Protesters on Lisbon streets demanded decent employment prior to the collapse of the government. / Photo: Carlos Ribeiro

New hopes for adult education in Portugal

Portuguese adult educators pin their hopes on a new left-wing government which has pledged support for adult learning.

Political power in Portugal has shifted to the left. October elections brought a left-wing majority into the Portuguese parliament which effectively toppled the current conservative government last Tuesday the 2nd of November. A leftist government is currently waiting for a final green light, a formal nomination from the Portuguese President Cavaco Silva.

Hopes are high for adult education

The leftist coalition is headed by the Socialist Party and includes the Left Bloc, the Green Party and the Communist Party. For the first time in four years Portuguese adult educators are hopeful.

Under the previous conservative government, adult education all but disappeared from the political agenda. (See box below) Now, expectations for deep changes in adult education policies are huge and legitimate since the last left-wing governments supported and encouraged the growth of this fundamental area of education policy.

– During the recent electoral campaign the leader of the Socialist Party pointed to the adult education as a programmatic priority, reminds Luis Capucha, President of the National Agency for Qualifications in the last Socialist government.

Leftist coalition document emphasises adult education

The Agreement signed by the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc, the Communist Party and the Greens gives emphasis to adult education. The “Government Program Proposition for the XIII Legislature” (Proposta de Programa de Governo para a XIII Legislatura), titled “Priority to People“, includes a separate chapter for adult education.

-The chapter states that skills deficits cannot be solved only with policies promoting school success at the pre-schooling, basic, secondary and tertiary education levels, Capucha says.

In Portugal about 62% of the population aged 25-64 has not completed upper secondary education, and long-term unemployment is particularly severe among unemployed with low qualifications.

-Therefore, we assume the new government would promote their Program of Education and Training for Adults that would develop a solid lifelong learning system for the next decade.

A program with concrete proposals for adult education

The proposed adult education program is multi-faceted.

It would develop specific courses addressing specific needs of groups such as the unemployed and the illiterate. It would also include training for employers (who are generally less qualified than the employed) and stimulate local networks for qualification.

All in all, the plan is to reinstate adult education policy as an object of social dialogue between social partners.

2011: The year adult education disappeared

In 2005 the Portuguese government had an ambitious goal: to renew the country’s qualifications structure. The solution was The New Opportunities Program, combining modular education and short training courses and allowing accumulative certifications for flexible education paths. The system featured a sophisticated system of recognition and certification of competencies acquired in informal and non-formal learning.

450 New Opportunities Centres were located all around the country in schools, unions, local governments, training centres, companies and other institutions. In the period from 2007 until 2011 more than 1.500.000 people used the system.

Luis Capucha, President of the National Agency for Qualifications in the last Socialist government recalls the year it all ended:

– A brutal change in education policies happened in 2011. The new right-wing government falsely assumed that the program was not producing impact on employment. Actually this was not the case as people with lower qualifications were more resistant to the troika-imposed * austerity than the average worker.

The government put an abrupt end to the New Opportunities Program, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with little educational prospects.

Adult education was effectively inexistent in Portugal until 2013, when some training programs were created involving no more than a few thousand people. In the same year the government created a network of Centres For Qualification, Education and Training (CQEPs), composed of a small number of Centres allowed to open. Only a dozen centres were able to open due to a lack of resources.

*The troika refers to the creditors of crisis-hit Portugal: EU Commission, The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank.