Education in Portugal is regulated by the State through two ministries - the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education. There are a system of public education and also many private schools at all levels of education. The first Portuguese medieval universities were created in the 13th century, and the national higher education system is fully integrated into the European Higher Education Area. The literacy rate of Portuguese population is 93%.
In Portugal, Basic Education consists of nine years of schooling divided into three sequential cycles of education of four, two and three years.
Children aged six by 15 September must be enrolled in their first school year in that calendar year. In addition, children who reach the age of six between 16 September and 31 December may be authorized to attend the first stage of education, provided a request is submitted by their parents or guardians to the school nearest to their residence (or place of work) during the annual enrollment period. State-run schools are free of charge; private school tuition is refunded by the State in part or fully, when state-run schools in the area are filled to capacity. The first cycle of basic mandatory education covers years 1st-4th, the second cycle years 5th-6th and the third cycle years 7th-9th. The curriculum contains only general education until the 9th year at which point vocational subjects are introduced.
Schools do not give (nor sell) any books or materials; financial assistance is available for poorer families. The school books are chosen at school's level every four years.
1st Cycle State-run schools are owned by the municipalities; all other State-run schools are owned by the State.
At State-run schools, 1st Cycle students and sometimes students of other cycles get free mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks, generally consisting of a 20 cl milk carton.
Other Subjects like Physical Education, Musical Education, Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education, are taught too, but are non-compulsory and according to school resources.
7th and 8th years
Same subjects, plus:
It is only after the 9th grade of basic schooling that the Portuguese General Education system branches out into different secondary programmes, one higher education-oriented (general secondary courses/programmes) and the other more work-oriented (technological secondary courses/programmes). The conclusion of secondary education (general or technological courses) with passing grades confers a diploma, which will certificate the qualification thus obtained and, in the case of work-oriented programmes the qualification for specific jobs. All General and Technological courses share the following subjects known as General Formation:
There are also special modalities of school education. The programmes offered by vocational schools, those of the apprenticeship system and those of recurrent studies are considered as a special modality of school education. These programmes are not regular, because they are not included in the mainstream regular progression of the education system to which they are an alternative given that they were designed to respond to specific educational needs of different target-groups of the population.
All of these programmes offer initial vocational and education training, although the recurrent studies also offer general education. Recurrent education consists of non-regular programmes of study or modular or single units because they are not complete training cycles and they are not included in the regular progression of the education system. The recurrent education provides a second opportunity of training for those who did not undertake training at the normal age or who left school early. Recurrent education covers the three cycles of basic education and the secondary education.
The recurrent education is characterized by the flexibility and adaptability to the students’ learning cycle, availability, knowledge and experiences. The recurrent secondary education branches into two types of courses: the general course for those who want to continue their studies and the technical courses that are work-oriented and confer a level III vocational certificate, although they also permit the access to higher education. Any of the secondary courses, vocational courses, apprenticeship courses (level III), recurrent courses and others (artistic and those of technological schools) share a three-dimensional structure (although the importance of each dimension could vary according to the specific course):
a) general / socio-cultural
b) specific / scientific
c) technical / technological / practical / vocational
The Portuguese educational/vocational system is open. This means that once any student finishes his/her basic studies successfully he/she can choose, freely, any kind of course in any training domain/area. Any secondary course completed successfully allows the student apply to any course of higher education, independently of the training domain the student chose in the secondary level of education.
In Portugal initial vocational education and training can be divided into two main modalities according to the Ministry responsible for the training:
a) Initial vocational education and training in the education system (under the regulation of the Ministry of Education): - The technological secondary courses are work-oriented and confer qualification for specific jobs, which correspond to the E.U. level III of vocational qualifications. There are eleven technological courses in the domain of natural sciences, arts, social-economic sciences and humanities; - The vocational schools courses are a special modality of education that has a primary goal: the development of youngsters’ vocational training. In this type of course the students spend most of their time in practical, technological, technical and artistic training, which allows the development of specific skills indispensable to an occupation. The vocational courses are drawn to give answers to both local and regional labour market needs. These courses function under the regulation of the Ministry of Education, although under the direct initiative and responsibility of civil society institutions, such as municipalities, enterprises, trade unions, etc. The vocational courses are available in the third cycle of basic education (level II) – only a few - and in the secondary education (level III). - The technical recurrent courses. In the secondary education, the recurrent studies branches into two different types of courses: the general courses and the technical courses. The latter are work-oriented, vocationally oriented to confer a level III vocational certificate; - The courses of initial qualification can be promoted by schools lecturing the third cycle of mandatory education. If it is necessary, schools can establish protocols with other institutions such as municipalities, enterprises or vocational training centres. These courses are open to a) youngsters who have a 9th grade diploma, without any vocational qualification, and who do not intend to continue their studies; and b) youngsters who, having reached fifteen years of age and attended the 9th grade, did not achieve the basic education certificate.
