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Sociocultural and economic development

Education and development

Contributions to the changes of democratic PortugalÉducation et développement. Contributions aux changements du Portugal démocratique
António Manuel Rochette Cordeiro and Luís Alcoforado

Abstracts

In 1974, though schooling was available for all children between 7 and 11 years of age, Portugal faced an illiteracy rate of 21% for the population aged fifteen years or over and there were huge inequalities in the access to the different levels of study and between different regions. Over the last forty years, keeping pace with profound changes at the social, economic, demographic and cultural levels, the Portuguese education system worked to address many of its problems by making political commitments and taking strategic actions. Though sometimes lacking a coherent strategy, these measures led to very significant developments. By analyzing the available databases and legal documents, this study provides an overview of this progress, placing special emphasis on the legislative changes, the redrafting of the educational offer, the curricular changes and the evolution of the educational network, and establishing a link with other dimensions of development.

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1 - Contextualization of the Subject Matter

1Over the past four decades, Portugal experienced a very significant number of political, economic, social and cultural changes, all of which had inevitable repercussions in the education sector. Whether as a desirable influence or a natural consequence, the Portuguese education system was gradually associated with the different forms of development, reflecting very deep changes that arose from the need to keep pace with most countries, especially those from Central and Northern Europe, after having lagged behind them for several decades. This backwardness was expressed in a still very high illiteracy rate and in excessively low levels of educational attainment and qualification of young people and of the population at large (BARRETO, 2002).

2To understand the scale of this problem and analyze the evolution of the Portuguese education system over the last four decades, we must first trace a brief outline of the situation in Portugal when the Carnation Revolution ended the long dictatorship of the Estado Novo. To develop an internationally validated and detailed assessment of the situation of the Portuguese education system, possibly followed by a set of guidelines for the drafting of a new educational policy, the governing authorities that emerged from the revolutionary movement of April 25, 1974, invited UNESCO to carry out an evaluative and prospective study, which was conducted and published immediately (UNESCO, 1975). This study highlighted some conclusions and presented statements that illustrated, with the level of rigor expected from this type of work, the general awareness of the backwardness of the Portuguese education system, which, due to a lack of time and conditions, could not be effectively reversed by the interesting attempt expressed in the 1973 reform.

3Hence, at the time of this study, there was a recurring inability to implement a global, integrated and coherent educational project, confirming the idea that the education sector was effectively “clearly lagging behind other national sectors” (UNESCO, 1975). In support of this perception - and despite acknowledging the merit of initiatives such as the Popular Education Plan and the National Adult Education Campaign, which began in 1952 – the UNESCO team found an almost complete lack of pre-school education, a low degree of internal efficiency, archaic syllabi and methods, channels enabling social discrimination, evidence of an excessive degree of centralization and regional disparities, and a very poor training of some categories of teaching staff members. Nevertheless, almost all children between 7 and 11 years of age attended primary school and there had been a noticeable increase in the attendance of other levels of education during the last years of the former regime (63% attended junior school and 14% attended secondary education), inclusively showing surprising numbers with regards to gender equality across the different levels of education.

4This situation reflected the clear precedence of the State over civil society, creating real conditions for the subjugation of education to the ideology and the development options of the regime that had governed the country since the 1930s. According to Stoer (1982), the dictatorial regime had structured these relations in a sequential order, dividing them into two well-defined time periods. The first period, stretching from the beginning of the regime to the Second World War, was marked by the ideological sedimentation around the “God, Homeland, Family” triad, which followed guidelines based on the inculcation of values meant to strengthen “the assertion and articulation of the doctrine of national identity and independence, in the context of an authoritarian and corporatist sociopolitical organization” (STOER, 1982). The second period, lasting from the Second World War to the Carnation Revolution, was noted for a phase of economic growth and capitalist expansion combined with a powerful repressive apparatus, as part of an articulation that sought to make education offer a significant contribution to a flourishing and renewed economy. Though the focus on education was fairly limited in the first period, the second period was noted for a clearer investment in this field, expressed, for example, in the drafting of the first national plan for the construction of school buildings (Santos et al., 2016). Nevertheless, very modest goals were set with regards to compulsory schooling.

