EDUCATIONAL CHALLENGES IN PORTUGAL: challenges of mitigating socio-economic inequalities

Written by Agnes Amaral


At the end of the 1990s, the educational discussion in Portugal was about the need of a school for all people which involved moving towards a more intercultural education. This made bilingual schools a famous model that has grown in the country for the past years. For the 21st century, the discussions involved the direction of children’s education within a social policy and developing beyond the school space. For example, guarantee assistance offered from 11 months of age, put education as a priority in everyone’s life, and adopt a paradigm of lifelong education. In addition, there were actions to prevent early school leaving. The conference held in 2007 by Portugal’s Department of Education[1] was relevant in highlighting these and other challenges of the period. The government priority has become a more smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth in education. To achieve social security, such as guaranteeing jobs. Creating a redirection toward student-centered learning, to make them able to meet the challenges of competitiveness and the use of new technologies. Although there has been an increase in the ranking of elementary school attendance and literacy from 2021 to 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, inequality in access to education is still a reality. Since in Portugal, the socio-economic background of students has a significant impact on their academic opportunities.

woman in black long sleeve shirt holding white face mask

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Covid aftermath:

Due to COVID there has been an increase in anxious and vulnerable students due to non-face-to-face teaching causing less social interaction among students. The National Council of Education (CNE) reports that 23% of students may not have participated regularly in school activities during distance learning. This mainly affected students who already had less financial or social resources. One of the problems faced was the lack of access to digital platforms and the mediums to access these.

Asylum seekers:

There are some educational requirements imposed by the Government of Portugal that complicate the participation of asylum seekers into education. It is necessary to develop pedagogical activities for the specific needs of these students. It is possible to observe the difference in results for those students with a less privileged background, such as immigrants.[1] The language barrier is also considered a challenge in these situations. There is data showing that foreign students repeat courses in primary and secondary school more often than their peers[2].

According to the DGEEC (2020) report, School Profile of Roma Communities 2018/2019, retention and dropout rates are higher among Roma students than for the general population (15.6% in primary education and 12.6% in secondary vs 3.7% and 12.9% for the whole student population).[3]

Higher education:

According to OECD, Portugal has one of the lowest percentages of 25–64-year-olds with at least a higher education completed. This number becomes even smaller when there is a comparison between genders. While in the natural sciences the number of female undergraduates has increased, in the fields of business, management, and law where the number remains low.[4]

Unemployment and educational attainment:

Compared to other countries, Portugal has a high unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree[5]. The proportion of adults who have been unemployed for at least a year among all unemployed adults with below upper secondary education is relatively high.[6] They face less opportunities due to the lack of labor market to contract qualified people. However, the government tries to improve this reality with programs like Qualifica,[7] which has the main objective of improving the qualification levels of adults, contributing to the progression of the population’s qualifications and improving the employability of individuals. But this is not yet the reality in the country, which seeks to reach the European Union’s employability target (60%) by 2030.


We can conclude that Portugal has many results in its favor. For instance, it has shown an increase of students in university education which is supported by the Adult Impulse Program and the Young Impulse STEAM program, which demonstrates effectiveness in actions.[8] Nevertheless, the economic and social background of the students is still an issue that directly impacts their opportunities of accessing to higher education. However, as mentioned before, the government has taken efforts to mitigate these inequalities specifically in higher education such as the initiative to sign a tripartite agreement to support students in technological areas in 2021[9] and in early childhood education. Another initiative was to create a care plan which plans to expand access to education for all children from the age of 3, with mandatory schooling. The increase in the number of teachers in this area can be considered an efficient factor for the evolution of the project. Nevertheless, there are still some regions that receive more support than others[10] which Portugal needs to address in order to mitigate a clearer fracture in the educational dynamic of the country.

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[1] Carreirinho, I. (2021). Country Report: Portugal (ECRE, Ed.) [Review of Country Report: Portugal]. European Council on Refugees and Exiles.

[2] Education and Training Monitor 2022. (n.d.).

[3] Direção-Geral de Estatísticas da Educação e Ciência. (n.d.). Direção-Geral de Estatísticas Da Educação E Ciência. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

[4] Education GPS – Portugal – Overview of the education system (EAG 2019). (n.d.).

[5] Education GPS – Portugal – Overview of the education system (EAG 2019). (n.d.).

[6] Education GPS – Portugal – Overview of the education system (EAG 2019). (n.d.).

[7] +eficaz. (n.d.). Portal Qualifica. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

[8] Education and Training Monitor 2022. (n.d.).

[9] ESTEL – Escola Profissional de Tecnologia e Eletrónica – Vídeos – E-volui. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2023, from

[10] Education and Training Monitor 2022. (n.d.).

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