Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Academia adrift, but students battle on

Students living in the Algarve forced to abandon studies at universities in the United Kingdom because of the coronavirus emergency are working hard to achieve their degrees on time with the help of modern technology.

There was a sudden rush to get back home when all universities, colleges and schools in the UK closed and airlines began cancelling flights.

Mariota and Catriona Anderson returned on an almost empty plane and spent their first two weeks self-isolated in part of their Lagoa family home, separated from their parents.

They are focused in an unprecedented way on completing masters degrees started last September.

Mariota is working on an MSc in International public policy with University College London (UCL). Her twin sister, Catriona, has been attending the London School of Economics (LSE) for an MSc in International social and public policy.

They received emails from their universities announcing closure for the rest of the academic year and that teaching would have to move online.

“The whole process of moving classes and digital teaching has been very surreal,” they say.

Everyone is able to communicate as if it was a virtual seminar - provided there are no Wi-Fi problems.

“What has been lost is the experience of physically attending university and everything that comes with that, such as attending seminars and public lectures,” they say.

“Not being in an actual seminar or lecture where you can talk, without internet cutting out and other technical difficulties, has been challenging."

With students now spread across the world, time differences and internet connections have been difficult to manage.

Catriona has been attending LSE seminars through an online platform called Zoom, which is like Skype.

“It allows students to communicate as if it was a virtual seminar. It is obviously very different from being in a lecture in person, which is a lot more motivating and social,” she says.

At UCL, seminars have taken the form of an online forum where students send in questions and the seminar leader answers them.  

“I only had two weeks left of teaching as UCL was on strike for four weeks since the 20th of February. Teaching was supposed to resume the week after they announced that the university was going to close. So I’ve really not been taught for my second semester, which is really disappointing,” says Mariota.

Trying to concentrate on studying and writing essays amidst the constant wave of anxiety- inducing news updates about the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly challenging, say the Anderson sisters.

The good news is that Mariota and Catriona have been assured that their exams will be moved online so it will be possible to obtain masters degrees from home.

Dissertations will be complicated to complete at home as students won’t have access to libraries and archives, which have also closed.

Exams have been moved online too, but the twins have each been assured that despite all this moving online for an indefinite period, they can still look forward to obtaining their masters degrees from home.

Back in the Algarve while in the third year of a four-year integrated masters course in Engineering Science at Oxford University, Martha Fitzpatrick is also struggling to study at home.

“While it is lovely being back with my family, the environment is not as conducive to study in,” she says.

“At university I always work in libraries or public spaces, working alongside other students, which is what keeps me focused. Working from home I feel very unmotivated and prone to procrastination.”

Martha says she is finding it hard to find a way to revise as she has not yet been told how she will be assessed as the conventional written papers are unlikely to happen this year.

“On speaking to friends from university it is clear most people are all struggling with this.”

Along with the rest of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, it is not known when Oxford University will reopen.

“They have indicated that it is likely we will only return for the start of the next new academic year, which will be October 2020. However, they have not officially announced that students will not be able to return for next term. They have only said it is most likely all teaching will be done remotely if we choose to return.”

Martha and her fellow students have been told that they can obtain their degrees without returning to Oxford. They will only have to return at some stage in the future to attend a graduation ceremony and officially leave the university.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A whole new way of schooling

Faced with unprecedented circumstances, schools, students and parents are now having to assume and cope with a completely new way of schooling. 

Students are self-isolating at home with their families, and whilst education must continue, it is also very important to ensure both social contact and interaction with friends and peers.

This is the firm view of Ms Penelope Best, Head of School at the Eupheus International School in the Algarve.

“Our students are in a fortunate position as they utilise the latest technology in direct response to these unprecedented times. We are now providing a comprehensive blended model of virtual learning for all of our students,” says Ms Best. 

The virtual school day begins as scheduled at 9.15 am. All of the students use their Eupheus iPads to connect to their virtual classroom and teacher through the Zoom app. Teachers monitor, interact with their whole class and teach their morning lessons online. Music, art and PE lessons are uploaded during the afternoon.

Teachers use interactive aids, such as teaching videos, YouTube clips or appropriate worksheets to support these lessons.

“We also use Class Dojo, which is the learning platform through which our teachers, students and parents are able to access all set work and communicate directly with each other,” says Ms Best.
“They are able to upload photographs, videos and schoolwork, as well as share thoughts, ideas and motivational posts.”  

Ms Best is able to publish daily school news, congratulate students on their achievements, celebrate birthdays and keep her school community spirit alive and connected.

To date, this has been very well received by students. They are continuing their studies very successfully, having adapted to a truly 21st century way of teaching and learning. 

It is difficult to compare how other international and national schools in Portugal are coping with the current crisis. 
As a brand new school located in Loulé, equipped with the latest technology, and students who have individual iPads and internet at home, Eupheus International is able to continue providing education at a high level, with students receiving daily interaction with their teachers and friends.

“They appear to be coping very well, and have accepted and adjusted to the new situation better than anyone could have expected,” says Ms Best.

“Our teachers have been outstanding. We are a small team, which is both nurtured and supported.  My teachers have been able to adapt very quickly to the new challenges. They are providing not only academic support, but crucially the emotional support that our students and families require at this demanding time.”   

Teachers at other schools have told the Eupheus head that they feel completely overwhelmed. Some students in Portuguese national schools are being given so much work that they have been sent timetables to include Saturdays and Sundays. They are still expected to carry out tests that are posted online, when some do not have access to computers or the internet. 