5This was the state of affairs of the Portuguese education system as found by the Armed Forces Movement in April 1974. As in other historical moments, many people blamed the education system for the social and cultural backwardness of the country. For this reason, it was not surprising that, from the very beginning of the Revolution and in a period of clear disruption lasting from May 1974 to July 1976 (Rodrigues et al., 2014), education aligned itself with ideological principles that viewed it as “a means to build a democratic and socialist society, reflecting the first signs of a dissolution of the distinction between the State and Civil Society, through the self-government of the latter” (Stoer, 1982). Following the parliamentary elections on April 1976, Portugal embarked on a process of political and democratic normalization. At the same time, the education system was expected to offer a significant contribution to “the economic development and the building of a modern meritocratic society, following the standards set by the social democracies of Northwestern Europe” (Stoer, 1982), with the more or less visible and explicit support of different international organizations.

6The 1980s consolidated this dominant line of thought and were marked both by Portugal’s accession to the European Economic Community and by the enactment of the Basic Law on Education, in October 1986. Resulting from a broad consensus among the political forces represented in the Portuguese parliament, this law sought to conciliate the commitment of developmentalism to some of the key principles–viewed as unquestionable achievements–of the times that followed the Carnation Revolution. However, the ideologies more closely linked to economic development and to a certain idea of modernization of the Portuguese society, with close ties with the dominant European line of thought, eventually justified the implementation of political measures expressed in the then called structural reforms. These measures had a visible impact on the field of education and were expressed in several initiatives, some of them contradictory. A part of these initiatives can be viewed “as a contribution to the implementation of the principle of equal opportunity and the (circumstantial) expansion of social and cultural rights” (Afonso, 2008), while others favored freedom of instruction and created conditions to effectively strengthen the private education sector.

7Affiliated with a moderate social neoliberalism (Afonso, 2008), these initiatives were initially followed by an experimental attempt to implement ideas from the so-called third way, in which we can identify a special preoccupation with the ideology of inclusion. This was later followed by a recurring tendency, albeit with different courses and nuances, towards the promotion of the quality of the education system with a continuous commitment to results and assessments, expressed in national and international rankings. In recent years and following international agreements, some guiding objectives of this almost obsessive commitment to results have been expressed in the extension of compulsory education to twelve years and in the significant increase in the number of higher education graduates. These goals call for a relentless fight against school failure and dropout, and for the implementation of different educational pathways at the secondary and higher education levels.

8As should be expected, the Portuguese education system experienced visible changes during the last four decades of democracy (Rodrigues et al., 2014). In fact, these changes were expressed in a significant quantitative and qualitative leap made evident by the PISA indicators for the last triennium. Even though, as previously seen, these changes did not follow linear paths (Rodrigues et al., 2014), they call for an extensive analysis of the observed evolution. Thus, after collecting the necessary indicators and building on some findings gathered from the observed social and economic development, and from the major changes that took place in the education system, we will try to draw conclusions out of these dimensions. Nevertheless, we acknowledge there is still a long way to go before the huge regional and local differences can be leveled out. Using information found in the data provided by the State Statistical Office (1970 and 2011 census), as well as data from the Pordata platform and the Ministry of Education, this text tries to summarize some of the observed changes and to showcase the evolution experienced over these four decades.

2 - Education and Development: Indicators of a Changing Country

9In the 1960s and 70s, Portugal was a young and rural country. This situation evolved into the present reality: Portugal now has a constrictive age pyramid (fig. 1), an economy mostly based on services and a transport network that has completely transformed the space-time relationship across vast areas of the country.

Fig. 1 - Resident Population in Portugal between 1981 and 2011

Fig. 1 - Resident Population in Portugal between 1981 and 2011

Source: based on data from the INE - National Statistical Institute of Portugal.

