The definition of development has long been associated with the capacity of countries to transition to a digital development model. Technology has become the differentiating factor between countries. The more technologically advanced they are, the more evolved and developed they become, which then improves their preparation to face any global adversities. Portugal, despite its small dimension, is heading towards this digital transition, or so it was thought.
The year of 2020 clamped down on digital transitions’ processes. All countries, without exception, were affected by the SARS COV 2 virus coming from the city of Wuhan, in China. In Portugal, the first positive case of Covid-19 was detected on March 2nd, 2019. “There is one confirmed case and another case in process of validation,” announced the Minister of Health, Marta Temido.
Meanwhile, the General Director of Health, Graça Freitas, stressed that “There is no reason to increase public health measures in Portugal”. However, sixteen days later, the President of the Portuguese Republic decreed a state of emergency for 15 days. The country literally closed its doors to the world. All public services shut down. Institutions and Companies adopted the teleworking model. Schools moved to the tele-school and digital formats. The country was turned upside down which made us all quickly realize that the digital transition had not yet fully arrived in Portugal.
The use of distance learning to replace the face-to-face educational and teaching activities was the most impacting measure in the scope of Education to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Although the response was triggered quickly, the insufficiency of skills and digital means exposed all the fragility of the Portuguese education system.
The Portuguese Court of Auditors concluded in its audit of the Ministry of Education that 4 out of 5 portuguese students did not have access to computers and that many students and teachers lacked digital skills. In addition, inequalities between territories were evident, especially rural territories, such as the islands and the interior of the country.
Inequalities gained even greater proportion in groups that tended to be marginalized, as well as among pupils with learning deficits, with specific needs and lack of autonomy.
The uncertainty about the evolution of the pandemic generated an urgency on what concerns the Portuguese Education System reformulation. The need to invest in teacher training and capacity building was even more critical, as so was the need to diversify teaching methods and implement investment programmes for the digitalization of schools, through a strategic plan centered on preventive control and an efficient management of public resources.
The successive periods of confinement, the restrictions on public circulation, the increased mediatization of pandemic related issues throughout media and social networks placed students among the most vulnerable groups in what concerned the impactful effects of the pandemic.
These impacts are still visible after two years of pandemic measures and its effects become more and more complexed as the students return to schools. The “new normal” is here to stay and it is the schools’ obligation to adapt to it the best they can.
Ana Margarida Silva – CRESAÇOR