Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, education spending in Portugal has fallen to 3% of the Gross Domestic product, with devastating consequences for the country's school system and teaching profession.
Many years of austerity measures have left more than a quarter of the Portuguese teachers without job certainty, while salaries are low and employment conditions poor. Portugal's largest teachers' organisation, FENPROF, which started its 12th National Congress in the city of Oporto earlier today, hopes that the change of government last November will lead to improvements. In his address to some 600 delegates, FENPROF General Secretary Mario Nogueira said that some highly contested measures had already been withdrawn, including the imposition of testing regimes in primary education. The new government was also reviewing conditions attached to the use of public funds by private schools, Nogueira told the congress. FENPROF is now engaged in a national dialogue with the authorities addressing the management of schools, teacher policy and education reform matters. "We will follow the new government critically," Mario Nogueira said, announcing that the union would not accept current plans to delegate national education responsibilities to the municipalities. However, after having been ignored for many years by the previous government, the establishment of a national dialogue with the teachers unions is an important step forward, according to the FENPROF leader.
In his remarks, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said that "if national governments are serious about improving education, then they need to start listening to teachers and to improve their employment conditions". Van Leeuwen also commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Recommendation on the Status of the Teaching Profession. "When adopted in 1966, your country had yet to become a democracy; the world’s population was half of what it is today; and we were still three years away from stepping foot on the moon. And teachers were seen as essential! I would argue that this should be more true today. As we enter the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ the world desperately needs a highly qualified, strong teaching profession to lead our young people into the future."
With some 50,000 members, FENPROF is Education International's largest affiliate in Portugal.