10The last four decades have shown a decrease in the fertility and birth rates, in parallel with a significant increase in the aging indicators (e.g. in 1970, the aging index showed a ratio of 34 seniors per 100 youngsters, while in the last census there were almost 128 seniors per 100 youngsters). However, when considering this extraordinary transformation in such a short period of time, we must bear in mind that these indicators are not uniform across the country. Thus, in the last 40 years, there has been a concentration of the Portuguese population along the coastline, which, combined with the migratory outflow of the 1950s and 60s, transformed vast areas of the interior of Portugal into an aging and depopulated territory (fig. 2A; 2B; 2C; and 2D).

Fig. 2 - Demographic realities in the transformation of democratic Portugal per municipality

Fig. 2 - Demographic realities in the transformation of democratic Portugal per municipality

Source: based on data from the INE - National Statistical Institute of Portugal.

11Though in terms of demography the situation may be seen as complex, there has been a clear and almost exponential improvement across the remaining indicators. For example, health, economy and living standards made a qualitative leap expressed in very positive numbers across many indicators, even at an international scale (e.g.: the infant mortality rate dropped from 55.5% to 3.1%; the number of inhabitants per doctor dropped from 1064.3 to 246.7).

12At the same time, one must also highlight the vast improvement in other living standards, as demonstrated by the increase in the number of private households with sanitary facilities, running water and sewage systems - from figures close to 60% to a virtually full coverage (over 99%) - or by the increase in the number of pensioners – from a little over 187 thousand to almost 3 million (a change linked to a welfare state with an increasingly stronger presence in the citizens’ lives).

13With regards to economic dynamism and employment, positive changes have clearly taken place following the transition to a democratic regime. Portugal evolved from a significantly rural society (with 32% of the population working in the primary sector and 34% in the tertiary sector) to a society predominantly focused on services (comprising 63% of the population - almost two thirds of the Portuguese work force - with agriculture and fisheries amounting to just 10%). It is true that the unemployment rate has constantly remained above 10% during the last five years. However, this was due not only to the economic crisis of the late 2000s but also to the sustained growth of Portugal’s participation rate (which increased from 39% to 60.5%), owing especially to the entry of women in the work market made possible by the changes in the mentality of the Portuguese society. In this respect, and though differences may be due to major societal changes, it is also true that two of the values that showed a more significant change were the GDP per capita, which increased from 136.90 to 16,686.3 euros, and the annual minimum wage, which increased from 214 euros, in 1974, to 8,120 euros in the present day. In fact, with regards to the creation of wealth, this progress was particularly significant from the 1980s onwards, encompassing Portugal’s accession to the European Union (EU) and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), and the whole momentum generated by this integration. The Portuguese society modernized itself and the country’s economic environment improved significantly, facilitating business and job creation. The tertiarization of the economy was reflected in the new standards and demands of families, leading to a sharp increase in consumption levels to record high figures. Despite this remarkable progress, Portugal’s GDP per capita in 2016 was 23% lower than the EU average, failing to meet one of the common goals–economic convergence between EU member countries. (INE, 1973, 2012; PORDATA, 2018).

14Over the last four decades, whether as a cause or a consequence of all these changes, there were very significant achievements in the Portuguese education indicators. However, when compared to other EU countries, Portugal still suffers from structural training and qualification deficits, mostly expressed in the country’s failure and dropout rates and in the low level of qualification of the resident working-age population.

