A strong civil society for better adult education policies in Portugal

APCEP, the Portuguese Association for Lifelong Learning, was founded in 1982 but had to put its work on hold for 25 years until a group of adult education enthusiasts decided to give it a new life.

“We believe that lifelong and life-wide education continue to be indispensable for society, especially in the context of changing work environments, automatisation and digitalisation,” says Susana Oliveira, Board member of APCEP and EAEA.

“More than ever, adult learning should contribute to the personal and professional development of adults through ‘reading’ and understanding the world.”

APCEP now actively works on improving adult learning policies and strategies in Portugal. Beside organising events such as the National Festival for Lifelong Learning last year or the regional events this year and contributing to the EAEA Year for Adult Learning, APCEP is engaged in lobbying and advocacy as well as cooperation with other civil society actors. Due to its key position, it is nationally recognised as the voice for lifelong learning and non-formal education in Portugal.

Improving Portuguese adult education strategies

A highlight for APCEP’s work as well as Portuguese adult education is the “Qualifica” programme, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security that was launched in March 2017. APCEP welcomes this initiative, while advocating for improvements of the programme.

It comprises a set of lifelong learning measures that had been implemented within the “New Opportunities” initiative and were subsequently discontinued. Among the most important innovations are the validation of competencies and modular training courses, all of which are recorded in the “Qualification Passport”, a document that captures the learning efforts made by citizens.

The main objective of the “Qualifica” Programme is to contribute to the improvement of the levels of qualification of the population and the improvement of individuals’ employability. “Qualifica” centres, where adults can validate their competences, are key structures in the implementation of this programme. The funding model, financed through the European Social Fund (85%) and the Portuguese state (15%), values ​​the flexibility of the candidates’ paths in the centres.


A new impetus to reaching out to the adult population

The focus on the needs of adult learners rather than on certifications resulting from RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) processes is an improvement in terms of quality compared to previous programmes. This will presumably also have a significant impact on the work of the centres, namely a greater investment in methodologies for self-assessment and consequently for the continuity of learning processes.

At a time when, according to Eurostat data (2016), more than half of the population between the age of 25 and 64 has a level of formal education equal to or lower than basic education (9 years of schooling), the “Qualifica” Programme aims to bring Portugal closer to the goals of convergence in lifelong learning with the average of the countries of the European Union.

The programme could give a new impetus to reaching out to the adult population and providing adequate learning and training opportunities.

Need for long-term strategies that consider wider benefits of learning

One of the targets of the “Qualifica” Programme is to involve 25 percent of adults in lifelong learning activities. APCEP emphasises the benefits of lifelong learning beyond learning for the labour market, such as active citizenship and well-being.

Furthermore, adult education measures should also include the promotion of basic skills, literacy and numeracy and digital literacy, with a particular focus on non-formal methodologies.

APCEP stresses the need for an agreement among policy-makers to establish long-term strategies in adult education. To this end, APCEP strongly advocates the implementation of an “Advisory Board for Adult Education”, a working group that could be pivotal to achieve a broad consensus for adult education and lifelong learning. Any long-term strategy must have a holistic view of the person that is attentive to their strengths, aspirations and challenges.

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