Our public school will colapse

With a strong presence in the education sector, Carlos Ceia reflects on the state of education in Portugal. Covering topics such as the curriculum, teacher training and the use of technology in schools, our guest believes that 'our public school is going to burst'.

Our public school will colapse
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

The 40th episode of the Isto Não é Pera Doce podcast features Carlos Ceia. Founder and Director of the Instituto de Línguas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, he is Full Professor of English Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and holds the CIPSH Chair in Digital Humanities in Education. He is director of the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies and coordinator of the E-Dictionary of Literary Terms.

With a strong presence in the education sector, Carlos Ceia reflects on the state of education in Portugal. Covering topics such as the curriculum, teacher training and the use of technology in schools, our guest believes that 'our public school is going to burst'. Find out why by listening to the full interview: 

«Everything was going well until the day the current government decided that the core curriculum would become a single curriculum and a core curriculum»

It's no surprise that a school works for results. In fact, a school, like any organisation, works for results. Results dictate a path to follow, but do they reflect the whole working context? The truth is that success rates are important for the recognition of educational institutions, for their placement in league tables and for the consideration of parents at enrolment time. 

The question is: does the obsession with pass rates make us willing to do anything, including making our entire education system simpler? For Professor Carlos Ceia, from a political point of view, yes.

From a political point of view, yes. There's no doubt in my mind that some of the policies we've had in the past have been very much in this direction, sometimes to achieve success in any way possible, without really measuring the consequences of certain measures, which have always tended to go in the direction of wanting to do well in European and world statistics at all costs.

No country can do without success at school. No one makes a policy without thinking about success at school. That's true. But how do we achieve it? In the words of our guest, some of the measures adopted in Portugal point to facilitism.

In fact, we have opted for some measures, especially on the question of assessment, in primary and secondary education, and also on the question of the curriculum. We have opted for some measures that point in the direction of easing, easing, easing the way, and sometimes, those of us who work in education know very well that easing the way does not show the way, nor does it point the way. 

And at this level, in education, the focus is on the curriculum. This is because the adoption of a single curriculum has meant that the focus has been on preparing motivated people to teach that curriculum. But without deepening learning.

Unfortunately, there's no doubt in my mind that in the next international exams [...] we're going to plummet. Because what we've done in the last few years has never been about really strengthening our learning, but about having solid teaching, a solid curriculum and well-prepared, well-motivated people to teach that solid curriculum.

Carlos Ceia justifies the scenario he foresees for the next national exams by citing factors such as: what is seen in schools, the local results of different schools, and the enormous difficulty teachers have in working with the current assessment system and the current national curriculum. For all these reasons, he says, the results obtained are not real, but obtained through an artificiality introduced into the system. Therefore, «it can never work».

We work hard for results that aren't real. Which are often achieved through an artificiality that has been introduced into the system, with a learning assessment system that is... we see this paradox at the moment: we have a curriculum that is based on essentials - which are the essential learnings; and we have a system for assessing those learnings that is perhaps the most complex there is in the world. It can never work.

At the time of the construction of Essential Learning, in which Carlos Ceia was involved, the aim was not to turn Essential Learning into a national curriculum. The idea was to make the curriculum more readable for parents, students and teachers. To simplify it and give schools a margin of flexibility to complete the national curriculum. But the government has completely abandoned the integral matrix of the curriculum, he says.

Simplify. To have a simpler version of the curriculum that everybody could read and understand and know exactly what they could learn in that particular curriculum, in that particular subject. All countries have what is known abroad as the core curriculum, everyone has it and we didn't, well, I thought it was a good idea and, above all, it made sense at the time that there should be a margin in the national curriculum that could be made more flexible so that schools could then supplement the national curriculum. Everything was fine until the day the current government decided that the core curriculum would become a single curriculum and a main curriculum, completely abandoning the integral curriculum matrix.


«We end up treating the teacher as an individual who is just filling in for the teacher»

Learning seems to be reduced to the bare essentials, but the teachers are busy with spreadsheets, papers and Excel spreadsheets. Records. In other words, the focus is on assessing domains and competences.  