15Between 1970 and 2011, the illiteracy rate - one of the education indicators of greater concern to the Portuguese society - declined by more than 20% (dropping from 25.7% to 5.2%). This decline was especially visible in the 9 to 14 age group, which showed a negligible illiteracy rate of 0.4% (this number was over 25% in the beginning of the second half of the 20th century) (Mata, 2014). In fact, over the last four decades, the number of 14-year-old teenagers attending school increased from just 35%, in 1970, to 100%, in 1997. This growth is linked to the advent of mass education in Portugal and reflects the huge investment made in the training of the teaching staff: the number of basic and secondary education teachers increased from 26,000 to 140,000 (almost all of them professionalized). This situation is a natural consequence of an easier access to higher education that clearly resulted from the democratization of the country and which led to the creation of better socioeconomic life standards (Table I). As a result of the transition from the elitist school model, ideologically supported by the dictatorial regime, to the democratic school model that followed the 1974 Revolution (especially after the enactment of the Basic Law on Education, in 1986), the number of students receiving higher education increased from 49,461, in 1970/71, to 403,445, in 2010/11, a figure that reflects the proliferation of higher education establishments over the recent decades. Figures increased from only four universities in 1970–Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra, to around 300 establishments (both public and private), in 2011, including 49 universities, 69 polytechnic institutes, 19 higher education schools, 5 military establishments and decentralized educational complexes (fig. 3A and 3B). There was a dramatic rise in the percentage of the population over 15 years with higher education (fig. 3C and 3D), reflecting the aforementioned exponential rise in the number of higher education establishments and students.

Fig. 3 - Distribution of school population with higher education, per municipality

Fig. 3 - Distribution of school population with higher education, per municipality

3A – Students enrolled in higher education in 1970; 2B – Students enrolled in higher education in 2011; 2C – Percentage of the population over 15 years old with higher education in 1960; 2D – Percentage of the population over 15 years old with higher education in 2011

Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.

Table 1 - Evolution of the Portuguese education indicators between 1970 and 2011

Table 1 - Evolution of the Portuguese education indicators between 1970 and 2011

Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.

16In addition, as a result of the demographic changes and improved accessibility, we must also highlight the significant redefinition of the school network across all levels of education, which entailed both the closure of 11,969 primary schools and the increase in the number of schools covering other levels of education – over 1,780 schools. In some specific municipalities, even in those with a tradition of administrative centrality and demographic importance (e.g. Guarda, a medium-size municipality from the inner region of the country), the reduction in the number of primary schools was somewhat radical (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 - Restructuring of the school network in the municipalities of Guarda and Sta Comba Dão, in 2000 and 2017

Fig. 4 - Restructuring of the school network in the municipalities of Guarda and Sta Comba Dão, in 2000 and 2017

17As a result of the extension of compulsory education (first to 9 and later to 12 years of study) and of the broadening of access to pre-school education to all children, between the 1970s and 2011, demand for education grew by more than eight hundred thousand students across the different levels of education. In this regard, the only decrease in numbers concerned the students attending primary education. This came as a result of the demographic changes observed in Portugal, illustrated in a drop in the fertility and birth rates.

  • 1 Percentages over 100% can be explained by the increase in compulsory schooling to 12 years and the (...)

18In this respect, the impact of the changes in the gross schooling rates across the different levels of education is very enlightening: numbers rose from 2.9% to 87.4% in pre-school education (3-5 years of age), from 88.1% to 122.2% in basic education (6-15 years of age) and from 5.9% to almost 135%1 in secondary education (16 to 18 years of age).

19In Portugal, the importance given to education following the country’s transition to a democratic regime–more students, more and better schools, more and better qualified teachers, a greater focus on different models of educatio–, is expressed in the huge investment made in this field of the welfare state: expenditure on education increased from 22 million to 7,800 million euros and the per capita expenditure on education increased from 2.6 to 746 euros during the period in question.

20As can be seen from a simple analysis of the official statistical indicators, clear changes have taken place in democratic Portugal of the last four decades, especially in the field of education. Nevertheless, the emergence of a younger generation with better qualifications than in any other time in the country’s history can be divided into several moments and dynamics across different subjects, and thus calls for a more detailed analysis. This process is linked not only to changes in the existing pathways - compulsory schooling; school network; unification of the education tracks; free education and social programs - but mostly to the emergence of new challenges and topics in the education sector - special education; decentralization and deconcentration of the education system; school clusters; vocational education; promotion of educational attainment.

