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Reference Vocational courses in Portugal
What works well in this scheme? In Portugal, the latest curricular reform for secondary schools (1989) diversified the courses oriented towards the labour market but which concurrently permit the pursuit of higher studies (technological and professional courses are the more relevant). All these courses, called vocational education, grant a level III professional qualification diploma together with a diploma of secondary studies or its equivalent (dual qualification). In vocational courses the technical component or its practice, in professional courses and apprenticeship imply the preparation of the trainees in the work context. The administrative reform of professional schools introduced in 97/98 implies a greater autonomy and reinforces the links of co-operation among the school, the enterprises, the local government and the professional associations.
     Patial studies (1999) indicate that the reason for the students to choose professional schools instead of general courses is related to the desire to be better prepared for the active life (81.4%) and to the desire to acquire a professional qualification (86.4%). For the youth that are already working, professional placement represents a personal and professional fulfilment (58.3%) and a challenge to their capacities (58.3%). Professional placement in the job market represents for the youth the possibility of becoming economically independent (41.7%). The students attending professional schools show a high degree of satisfaction with the training received at school. In the year 97/98, while there was a 4.0% reduction in the total number of students in the secondary schools, the professional schools model was the only one to register an increase of 5.7%.
     Among the positive factors which characterise the vocational courses, we may refer to the fact that they grant a dual qualification, the dynamic they give the schools and the innovation they introduce in the training like modular structure, work project and „alternance“ between school and enterprise. The professional qualification diploma, which is seen as a factor of social promotion, of employability and of transnational mobility is another of the important advantages of these courses.
    The vocational courses contributed to bring a starting point for a change of mentality in Portuguese society, specially when they are located within the Secondary public school alongside the more academic related training courses.
What are the problems with this scheme? The choices of the students of secondary schools in 98/99 reveal a strong preferential tendency for general courses (courses oriented exclusively for the pursuit of higher studies (70.7%). This tendency has to do with the lack of recognition and to the low social status of vocational studies.
    In secondary schools the teachers/trainers are critical in face of the objective to be attained via the vocational training model (technological courses) in the relation with the labour market, because in these courses, the students have three years dedicated to the development of a curriculum strongly marked by many hours of teaching academic subjects.
    For an attaining success in the system, these subjects carry a tendentious concern to prepare the students for the national examinations of access to higher education. The technological courses promote a practical learning in the classroom but they have no on-the-job training.
    In Secondary Schools an interdisciplinary curricular studies „Área Escola“ is now being reformulated because the work project, which is the base of the educational training methods, failed.
    The no compulsory additional curricular projects are an important support for the low achievers students. However, schools have difficulties in its implementations because some functional problems arise for supporting the program as lack of space, available schedule for teachers, students and financial questions.
    The modular training methods of professional schools, often became a disciplinary approach, due of lack of teacher training oriented to vocational studies. The curricular organisaction based on „alternance“ between school and enterprise often became a traditional professional stage, due to the difficulties of real cooperation between two different worlds: school and work.
What can be learned from other schemes? Portugal could learn from countries with a longer tradition in vocational education and dual qualifications, where the school-enterprise cooperation is implemented with success, like Austria and Germany. For instance, the Austria, Germany and also United Kingdom schemes, are examples to be studied in order to improve our educational system not forgetting the Portuguese contexts and identity. The recent flexible modular system at U.K. with supervision of the national system of qualifications (NQCV) is an example with potentiality for creating new motivations to the students. The diversity of scholar trajectories more adjusted to the society needs and the personal and professional life projects of the young people is another potentiality of that system which should be considered.
Further reading > Analysis of scheme > topic study  > National conclusions
Author Lourenço Frazão, Teresa Oliveira & Fátima Santos (December 1999)

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