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Portuguese school of the nations

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The Portuguese School of Macau (EPM) will tomorrow host an Open Day, trying to reach out to the non-Portuguese communities – more than ever.

One year before the Macau’s transference from the Portuguese to the Chinese administration, the EPM was founded as a fusion of three schools: The Liceu de Macau, Escola Comercial Pedro Nolasco and Escola Primaria Oficial. Due to the impending handover, Portuguese schools felt the demand for them wouldn’t be great enough to survive, so for example the Dom Bosco School opted for a continuance in Macau but would teach in Cantonese.

Pedro Xavier, Deputy director of the school, who received his whole education in the Portuguese educational system, stresses that the importance of having a Portuguese school in Macau is mainly “to help keeping the more than 400-year long link between Macau and Portugal and to serve the Portuguese and Macanese citizens who are deeply involved with the Portuguese culture and who want their kids to keep this connection and to learn the language.”  

But there are not only Portuguese kids at the school. Three years ago, in a response to the decrease in student numbers, the school introduced a preparatory year, where non-Portuguese speaking students are taught Portuguese in an intensive one-year course. Here, the students receive the curricular language lessons everyday and also attend other subjects, which do not require a knowledge of the language, such as Mandarin, English, Music, IT, Gymnastics and Visual Arts. In the subsequent year these students join the regular classes in the Portuguese curriculum.

The implementation of a preparatory year was an imperative, because “students who don’t speak Portuguese don’t stand a chance of being successful at this school,” explains Mr Xavier.

The school currently has 21 students in its preparatory programme, and has in total 55 students from countries other than Portugal.

Some of the students in the preparatory year are Sabina, aged 13, Wendy, 17, Ilda, 15, and Ana, 12. Sabina is from Mexico but has lived in Beijing for the last eight years, where she attended an international school. She likes the Portuguese School because “people here are more open” and because of the many activities offered. Wendy was born in Macau, but moved with her Chinese parents to Ecuador at the age of three. She chose the Portuguese School, because she doesn’t read or write Chinese and knowing Spanish makes it easier for her to learn Portuguese. Ilda was attending a Chinese school in Macau but decided to change because she wanted to learn Portuguese. She finds it difficult to learn the language but likes the school a lot because “the other students and the teachers are very nice.” Ana, whose parents are Macau-born Portuguese, always used to speak Cantonese with them at home, but wants to learn Portuguese now. All of the students state that they would like to visit Portugal.


Smooth integration


Ms Teresa Sequeira, who teaches Portuguese in the preparatory year, says that the students have no problems adjusting to the new school. Moreover, says Mr Xavier, “some of them become the best students in their class.”

One of these students is certainly Catarina Leiria, aged 14, who finished the preparatory course last year. But don’t be mistaken by the apparent ‘portugueseness’ of her name. She was born and raised until her teens in Ukraine. She found it first very difficult to learn Portuguese, “because it’s so different from Russian,” but now languages are her favourite subjects. Catarina likes the teachers and the students and even finds the education here better than the one she had before. Most of her friends in Macau are Portuguese.

Micaela de Senna Fernandez enrolled her seven year old daughter in the prep at EPM because “she decided to be a linguist.” Now, says the mother, “she just loves the school.” Ms Senna Fernandez finds the teachers very friendly and helpful. “They talk to students as a friend.” Her daughter is now able to talk in Portuguese with her grandfather, “before it was English only.”

The Portuguese School in Macau uses the Portuguese curriculum but made some adaptations to the Macau’s Special Administrative Region requirements, such as offering Mandarin classes to their students. Cantonese, however, is not included like in most non-Chinese schools in Macau. The fact students are taught English from the very first year also makes the curriculum different from the one in Portugal. Students can additionally take French as a foreign language. All other subjects are taught in Portuguese and most of the teachers are cadres of the Ministry of Education in Portugal.

In terms of the length of time of the higher education, there is no difference between the Portuguese and Chinese or International schools in Macau, all of them comprise twelve years and school enrollment occurs at age six. Concerning the teaching methods, Mr Xavier, who has been working at the school since its foundation, explains that, “it’s not just about learning by heart, but rather about understanding things.” Students who graduate at EPM and afterwards want to study at public universities in Portugal enjoy the advantage of a quota reserved for Portuguese expats.

“But it’s not all about studying,” adds Mr Xavier who starts listing a range of activities the school offers to their students: “There are Portuguese folklore dances, journalism, porcelain painting, ping-pong, football and many others.” Besides the preparatory year, the Portuguese school also offers free classes of Portuguese for secondary students from other schools in Macau.

For people who would like to get to know the Portuguese School, the Open Day will run from 10 am to 5 pm. The school is located at Av. Infante D. Henrique, in the heart of the city.


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