Pandemic, education, equality opinion

1. If there is a virtuous and virtual debate that brought us the pandemic, it is the debate on education, equal opportunities and equality in Portugal. While starting from a very worrying situation, the truth is that withdrawal from face-to-face teaching poses many of the challenges facing our educational system. Inequality and the role of school in overcoming it were highlighted most. A few months ago I left a deep compliment here on the civic and even educational intervention of Alexandre Homem Cristo, Susana Peralta and Luís Aguiar-Conraria. They have paid the greatest attention to the reproductive and even aggravating effects of inequalities in distance learning. However, I think it is worth looking at the medium term – the post-pandemic horizon – and coming back to this discussion. For many years I wrote on these and other pages and also spoke in the São Bento Chamber about the relationship between school and social mobility. The current context shows how necessary it is to look at the education system from the perspective of socio-cultural mobility by emphasizing the profound socio-cultural asymmetries of our children and young people.

2. Portuguese society is still deeply aristocratic, to use the classical terminology. And in that sense quite averse and hostile to social mobility and the spread of merit. Let’s not do sociological studies or statistical research. We fall for the “environment”, the perceptions it offers us and the way we “internalize” it. Contemplate the obsession with being treated by a doctor, engineer, or architect to understand how the remnants of the ancient toga nobility are alive – very much alive. Or take the culture of “wedge” or “knowledge” or “commitment” as a reference. This environment of closeness and affinity sometimes even reaches the old “line” that has recently been well documented in the multitude of family relationships that raged around António Costa’s government and socialist power. If I am referring to the aristocratic streak here – perhaps it would be more accurate to say “oligarchic” – I would like to point out the socio-cultural stratification which, despite the many exceptions that everyone can identify, basically remains immobile and frozen. Education is not the only one near or far. It is one of the most important instruments for overcoming these structural differences and promoting equal opportunities. None of this, as I have emphasized here for years, implies a leveling of the teaching and even less a leveling. In addition, it must be recognized that deep and resilient inequalities are not eliminated overnight and not all at the same time. For those who seek an almost revolutionary destruction of social injustices, reform will not suffice, as none of them will automatically or magically achieve this goal. A society that wants to make progress will only do so gradually, although it has to do so “by chance” and therefore without discrimination.

One thing I know for sure: despite the many advances that the Portuguese education system has made over the decades, it remains a reproductive and even reinforcing example of socio-cultural differences.

3. The pandemic and its general pressures forced Portuguese schools to switch to distance learning. I am not going to return here to the incompetence of the total lack of foresight in the hypothesis of a new school closure, nor to the shame of the promises made by the Prime Minister and Minister of the Ministry regarding the purchase of computers and network coverage, and yet much less the obvious lie about the possibility of digital classes during the first fifteen days of suspension. Rather, it is important to underline how the pandemic and the absolute shortcomings of distance learning have brought back to the fore the major sociocultural asymmetries that exist among our students. Asymmetries that, on the one hand, reflect existing inequalities, and on the other – and this is the drama – preserve and even expand them in the future.

Many of the vocal supporters of the so-called “inclusive” school, even if they are well-intentioned, have actively contributed to leveling it out. Leveling from below only continues the reproductive effects of cultural and social asymmetries

4. In a pandemic context, and given the absolute lack of preparation by the government, it is evident that the way to minimize and correct these shortcomings is to return to personal education as soon as possible. If distance learning and the pandemic exacerbate the conditions of inequality, the truth is that those conditions exist even with regular classroom courses, albeit less ostensibly. So at the beginning I insist that if the serious damage that the pandemic has inflicted on the educational process has a positive effect, then awareness of these structural adversities needs to be greatly increased.

5. In the short term, this awareness implies a plan to return to face-to-face teaching and restore lost learning, particularly by students who have been disconnected from alternative solutions in practice. In the medium term, however, we need to redefine social (or socio-cultural) mobility as one of the major goals of the school. Of course, this means that the school has to be demanding and not moderate – because Facilitism always favors those who have alternative learning resources – and that the school does not have to fear faster technical and academic training as a social elevator. Many of the vocal supporters of the so-called “inclusive” school, even if they are well-intentioned, have actively contributed to leveling it out. A lower level only continues the reproductive effects of cultural and social asymmetries. There are valuable lessons from the pandemic that are worth far beyond. May we not forget them.

Yes and no

YES Carlos Ferreira de Almeida. A great lawyer and a great teacher. Of rare intelligence, culture, rigor and humility. A civilian who dared in the philosophy of language. A virtuous citizen in the good Roman way.

NO António Costa and Marta feared. Cunning and double standards. Always advertised about the simple administration of vaccines. When it comes to yours, they go out of their way to hide and discreetly share.