The reason for this scenario, says Carlos Ceia, is that teacher training has been «all wrong»:

The training that was given to teachers to work with these essential learning was all wrong. There's a simple principle here: you don't train teachers to teach the essentials of a curriculum, otherwise there's no point in being a teacher. If a teacher doesn't know the essentials of a curriculum, he is not prepared. You always have to teach a teacher more so that they can adapt to what they have to teach. And that's not where we've gone. Where did we go? We put teachers through I don't know how many training courses to learn how to use assessment by domain and competence, which is something that has been implemented in our schools.

Education has gone down this road of assessments, frameworks and outcomes. Is it a road of no return?

We had to go back to a simple assessment, as we used to do. And we had to go back to a time when we had to trust the teacher more and excel less. Trust the teacher more. Because we end up treating the teacher as an individual who just fills in. He's a classroom observer, he's not even a teacher. He's an observer of the lesson who records the statistics of the lesson, and that's what this evaluation amounts to: it's an evaluation of the statistics of the lesson. [...] . I feel sorry for our colleagues in primary and secondary education when I see these impossible grids they have to work with and when they have to spend a lot of their professional time preparing these grids.

The teaching paradigm has changed completely. Schools are increasingly multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic. And, argues Carlos Ceia, we should be preparing teachers to deal with this change, with students with different learning rhythms and different educational references. But instead, teachers are taught to put a cross on a grid.

Instead of adapting the curriculum to this new reality that we have in our schools, instead of providing training so that a teacher now knows a little better how to work with students with different learning rhythms in the same space, with different cultures in the same space, with different educational references in the same space. Instead of preparing a teacher to work with this multiplicity that is before us, the teacher is preoccupied with knowing where to put the cross on the grid.

In this context, teachers need to be trained. Train them according to what education is today and not reduce the training to a single curriculum. And it's either that or «our public school will colapse».

What I'm telling you now is that by 2030 we won't need to train 35,000 teachers, we'll need twice that number. Why is that? We currently have the capacity to train about 1,600 teachers a year. That's our capacity. Because there's no increase in funding for higher education, I can't increase the number of places I need to have more teachers. I can't. I don't have the human resources. Not in my university, not in any university, because there's no reinforcement or funding for it. So if we can't train the three and a half, four thousand teachers that we need to train every year until 2030, we're going to need at least 70 thousand new teachers by 2030. Our public school will colapse.

Technology, commuting, salary and occupation

In this scenario, we risk having classes without teachers until 2030 - or long after. Shouldn't we also be looking for quick fixes, such as - within what we consider to be pedagogy - introducing more technology?  

Technology will help us and does help us in many ways and all of us teachers, whether in primary or secondary, university or higher education, can benefit and have benefited from the introduction of technology into our education system. […] Does it make our work easier? Yes, it does. Obviously.

But we can't just go on like this, says Carlos Ceia. We have to take a step back and see how we can make this profession attractive to young people, and there are three variables in this equation: travel, salary and vocation:

There are two or three things that could be done. I always talk to my final year students. I ask them who wants to be a teacher, who doesn't, and I'm more interested in those who don't, and I ask them why, and it always has to do with this: firstly, security, instability, they don't know where they're going to be posted, they don't want to risk being many miles away from home. So travel, where they're going to work, is important for these young people who could be thinking about a career in teaching but don't want to risk it; the second aspect is the salary, they know that the basic salary is very low and that you can earn much more in anything else. The salary is also important to them. The third aspect - and it should be the first - is vocation. With all the negative publicity surrounding state schools in particular, it doesn't help to motivate young people and their parents to see that this is a valid path, that it's possible and that it's worthwhile.

For all these reasons, we need a structural reform to put everything in order," says Professor Carlos:

Our education system is a sum of problems that are all interconnected, and there's no way we're going to have a government in 10 years' time that's capable of thinking about education and carrying out a structural reform that puts all this in order: assessment, the curriculum, including salaries, careers, teacher training, recruitment groups, everything.

Watch the full episode on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or Google Podcasts.







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