possible to reduce the number of students in each classroom in many schools.

In addition, schools have this year two thousand more places for pre-school students, announced the Minister of Education, adding that 80 more rooms were opened in the areas where there is more demand.

“We know that attending quality pre-school education, at least for a year, is a great influence for the entire educational path to be a success,” said the Minister of Education, Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, in an interview with Lusa as part of the start of the school year.

For this year that is now beginning, the plan was to open another 50 pre-school groups, but the tutelage “managed to open another 80” classrooms, which are equivalent to “more than two thousand places”.

According to Brandão Rodrigues, the vacancies are located in the regions where there is more demand, that is, in the urban areas of Lisbon and Porto, but also in regions “subject to large internal migratory waves”.

As happened about a year ago, now teachers, employees and some students are being tested again for the new coronavirus: it started a week ago with the workers and, on September 20, the students start from the 3rd cycle.

This year, most young people between 12 and 17 years old are already vaccinated against covid-19 and there is greater flexibility in isolation when positive cases arise.

The Directorate-General for Health changed the rules for prophylactic isolation of classes when a positive case appears, ending the obligation for entire classes to stay at home for two weeks: students with low-risk contacts or those who test negative must return to school.

In this process of returning to school, more than 5.6 million ‘vouchers’ for new and reused manuals have already been handed out, within the scope of the program for making available free manuals launched by the current Government.

The program foresees the reuse of manuals and, according to the tutelage, the rate of reuse of books this year was around 70%.