b) Initial vocational education and training in the labour market (under the regulation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity through the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training): - Apprenticeship system. The apprenticeship courses are part of an initial vocational training system alternating between the school and the workplace, addressing mainly youngsters aged between fifteen and twenty five years who are not included in the mandatory school system. The training process alternates between the professional/vocational (where the socio-cultural, scientific-technological and the practice training in training context takes place) and the workplace (where the practice training in work context takes place).
In the mid 2000s, education policy was reorganised aiming more choice and better quality in vocational technical education. Enhanced and improved technical education programs where implemented in 2007 in an effort to revitalize this sector which had been almost discontinued after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, when many vocational technical schools were administratively upgraded to higher education technical colleges and other were simply closed. This happened despite those vocational technical schools have been generally regarded as reputed institutions with a record of very high standards in vocational technical education across the decades they were supplying the technical labor needs of the country.
Higher education in Portugal is divided into two main subsystems: university and polytechnic education, and it is provided in autonomous public universities, private universities, public or private polytechnic institutions and higher education institutions of other types. The university system has a strong theoretical basis and is highly research-oriented; the non-university system provides a more practical training and is profession-oriented. Degrees in some fields such as medicine, law, natural sciences, economics, psychology or veterinary are university. Other fields like engineering, management, education, agriculture, sports, or humanities are found both in university and polytechnic systems. Nursing, preschool education, accounting technician, or health care technician degrees, are only offered in the polytechnic system. The oldest university is the University of Coimbra founded in 1290, and the biggest by number of enrolled students is the University of Porto with about 28,000 students. The Catholic University of Portugal, the oldest non-state-run university (concordatary status), was instituted by decree of the Holy See and is recognized by the State of Portugal since 1971. The current public polytechnic subsystem of Institutos Politécnicos was founded in the 1980s. Private higher education institutions cannot operate if they are not recognized by the Ministry of Education. Access is regulated by the same procedures as those for state higher education institutions. The two systems of higher education (university and polytechnic) are linked and it is possible to transfer from one to the other by extraordinary competition. It is also possible to transfer from a public institution to a private one and vice-versa.
Many universities are usually organized by Faculty (Faculdade). Institute (Instituto) and School (Escola) are also common designations for autonomous units of Portuguese higher learning institutions, and are always used in the polytechnical system, but also in several universities.
After mid 2000s, with the approval of new legislation and the Bologna Process any polytechnic or university institution of Portugal, is able to award a first cycle of study, known as licenciatura plus a second cycle which confer the master's degree. Before that, this was the rule only for university institutions. As of December 2006, only a few master's degree programmes are offered by a limited number of polytechnical institutions. Virtually all university institutions award master's degrees as a second cycle of study, but some university departments are offering integrated master's degrees (joint degrees) through a longer single cycle of study. Some polytechnic institutions will offer the second study cycle in cooperation with a partner university, others are planning not to award any study programme beyond the first study cycle (licenciatura). Doctorates are only awarded by the universities.
There are also special higher education institutions linked with the military and the police. These specific institutions have generally a good reputation and are popular among the youngsters because its courses are a passport to the military/police career. These state-run institutions are the Air Force Academy, the Military Academy, the Naval School and the Instituto Superior de Ciências Policiais e Segurança Interna.
The reform aim was to create by 2010 a higher education system in Europe, organised in such a way that:
Portugal, like other European States, has conducted educational policies and reforms to accomplish these objectives. This include the reorganization of both university and polytechnic subsystems and the implementation of extensive legal and curricular changes. Since its field application in 2006 is has being widely contested by students (many lost an academic year with the change), and several universities had disrepute the concept by introducing integrated master degrees in several courses.
Pós-Graduação or Especialização (Postgraduate degree) - no specific title
Mestrado (Master's degree) - title: Mestre
Doutorado (Doctorate) - used in front of holder's name: Doutor
Agregação (Agrégation) - used in front of holder's name: Professor Doutor
Teachers of basic education attend 4-year courses in Escolas Superiores de Educação or at the universities to obtain a Licenciado degree.
The government as passed a law (February/2007) that makes a teacher to have also a " mestre " degree in Basic and Secondary Education.
