I went to a school in the suburbs of Lisbon from 1997 to 2010. We usually had classes Monday to Friday, from 8.30 am to 5 pm with 2 afternoons free. Always Wednesday, the other one changed every term. There were about 30 of us in a class.
In the beginning, when we were between 6 and 10 years old, we had Portuguese, History, Social Studies, Maths, Geography, Music and Sports.
Then, when we were older, up to about age 15 we learned Portuguese, History, English, French, Art, and Sports.
Then in the final three years, things changed. I could choose from different options. I chose the Science and Technology path, (Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Portuguese). For me it was easy, I liked maths. The other options were not for me. I was not great at Maths, but even worse at humanities. And for the future, it was better to go this way.
For the core subjects, you had 2 lessons per week of 90 minutes each. The other subjects: only 45 minutes. For the most important core subjects, we had 3 units.
My best friend chose languages. So, I was alone in my group. I did not see her that often, we did not have the same interests either. But we are still in contact today.
Until the last 3 years, the teaching was very theoretical. There were PowerPoint presentations, we had to ask and answer questions and do group tasks. It was interactive, with a lot of dialogue and a lot of homework. In the beginning, on the weekends, we had so much homework, that I met my friends in the library. We studied and researched together. We had more contact and not everyone was at home with Google.
In the last 3 years, we started to get our hands dirty. We had a lab, a lot of biology and chemistry lessons. We did experiments, calculations, and interpreted the results, and wrote reports. We spent a lot of time outside for our physics lessons and completed simple experiments and measurements. It was fun.
For Portuguese, we read Portuguese literature. But because it was not my thing, I always looked for summaries from other students. One book did capture my attention. It was The City of the Blind, written by José Saramago. I read it when I was 15 but did not quite understand it. It’s good, very deep, I wanted to read it.
I had average marks. It was enough to get through. Grading was from 1 to 20 with 20 being the highest score. You needed a 10 in all subjects. I had 10 in maths and sports. It was the minimum to get through. I did not have much motivation because my learning environment was difficult. I did not want to go home. My teachers just said I had to concentrate more, work harder. Others tried to motivate me, but I did not understand their message. During my school years, I lacked a healthy learning environment.
I graduated and then I started university and studied physiotherapy. My grades were average, I was not motivated, unsure of my choice of subject, so I decided to quit after one semester. I took some time out and had time for myself. My motivation returned and I caught up on everything, repeated my A-levels. I studied on my own, at home. I had an average score of 18 points. I did not do all subjects, just focused on science. Then I was accepted in the science faculty and I started to study Energy and Environmental Engineering.
Teaching materials? Some teachers used PowerPoint, but often it was a normal textbook and a board. We had notebooks and something to write with. For science, the school provided the material.
For me, school alone is not there to prepare one for life. One learns how to think and how to solve problems. I did not have that expectation. Today, for my work, I probably apply around 20% of what I studied at University. However, our teachers taught us how to think, find information and apply it outside the classroom. The role of teachers should be to show us which tools are available and challenge us to implement them on a daily basis.
My favourite teacher was a Russian woman who taught calculus and algebra. She was cold, militaristic, polite, and extremely disciplined. Her intentions were good. Despite the subject being difficult, it was fundamental because it served as the basis for our lessons in the future. It was clear to me that she wanted the best for us. She tried to do her best. She challenged us and I love challenges.
I cannot say much about schools today. I have too little contact. But, I have the impression that many of today’s children spend a lot of time in front of screens. Adults are partially responsible for this. Children have more difficulties with social interaction.
I liked going to school. I have fond memories of this time.
To stop learning? Never!