21As previously mentioned, there was an immediate and sudden decrease in the number of primary schools in operation. This came as a result of both the serious depopulation of the rural interior, due to a considerable migration rate, and of a decrease in the school population attending this level of education, observed from the beginning of the 1980s onwards. This decrease contrasted with the reality observed across other levels of education, where the number of schools and enrolled students continued to increase as a clear result of changes in the democratization of the education system and in the Portuguese mentality.

22Nevertheless, this same society continues to face a serious problem that affects its education system - school failure and early school leaving in lower levels of education -, though these numbers have been declining (Ferreira et al., 2015; Cordeiro and Alcoforado, 2015). In fact, analyzing a more recent trend (considering only the data for the last decade), the failure and dropout rate at the basic education level dropped from 11.8%, in the 2004/05 school year, to 7.9%, in the 2014/15 school year (Table 2). However, this number is still too high and calls for the immediate implementation of measures to combat school failure and dropouts. With regards to both the completion/conclusion rates at the secondary education level and the pre-schooling rate, the recent trend shows an increase from 67.9% to 83.4% and from 78.3% to 90.9%, respectively. At the same time, there has also been an increase in the participation of young students in double certification courses across the different areas of secondary education (from 33.0%, in 2004/05, to 42.8%, in 2011/12).

Table 2 - Education and Qualification Indicators (2004/05-2014/15)

Table 2 - Education and Qualification Indicators (2004/05-2014/15)

Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.

3 - Education and Development in Portugal: Reality and challenges

  • 2 Portugal is one of few OECD member countries showing a clear trend towards a continuous improvement (...)

23Considering the historical, recurring and impressive backwardness in terms of literacy and schooling rates in Portugal, the least that can be said is that a very significant effort was made to significantly reverse this situation over these past four decades of democracy. Though the urgency of this problem may have called for much faster progress, still there has been a very positive evolution in most of the assessed indicators. This contributes to a perception of a clear improvement in terms of the awareness of the objectives to be achieved, of the reasonable coherence of the political measures taken in this field and of the organization of the education system and the consolidation of some assessment dimensions. Some of the most evident achievements include the enrollment of (virtually) all children in pre-school education and the very significant increase in the percentage of the young and adult population attending higher levels of education. On this last point, the recent extension of compulsory education to twelve years and the fairer distribution of young students across the different pathways of secondary education should be highlighted. Finally, even though this indicator must be analyzed in articulation with many others, we are also pleased to observe the sustained improvement in the results of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), across their three components, which places Portugal well above the OECD average2. All this may come as a consequence of a modern school network, adjusted to the students’ needs and, for the most part, offering good working conditions, but mostly results from the implementation of solutions suited to the particularities of the territory and from a continued investment in better adjusted teacher training options, enabling the existence of a very qualified teaching staff.

24However, though it is true we have improved the ability of the Portuguese education system to retain all children, teenagers and youngsters for a much longer period of time, teaching them a greater body of knowledge, we must also recognize there is still a long way to go before we can achieve acceptable numbers in indicators such as student failure and dropout, early school leaving and equal opportunities and success rates across the different education pathways. The illiteracy rate and the skill levels of the adult population mean there is still a real need for Portugal to consolidate a public adult education and training policy which, despite the substantial investments of the last decades made especially after the accession to the European Economic Community (the current European Union), never emerged from a mindset of successive program contracts. It should also be added that, as observed for other aspects related to the link between education and development, and contrary to what is expressed in the national averages, there is a great diversity of results, reflecting the socioeconomic (and educational) contexts of these territorial mosaics. In a complex approach conducted on the subregion of Central Portugal using a statistical methodology of multivariate analysisPrincipal Component Analysis, it was found there is a clear link between school results and the academic qualifications of the population, and the socioeconomic statuses of the different territories. This was observed not only in the contrasts between coastal and inner regions, and urban and rural environments, but also within urban spaces, in the different social levels of these territories (Cordeiro, Barros & Gama, 2016).

