School and theater: the precariousness of students and artists
School and theater are two sectors particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. And they are so deeply concerned that a re-orientation action is urgently needed to fully recover their social function also based on the novelties that have emerged during this exceptional period. Both of these two sectors, which are fundamental for the progress of a community, find themselves at a crossroads: return to the past or project themselves towards a different future? This question, which is open and applies to all our systems, is at the heart of the analyses and reflections of two scholars who contributed to the 2022 Report of the European Network on Social Precarity SUPI: they are Spanish professor Fernando Marhuenda Fluixa*, from the University of Valencia, who examined the problems opened up by the pandemic in the world of schools, and Portuguese professor António M. Duarte**, from the University of Lisbon, who focused on the situation of theatrical activities and the conditions of artists. For both of them, finding an answer to this question means thinking about possible, deep systemic reforms; and this is the value of their contribution.
Schools, the burden of lockdown
In addressing the open problems in educational systems, Fernando Marhuenda Fluixa refers to numerous reports published by international institutions and bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, JCR, OECD Cedefop, and national ones. These reports present an interesting common fact. The social quarantine measures imposed by governments to combat contagion with the consequent closure of educational institutions and the introduction of hybrid ways to convey education, particularly the practice of DAD, has ended up questioning the value of education provision based on the “face-to-face” relationship. This emerges clearly in all the different domains of education: upper secondary and compulsory education, adult education, sectoral education, university and non-university studies, and non-formal education in its articulations, for example, in social and leisure education.
The risk of “limited education”
In the face of the emergency, the education sector has found itself unprepared, as have many other sectors of society. There has been a lack of time and conditions to train teachers and students to operate in the new conditions. Also, there has been a lack of system guidelines and adequate resources to provide the proper addresses and equipment, a state that has been affected by social and economic disparities. “However,” Fernando Marhuenda points out, “the entire system reacted by manifesting a remarkable capacity for adaptation and resilience and went on until the students’ final exams mainly thanks to the voluntary work done by the teachers, even though this situation was not homogeneous for all families and schools. DAD allowed the school to move forward, but with significant consequences regarding performance, motivation, habits, and socialization, leading to what Marhuenda calls a “limited education”.
Education: supporting the active participation of families
An innovative fact concerns the active contribution and support families have given in lockdown periods to teachers’ actions and school activities. Indeed, this is an element to keep in mind in possible reforms for the future; a new school system will have to include in its governance and guarantee the genuine active participation of families.
Personalized evaluation for students
The Covid emergency has reshaped relationships and social ties. Even in schools, the prolonged experience of the transition from the traditional “face-to-face” teaching process to the “face not to face” system has modified the emotional and personal development of young people, causing new educational needs to emerge. This development is also influenced by the fact that students are now reached by many sources of information and culture other than those offered by the educational system. A central knot to unravel concerns the evaluation of students provided by the school system in terms of qualification and classifying people. In this regard, as Fernando Marhuenda points out, there is a widespread demand from teachers to personalize these evaluation processes. He adds, “such a critical global situation, such as that generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, could also bring benefits to the education system. To transform the sector, it would be desirable to move from mass education to a school structure that also includes and incentivizes student orientation, to ensure greater space for the two dimensions, personal and emotional”. For Marhuenda, the education system, therefore, needs a new approach to teaching and learning methods that is highly personalized, an element that would make it possible to also introduce “the care of social and personal aspects as a good complementary practice”.
Theater, artists, and broken glass
The reflection of Antonio Manuel Duarte (Portugal) starts from the reconstruction of the extraordinary situation of precariousness that the Covid emergency has spread all over the world among artists directly or indirectly linked to theatrical and performing activities, especially freelance artists. The numerous international documents taken as reference, such as the UNESCO and OECD 2020 reports, highlight the lack of forward-looking solutions and long-term strategic actions. “Although some cities and states support artists, cultural workers and organizations with measures such as subsidies or tax deferments and reductions – explains Duarte – in general, much of this support is not adequate for the freelance, intermittent and hybrid work of artists. In addition, most of the support has been given to institutions and their employees, rather than to individual artists, who are often freelancers not eligible for such grants.” Even before the pandemic, artists were already living in a precarious situation that was only exacerbated by the Covid emergency and the subsequent cessation and postponement of work. This increased the social inequalities to which they were exposed and significantly impacted their level of life satisfaction, leading many of them to suffer traumatic losses, anxiety, isolation, and despair. A kind of “pandemic censorship,” Duarte points out, changed the art world and the work of artists.
Affirming the social role of culture
“To support them in this situation, short-term solutions are needed, such as emergency funds (in the logic of universal basic income), solidarity contributions and tax incentives, as well as long-term solutions, such as investment in digital infrastructure, structural actions that can reduce or eradicate the precariousness of artists in the future, social assistance and development cultural infrastructure.” But the central point on which Duarte organizes his proposal concerns the preservation of the value of the creativity of these artists for the common progress, a value that cannot be dispersed. Therefore, “it is necessary to recognize and take the social role of culture and the arts seriously, in parallel with other social components such as sports or health”. Therefore, it is necessary to reorient the art system to give dignity to artistic work and its personnel and develop a new model that can make it resilient in possible future crises.
* Antonio Manuel Duarte, Art Psychologist, Professor, University of Lisbon (Portugal)
** Fernando Marhuenda Fluixa, Professor, University of Valencia. Department of Education and School Management – Educational and School Organization (Spain).
***Ida Nicotera, Eurispes International Dept.