Training of secondary school teachers
Teachers of secondary education must hold a Licenciado degree and follow courses that last for between four and six years. Studies are sanctioned by a Licenciado em Ensino or a Licenciatura - Ramo de Formação Educacional, according to the issuing institution. Educators and basic and secondary education teachers, with practice in regular or special education, may obtain a qualification to teach in specialized education. Continuous training for teachers is offered in Centros de Formação Continua.
The government as passed a law (February/2007) that makes a teacher to have also a " mestre " degree in Basic and Secondary Education.
Training of higher education teachers
Teachers at this level receive no formal professional training, but minimum qualifications are laid down for each category.
University: assistente estagiário (Licenciado); assistente (Mestre); professor auxiliar (Doutor); professor associado (Doutor and five years' service); professor catedrático (Agregação and three years' service).
Polytechnics: assistente (Licenciado); professor adjunto (Mestre or DESE); professor coordenador (Doutor and 3-years' service).
At present, distance higher education is provided by the Universidade Aberta (Open University).
Some Portuguese employers and families are of the opinion that the existence of private education institutions, where accessibility is based primarily on ability to pay, is not as fair as the public system and could gloom the meritocracy concept, leading to easier entrance criteria and lower teaching standards. Some private institutions are known for making it easy for students to enter and also to get higher grades - as long as they pay. Others claim that the private systems could prevent a significant portion of Portugal's population from being able to attend these schools that is also unfair. The quotas imposed on public education institutions to create room for students from former Portuguese colonies, who get automatically a place in those institutions also creates a big problem in terms of fairness, as some of these students can enter with very low grades excluding a portion of the Portuguese born students from studying in the public institutions and first choice courses they want.
On the other side there are some people who prefer to attend private institutions because they don't trust in the public educational infrastructure they have near their residential area. This could be related with overcrowded classes, bad reputation, criminality levels, incidence of ethnic minorities generally considered problematic, lack of quality teaching staff or bad infrastructures in that specific institution.
Without large endowments like those received, for example, by many of the US private universities and colleges, and with little tradition of excellence in the sector, the private higher education institutions of Portugal, with a few exceptions, do not have neither the financial support nor the academic profile to reach the highest teaching and research standards of the major Portuguese public universities. In addition, a lack of collaboration between the most prominent private sector enterprises and the private universities is also restrictive, and represents another comparative disadvantage between public and private higher education institutions.
Traditionally, public system's institutions are regarded in general as having higher quality and accountability, but private institutions have developed quickly after the 25 de Abril revolution of 1974, and some have today a great reputation. There are both public and private institutions considered of the highest standard and quality. However, a large majority of Portuguese students attend public schools, universities and colleges because it is considerably less expensive than the private ones, the public system has a much older implantation, and for the other side it covers well the entire territory. There are also some students who simply desire and can afford to attend an elite private institution, even if they have availability to attend one of the largest or most renowned public institutions.
A number of scandals and affairs involving private higher education institutions (Universidade Moderna (1998) and Universidade Independente (2007), among others), and a general perception of many of those institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education institutions in 2007.
School violence in Portugal is not unique to public schools or the major urban centers. Public and private Portuguese schools have all experienced an increase in school violence. However, due to the general wealth and educational background of private school student's families, and the increased private security measures adopted, private schools have generally a lower level of violence.
Violence in Portuguese schools became an educational issue for the first time during the 1990s, mainly through the persistence of parental associations and teacher claims. However, it must be said that this was not the first time that violence appeared in Portuguese schools as a significant situation. For decades, during the dictatorship, police violence against students was common inside universities. After the democratisation in 25 de Abril revolution of 1974 the occurrence of violent situations reached the highest point when the intense political debate in schools often ended in physical confrontations between students and even teachers (which was not generally seen as a school violence problem but as a reflection of the violence widely present in the political debate in society). Nevertheless this was a politically socialized and framed violence, quite different from the kind of violence we can find today. That one had political programs, this one is quite anomic. Its origin is very diverse, from poverty to psychological problems. Theft, random or systematic physical aggression, bullying, destruction of school or teachers properties are realities which become current in many schools.
In May 2006, a television program was broadcast in RTP 1, titled Quando a violência vai à escola (When violence goes to the school) by journalist Mafalda Gameiro. Using hidden cameras in the classrooms, the program shows the violent behavior of many young students (with ages between 10 and 13 years old) inside the classroom of a very problematic unidentified school, and the chaos and fear often generated. Students and teachers privacy was also protected during image recording for TV. In 2004 and 2005, the Portuguese Ministry of Education reported over 1,200 aggressions inside Portuguese schools.
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