Portugal should improve adult learning to boost growth and social cohesion


04/05/2018 - Portugal’s investments in education and skills in recent decades are paying off for young people but many adults are falling behind. With a rapidly aging population and a growing skills divide between generations, Portugal needs to further strengthen its adult-learning system, according to a new OECD report.


Skills Strategy Implementation Guidance for Portugal says that attainment rates at upper secondary and tertiary levels have increased substantially, and the school dropout rate has steadily fallen since 2000. Portugal scored above the OECD average in all three subjects of the most recent OECD PISA survey.


But more than half of adults aged 25 to 64 have not completed upper secondary education, a higher rate than any OECD country except Turkey and Mexico.


“Raising skills is critical to Portugal’s long-term economic success and social well-being,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, launching the report in Lisbon with Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, Portugal's Minister of Education, José António Vieira da Silva, Minister of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security, and Manuel Heitor, Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education. “Creating a more sustainable and responsive adult-learning system will help equip citizens of all ages with the skills they need to seize the opportunities of a rapidly changing labour market.”


The adult-learning policies now in place show great promise, according to the report, but a series of coordinated actions are needed improve the accessibility and flexibility of the system, as well as its quality and sustainability. These include creating a comprehensive plan for adult learning guiding actions for all partners, inside and outside government. Steps should be taken to encourage more people to take part, especially people with low skills who are currently least likely to take part in adult learning.


Portugal should provide better information on the financial returns of improved skills for learners, employers and society at large; tailor communications on this to reach low-skilled adults and small businesses who provide less training than larger firms; and use the local reach of public services and civil society organisations to help raise participation among the low-skilled.


A stronger focus on quality and monitoring outcomes would drive performance and could increase investments in learning by both firms and individuals. Specific actions should be taken, from designing programmes that are high quality and labour market-relevant as a condition for funding, to streamlining quality assurance and better organising the network of learning providers.


Improved governance and financing mechanisms are needed. Creating an inter-ministerial team responsible for adult learning and a permanent body involving key stakeholders would improve the coherence of the system, and  would make sure it responds to the fast-changing needs of actors on the ground. Such body should include all levels of government, education and training providers, employers, trade unions, and the non-profit sector. Local networks involving business and civil society associations should be reinforced or created to assess skills needs, improve outreach to learners, and develop flexible approaches to adult learning.


Establishing a “skills financing pact” between government and social partners would help enhance the sustainability of funding for adult learning and improve quality. Introducing financial incentives for employers, particularly small and medium enterprises, and individuals, especially disadvantaged groups, would encourage more organisations to provide training and boost participation rates. 


The report, Skills Strategy Implementation Guidance for Portugal, is available at


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Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


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