History of Education in Portugal

In the beginnings of the Portuguese nationality, the Christian clergy was the main player in the educational endeavour. Portuguese universities have existed since 1290. Within the scope of the Portuguese Empire, the Portuguese founded in 1792 the oldest engineering school of Latin America (the Real Academia de Artilharia, Fortificação e Desenho), as well as the oldest medical college of Asia (the Goa Medical College) in 1842.

19th and 20th Century
However, by the end of the 19th century the illiteracy rate was over 80 percent and higher education was reserved for a small percentage of the population. 68.1 percent of Portugal's population was still classified as illiterate by the 1930 census.

Portugal's literacy rate by the 1940s and early 1950s was low for North American and Western European standards at the time. From the 1960s, the country made public education available for all children between the ages of six and twelve, expanded a robust network of industrial and commercial technical schools aimed at intermediate education of future skilled workers (ensino médio), recognized the Portuguese Catholic University in 1971, and by 1973 a wave of new state-run universities were founded across mainland Portugal (the Minho University, the New University of Lisbon, the University of Évora, and the University of Aveiro - Veiga Simão was the Minister in charge for education by then).

From the 1960s to the 1974 Carnation Revolution, secondary and university education experienced the fastest growth of Portuguese education's history. After 1974 the number of basic and secondary schools as well as of higher education institutions, increased until the endof the century, sometimes without the necessary allocation of quality material and qualified human resources.

Education more than basic (4th or 6th grade) wasn't affordable for most Portuguese families, the real democratization of education, specially secondary and higher education, only happened in the 1980s. After mid-2000s programs of modernization of schools (basic and secondary) and the construction of new elementary schools called "educational centres" (mostly to reduce the number of overloaded elementary schools, to widespread the 9 AM to 5h30 PM schedule system, because in most overloaded schools there are classes with 8 AM-1 PM schedule and other with 1 PM-6 PM) are being held.

The Bologna process for higher education has been adopted since 2006. However the higher-education rate in the country still remains the lowest in the European Union, this rate was around 7% in 2003 (Source: OECD (2003) Education at a Glance and OECD Statistical Compendium), and improved to 11% in 2007 - as compared to Slovakia's and Slovenia's around 16%; Germany's, Estonia, Spain's and Ireland's 28%; or Belgium's, Netherlands', Denmark's, Finland's, Cyprus's and UK's, over 30% (Source: EuroStat, March 2007).

According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the average Portuguese 15-years old student was for many years underrated and underachieving in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge in the OECD, nearly tied with the Italian and just above countries like Greece, Turkey and Mexico. However, since 2010, PISA results for Portuguese students improved dramatically.

The Portuguese Ministry of Education announced a 2010 report published by its office for educational evaluation GAVE (Gabinete de Avaliação do Ministério da Educação) which criticized the results of PISA 2009 report and claimed that the average Portuguese teenage student had profund handicaps in terms of expression, communication and logic, as well as a low performance when asked to solve problems. They also claimed that those fallacies are not exclusive of Portugal but indeed occur in other countries due to the way PISA was designed.

Due to the Portuguese sovereign debt crisis in the late 2000s, and the subsequent IMF-EU financial assistance to the Portuguese Republic from 2011 onward, many universities and other higher education institutions suffered financially. Many were on verge of bankruptcy and were forced to increase its admissions and tuition fees as the budget dwindled and the staff members and bonuses were being reduced.