This is not the fault of educational establishments per se, explains Ms Best. Rather it is indicative of the differing levels of funding within the education systems.

“I see this situation as one of the biggest learning curves in educational history, and an opportunity to make unparalleled developments in modern education. This pandemic will change education and its core values forever.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19: driving in – and out

Drive-in for testing

The new drive-in coronavirus test centre in the Algarve is dealing with up to 300 people each day without risk of passing on the disease to others.

Located next to the Algarve Stadium, in the Parque das Cidades between Faro and Loulé, the centre is only testing individuals referred by doctors because of suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Those being tested have samples taken for analysis without getting out of their vehicles.

Organised by the National Health Service (SNS), the service is open between 9 am and 9 pm seven days a week. 

Anyone who hasn’t been referred should not attempt to access the centre. The same rules apply as in other test centres opened earlier in the country’s worst affected region, the north of Portugal. 

Moving back home

Permanent residents of campsites and motorhome parks in Portugal will be allowed to remain when all such sites officially close this Friday, March 27.  Camping and motorhome visitors, however, will have to move on.

All British nationals currently visiting Portugal are being strongly advised to return to the UK immediately and by any legitimate means possible. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office notes that in response to the coronavirus pandemic any country or area may restrict travel without notice. 

Most but not all international flights in and out of Faro, Lisbon and Oporto have been cancelled. 

The regional governments of Madeira and the Azores have recommended against all but essential travel to and from the archipelagos until further notice. Travellers arriving in these regions will be subject to health screening and mandatory rantine for a period of 14 days.

Cruise ships and yachts will not be permitted to dock at any of the ports in Madeira, Porto Santo or the Azores.

PORTUGAL NEWSWATCH is well aware of the extreme seriousness on the coronavirus pandemic and that news of it is being extensively covered by the mainstream media. Our focus is only on positive aspects, locally as well as regionally.      

Monday, March 23, 2020


Cruise ship in quarantine

Twenty-seven Portuguese citizens or persons with Portuguese residence permits on board the cruise ship MSC Fantasia have disembarked in the Port of Lisbon  after being tested negative for coronavirus.
The remaining 1,338 passengers are being kept in quarantine aboard the liner, which docked in Lisbon on Sunday after its other intended European stopovers were cancelled.
The Portuguese interior ministry has said that all the remaining passengers   -  from the European Union, the UK, Brazil and Australia  -  will be allowed to disembark if tests on them for coronavirus prove to be negative. So far, no positive cases have been reported.
Embassies of various countries will help with repatriations.

 Metro managing

The Metro system is still operating in Lisbon, albeit with fewer carriages on trains running on weekend rather than normal weekday schedules.

Taxis, no trouble
Taking a taxi in Portugal should not be a health problem as all authorised taxi services have been instructed to ensure rigorous  cleanliness within the vehicles and not allow passengers to occupy the front seat next to the driver.
Many of the taxi services are taking passengers to Faro Airport where flights are continuing between Portugal and a number of countries including the UK, though not Spain.

PORTUGAL NEWSWATCH is well aware of the extreme seriousness on the coronavirus pandemic and that news of it is being extensively covered by the mainstream media. Our focus is simply on positive  and perhaps helpful aspects, locally as well as regionally.      

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Not all bad news

The mainstream media are naturally focusing on the most distressing and devastating aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, but at least here in Portugal it is not all bad news. 
Portuguese authorities are doing their utmost to maximise control of the disease while minimising disruption to the daily lives of all citizens.
The impact of the crisis in the Algarve has so far been relatively limited compared with most of the rest of Portugal and Europe. 
“The situation is completely different to that in the North,” said Ana Cristina Guerreiro of the ARS regional health authority.
Fifteen of the 29 confirmed cases of the disease in the Algarve at the end of the week were in hospital, though none in a critical condition. 
Of the 29 confirmed cases, 10 were in Faro, 8 in Portimão, 4 in Albufeira, 2 each in Lagoa, Silves and Loulé, and 1 in Tavira.
The familiar message to persons over seventy and those with any chronic illness has not changed. They are told to stay in self-isolation and rigorously observe social distancing until further notice.
The border is closed with Spain where the pandemic is far more severe, but flights are continuing between Faro and airports in other countries, including the United Kingdom. 
Prime Minister António Costa has confirmed that essential services, such as supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and petrol stations, will be allowed to remain open while appropriate precautions are taken to prevent the spread of the virus by staff and customers.
Pharmacies and supermarkets are controlling the incoming numbers and distancing of customers. Closed restaurants are being encouraged to offer take-away meals.
Municipalities are arranging teams to deliver shopping and other service to persons in self-isolation, especially those who are unable to depend on family or friends. 
The organisation representing Algarve hotels, AHETA, has asked the government for a number of measures to help lessen the impact on holiday facilities, tourism being by far the Algarve’s biggest economic sector.
Various foreign governments have issued advice on websites to their citizens in Portugal. For example the Canadian Ambassador in Lisbon, Lisa Rice Madan, has put the word out that any Canadian citizens in this country in distress about the  fast-moving COVID-19 situation should contact the embassy at lsbon@international.gc.ca
The ambassador also wants Canadians to register with the Government´s Registration of Canadians Abroad so that the embassy can contact them in the event of an emergency or other significant development.

PORTUGAL NEWSWATCH welcomes any local or regional information relative to the coronavrus crisis provided it is accurate, positive and potentially helpful. 
Please email lenport@gmail.com