Cascavelos State School

How Portugal is pushing educational boundaries

According to the Pisa report, Portugal is the only country to have improved its educational standards.

Find out about a Portuguese state school that is pushing educational boundaries.

Joao Maroco, Director:

Although the country has been subject to different political directions and ideologies over the past 15 years because of governments that have lent more to the left or right, the Ministry of Education has been able to continue with its policy to improve excellence and rigor. This has meant that it has been able to establish certain targets and objectives as regards curricula and to run educational programs that are well-founded and have been scientifically proven. Furthermore, the bar has been set higher as regards what students need to achieve in each school year, while standards have also risen for teachers with respect to what they should be teaching.

In spite of some challenging conditions such as the fact that families now have less economic, social or cultural power, a weaker economy and a situation whereby schools are operating with fewer teachers who are less well-trained, if you compare Portugal's social, economic and cultural environment (both as regards families and schools) to Finland's, you'll see that Portugal is making more headway.

Those working within the system, as well as teachers, parents and students all clearly understood that the bar had been raised as regards standards and the use of examinations, which in turn meant that teachers were more motivated to complete programs and achieve targets and that students were more motivated to learn. I believe that, more than anything else, it is this accountability that has helped Portugal improve its results.

Isabel Flores, educational researcher:

Portugal continues to improve its PISA results in all areas, including languages, science and mathematics. In 2015, Portugal's results were expected to be worse due to the crisis, but they weren't. The nation continued on its upward trend as regards results and this caught people's attention.

The reasons we were able to do this, which I believe need to be recognized, are as follows: universal access to pre-school facilities, as well as more ambitious families and young people who see school as an important resource.

Portugal is a poor country, but its teachers are willing to help students. One of the PISA indicators that denotes socioeconomic and cultural status is established using student surveys. This indicator does not count towards a country's average score; however, Portugal scored 40% below average. In an OECD context, Portugal is a poor country.

One aspect that has changed a lot in Portugal in recent years is the number of schools that have produced good results, even in difficult social environments. This has happened without a great deal of investment or major policies from government. I honestly believe that the trends seen in schools like Carcavelos will become more frequent and that the number of schools capable of achieving these standards will increase. A change is happening, albeit quietly. By the time we notice it, it will already have happened.

More than the policies implemented by any government, what is really happening is that there is a motivation within school communities and their surroundings, which might include companies and associations, etc., based on the idea that school can change a person's life.

Find out more about Cascavelos State School

Portugal is the only country to have improved its PISA report results since the year 2000. Cascavelos State School is an example of how much the nation's education system has progressed during this time. Some of the measures taken include having no classes on Friday afternoons, not making students repeat years before the third year of the ESO compulsory education level, banning homework and helping students to learn the skills they need to speak in public and collaborate with classmates.
What has helped this school in particular improve its standards?

It has progressed significantly between 2000 and 2015 due to the fact that family incomes and socioeconomic and cultural status increased during this period and also because, in my opinion, families now understand how important a good education is. I think that is a very important factor. As should be the case, teachers are also important, as they're the ones who teach and encourage students to learn. Clearly, there has also been significant progress as regards the capabilities of teachers in Portugal in 2015 compared to their counterparts from the year 2000. For example, in 2000 we had many teachers who were technically excellent, however, they didn't have sufficient training to be able to deal with the requirements of students of these ages.

"Students are not set any homework; however, they are required to study at home"

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