25Several international studies on education argue that there is a close link between education and development, though it is not always possible to establish which one of these units of analysis takes on the role of dependent or independent variable. If we take this to be true, this relation can be easily spotted in the Portuguese reality by analyzing the collected indicators and the current characteristics of the country, for example, in terms of social development. Nevertheless, as copiously expressed by various bodies, all this investment in education and training still offers a small contribution to a satisfactory increase in labor productivity. Moreover, civic participation and the commitment to individual and collective (trans)formation activities make us believe there is a real need to link educational practices to broader concerns of personal and social change across different communities of belonging. This challenge forces us to think of education using a synchronic and diachronic logic, providing an educational offer encompassing all areas of life, maintaining and improving the national indicators that have gradually been stabilized, at the same time incorporating integrated (economic, social and cultural) and sustained (including all citizens for a longer period of time) territorial development projects to help diversify life experiences and to contribute to significantly reverse the existing inequalities in their different manifestations.

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Bibliography

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Notes

1 Percentages over 100% can be explained by the increase in compulsory schooling to 12 years and the intense immigration (especially from Portuguese-speaking countries and Eastern countries) over the last two decades, which means there were more students than children being born in Portugal during these years.

2 Portugal is one of few OECD member countries showing a clear trend towards a continuous improvement in the PISA results (PISA, 2015). With regards to scientific literacy, Portuguese youngsters achieved a score of 501 points, when compared with the OECD average of 493 points. Thus, in comparison with the first edition of PISA, in 2000, Portugal improved its score by 42 points, occupying the 22nd place in a total of 70 countries. If we consider only the 35 OECD countries that participated in the study, Portugal occupies the 17th place. With regards to reading literacy, there was an improvement of 28 points, when compared to the results of 2000. The Portuguese average is 498 points, five points higher than the OECD average. Thus, Portugal ranks 21st in the 70 countries under study and 18th if we consider only the OECD members. Finally, when analyzing the results for Math, we find that Portuguese students improved their score by 38 points, when compared to the 2000 average. In this field, Portugal ranks 29th (among 70 countries) with an average of 492 points (OECD average–478 points) and 22nd if we consider only the OECD countries (with an average of 490 points). It should also be highlighted that, since 2000, the average annual improvement in the national results was of 2.8 points in Sciences, 2.6 points in Math, and 1.8 points in reading (PISA, 2015).

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 - Resident Population in Portugal between 1981 and 2011
Credits Source: based on data from the INE - National Statistical Institute of Portugal.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 500k
Title Fig. 2 - Demographic realities in the transformation of democratic Portugal per municipality
Credits Source: based on data from the INE - National Statistical Institute of Portugal.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 988k
Title Fig. 3 - Distribution of school population with higher education, per municipality
Caption 3A – Students enrolled in higher education in 1970; 2B – Students enrolled in higher education in 2011; 2C – Percentage of the population over 15 years old with higher education in 1960; 2D – Percentage of the population over 15 years old with higher education in 2011
Credits Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 732k
Title Table 1 - Evolution of the Portuguese education indicators between 1970 and 2011
Credits Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 132k
Title Fig. 4 - Restructuring of the school network in the municipalities of Guarda and Sta Comba Dão, in 2000 and 2017
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 972k
Title Table 2 - Education and Qualification Indicators (2004/05-2014/15)
Credits Source: based on data from the National Statistical Institute of Portugal and PORDATA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/docannexe/image/10322/img-6.jpg
File image/jpeg, 44k
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References

Electronic reference

António Manuel Rochette Cordeiro and Luís Alcoforado, « Education and development », Méditerranée [Online], 130 | 2018, Online since 28 November 2018, connection on 11 December 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mediterranee/10322 ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.10322

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About the authors

António Manuel Rochette Cordeiro

Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Coimbra - CEIS20, rochettecordeiro@fl.uc.pt

Luís Alcoforado

Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, University of Coimbra - CEIS20, lalcoforado@fpce.uc.pt

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