II European Meeting "Education for All"

Contribution of the PCP by Rita Magrinho - Brussels, March 23rd, 2007

On behalf of the Portuguese Communist Party, I thank you for the invitation to participate in this second meeting, certain that it will represent a good opportunity to learn about our education policy realities.

Since the meeting last April, in Athens, neoliberal policies applied in our country have worsened the situation of education, of the teachers and students, and created greater difficulties to the construction of a free, public school, a school of quality for all.

Comrades:

The school year started on a bad note, due to:
- a process of teacher school assignment marked by numerous errors, irregularities and illegalities

- the closing (still in process) of more than 1,600 grade schools, forcing thousands of children to commute to alternate schools, many of the several kilometres away.

The Government has made its intention clear to close 4,500 schools by the end of the present legislature, in 2009. This situation occurs, by and large, in the interior of our country, increasing the human desertification of important
areas and contributing to increase regional imbalances. These measures have allowed the private sector to open new schools to profit from the increase in school population deprived of accessible public schools

- a 50% reduction in Special Education teachers, with a decrease in support to students with Special Education needs.

- The imposition, with no respect for the right to collective bargaining, of a new Teacher Career Statute that, if applied as it presently stands, with worsen the
working condition of teachers and the functioning of schools, devalue socially and materially the career, and increase professional instability and unemployment, with
negative consequences for the teaching/learning process and student and family motivations.

The measures of the Socialist Party government, in the area of Education, are part of a broader systematic attack against the Public Administration and has as its objective the antidemocratic reconfiguration of the State. In effect, in its attempt to make us believe the State has had an excessive role in socio-economic life, the ideological campaign of the bourgeoisie entails a line of reasoning that, while trying to hide its class structure, reaffirms the idea that the State is a poor administrator of economic resources, services and functions. It seeks, in this manner, to justify the transferral to big capital of important economic and social functions.

Along the same lines, the so called Bologna process is a further step towards federalism.
This process is seen by the eurocrats as a path towards short- and medium-duration qualifications, which will allow an increase in the rates high qualifications.

Portugal has only 10% of its population, between the ages of 25 and 64, with higher education (the UE15 average is 20.7%) and on average with 8 years of schooling ( UE25 11,6 years; USA 12,7 years; Japan 12.6 years; Norway
13.8 years).

The model of "accelerated" education in three relatively short cycles aims, among other things, to increase the number of graduates and post-graduates without
strengthening public financing. This is only possible with private financing, and certainly a higher financial burden on families and a drastic reduction on the quality of "accredited" qualifications. It should be highlighted that we already have tuition in the 2nd cycle, on the order of 2,700 (for instance in the Economics College), and there are indications it may rise to 4,000.

In the meantime, without the commitment of the States to finance equally the successive cycles of Higher Education, a most ignoble economic discrimination is intentionally introduced: the access to "higher degrees" of education and, potentially, the possibility of becoming a leading cadre in the system becomes a privilege of the rich, excluding those that may subvert it. Thus another intent of
capital is fulfilled, the use of the school as a means of reproduction the status quo.

Comrades:

It has been the policy of many government (and the present one as well) to transfer central functions to the Local Administration, namely the education and health sectors, while simultaneously reducing this financial capacity, by the Law of Local Financing. This has led many localities to hand over to the private sector the implementation of many programs, going against the constitutional principle of universal, mandatory, free basic education.

All these measures have faced the opposition of our Party and the most targeted sectors, namely teachers and educators, the students and other Public Administration workers, through struggles and protests. Several marches
and strikes had national expression in the present school year, led by the Teachers Union, by Fenprof the National Federation of Teachers, and by the Public Service
Federation. On the past 5th of October there was the largest march of teachers in Portugal. The organization and mobilization in the schools has been determinant for the success of these actions.

Out of the next congress of Fenprof and of the unions affiliated with CGTP, next April, new avenues of struggle may emerge, of struggle against right-wing policies and in the defence of professional and union rights of teachers and educators.

In the Legislative Assembly, PCP has several legislative proposals in the area of education concerning: the teacher school placement process, the financing of higher education, and student financial aid, as well as a campaign in defence of Public Higher Education and against the Bologna process, which will have two stages (April/May and September/October) and will be aimed at universities, with
debates and mobilization of professors and students.

Comrades:

Today the education policy in Portugal is determined by statistics, is reduced to the management of the school and human resources, from an economic perspective, and aims to increase the number of diplomas at any cost. The greater financing of private schools with public money, the decreasing commitment of the State to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities in this area, opening opportunities for the private sector, the barriers to school access and success placed before the most disfavoured classes, making the system more and more elitist, and fundamental components of the changes in course.

PCP reaffirms the need to gear our educational system in accordance with the national interest, including the principle that to invest in education is to invest in the country, that such an investment is not an expense, as has been argued.

An education system that prepares the men and women of tomorrow in an integral perspective of education, and not merely considering the labour market.

An education system that includes a school that fights economic and social inequalities, that gives every student equal opportunity and the necessary support so that all may have school and educational success.

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