“There were more online classes than in-person classes. In regards of the youngest, the difference was smaller”, said Filinto Lima, president of the National Association of Group Directors and Public Schools (ANDAEP), referring to pre-school and elementary school students who returned to school on March 15th.

Approximately 500 thousand students of the 2nd and 3rd cycles, as well as the more than 330 thousand students in secondary school, will only return to classrooms after Easter holidays.

School principals noticed improvements in relation to the first experience of distance learning, which began in March of the last academic year: “The digital literacy of teachers and students has increased and there is much more equipment distributed”, pointed out Filinto Lima.

The president of the National Association of School Leaders (ANDE), Manuel Pereira, added that “computers continue to be delivered every day at schools, in addition to the support of many municipalities that have guaranteed internet at home for many families”.

Manuel Pereira also recalled the experience acquired by teachers, who had more time to plan and prepare online classes. However, he underlined, "nothing replaces the presence of students in the classroom and socialising at school".

The fear of seeing an increase in cases of early school leaving was replaced by the certainty of another dropout: “There was no physical dropout, because we know the students, we know where they live and if necessary, we will find out what is going on. But there was a loss of interest and motivation for school”, warned the director of the Group of Schools General Serpa Pinto, in Cinfães.

Recognising that “it is not easy to have teenagers clinging to classes through a computer throughout the day”, the director told Lusa that the teachers became aware during the 2nd term of a “lack of interest, tiredness and even exhaustion in relation to new technologies”.

The students themselves confessed to Manuel Pereira that they are “unmotivated and tired”: “The students tell us that they are saturated, many of them are in class only to stick to the schedule. And this lack of interest also affected those who were once very interested in school,” he said.

In addition to the learning that was left behind, there is the issue of mental health that also concerns teachers.

“The school is a fundamental social space and students are tired of being at home. They want to be at school with their classmates”, recalled Filinto Lima, defending the need to “reinforce the number of specialized experts in schools, especially psychologists”.

To this equation Manuel Pereira added the teachers: “We have many teachers in a pre-burnout situation. They started to have a lot more work at home than they had at school. In addition, many were faced with the difficult task of trying to reconcile work with family life. We have many teachers who are also parents and were teaching classes while their children were also taking classes and needed support”.

Among the new tasks, there were teachers who made themselves available to go to the homes of students who were unable to enter the online classroom.

“We had teachers and assistants walking from village to village, from house to house, helping families to get their computers up and running, especially in the case of younger students,” recalled Manuel Pereira.

The task of teaching the little ones was especially complicated due to the lack of autonomy and difficulty concentrating in class, a situation that was aggravated when solid family support was lacking, added Filinto Lima.

For this reason, 370 thousand elementary school students were among the first to return to school. Even so, the president of ANDAEP estimates that the learning recovery by these students will be a long process, which will not be resolved soon.

In a little over a week, on April 5th, classes will begin again. For students from the 1st to the 3rd cycle, school we be back in again.

The directors hope that this return will be “vigorous and lasts until the end of the year” and fear only the general population’s behavior, which could jeopardize the ongoing deconfinement.

“Many times I would like to put society in school to teach them about rules. You see a lot of people refusing to comply with the most basic rules”, lamented Filinto Lima.

The principals again emphasise that schools are safe places and that cases of infection among schools are rare.