By Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
In the span of a few decades, Portugal has transformed into an inclusive democracy. Its citizens enjoy a good standard of living, and despite being severely impacted by the financial crisis, the country’s economy is growing once again.
Portugal has made impressive progress in education, as well, with attainment rates rising continuously and youth academic performance fast improving. Yet although many young Portuguese people now complete their education and acquire skills that will be needed in the future – including digital skills – a large number of older, low-educated adults are at risk of falling behind.
Equipping all Portuguese adults with the right skills will be critical for Portugal and its people to address the challenges of the future and seize the opportunities it presents. More than 50% of working-age adults in Portugal have not completed secondary education. As a result, they may struggle in a world where globalisation and digitalisation are destroying some jobs, creating new ones and transforming the tasks people need in the workplace. They will also struggle to fully participate in society and political life.
The first step would be for Portugal to develop a coherent adult-learning strategy that encompasses existing and new measures, and aligns with other key economic policies. Such an integrated strategy would be built on a vision shared by all actors involved, including the government, social partners, education and training providers, and the learners themselves. It would also connect various policy areas that support adult learning and engage stakeholders.
Putting these recommendations into action will involve a wide range of stakeholders.
The next important step would be to raise awareness around the value of skills and adult learning. Recent initiatives like the Qualifica programme and tools such as the Qualifica Passport are promising moves toward raising participation rates. But improving participation among the low-skilled continues to be a particularly formidable challenge. It is therefore essential that Portugal continue its efforts to demonstrate the value of skills and skills investments by disseminating better information on the returns from skills, and by implementing a comprehensive communication campaign that includes outreach tailored to specific groups.
It is also important to improve the accessibility, quality and relevance of adult-learning opportunities. This can be achieved by removing barriers to participation, including through more flexible and labour market-relevant programmes, as well as adequate support to make it easier for those who juggle work and family priorities to take part.
Improved guidance for learners could also strengthen the culture of lifelong learning in Portugal by providing clear ways for adults to access the learning opportunities they need at various points throughout their lives. A more systematic way to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of programmes will be key to raising quality and identifying what works best, and for whom.
Strengthening the governance and financing of the adult-learning system in Portugal is essential to ensuring that all actors work together towards common goals, and that funding is used strategically to raise quality and improve outcomes for learners. The country needs effective mechanisms to co-ordinate the multiple actors involved in adult learning. Portugal should therefore consider setting up dedicated governance bodies to oversee adult learning (e.g., a permanent inter-ministerial team and a permanent group within an existing multi-stakeholder institution) and ensure that it remains at the forefront of policy priorities in the long term.
The country also needs strategies for cost sharing among the public and private sectors, recognising that the returns on investment would benefit learners, employers and society at large. To help with this, Portugal should establish a stable and quality-oriented funding model through a “skills financing pact”. Well-targeted financial incentives for learners, employers and providers will help raise participation of all parties involved in adult learning.
Putting these recommendations into action will involve a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, individuals, employers, trade unions, and education and training providers. They will need to take joint responsibility and commit to delivering on efforts to improve the quality of Portugal’s adult-learning system and make it more accessible.
Portugal has led the way throughout history – it spearheaded world exploration centuries ago, and today it attracts record numbers of visitors and entrepreneurs to its dynamic cities. The country now needs to come together to ensure that everyone has the skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing world, and to build prosperity and social progress for generations to come.