The Portuguese K-12 Education System

In Portugal, the Ministry of Education (In Portuguese: Ministerio da Educacao) administers the state schools. The K-12 Education system of Portugal comprises of:
  • Pre-primary (jardin-de-infancia)
  • Basic education (ensino basico)
  • Secondary education (ensino secundario)

Understanding the Portuguese K-12 Education System

Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary education in Portugal is optional and is provided by nursery schools and kindergarten. The kindergartens are managed by state organizations, unions, charitable organization, and privately-run. This level focuses on the development of the child and encourages social integration. 
  • Ages: 3-5 

Basic Education (Ensino Basico)

Basic education in Portugal is compulsory and free for all. Basic education provides basic knowledge, skills and values, thereby helping them to pursue further education. This educational level inculcates a sense of civic responsibility in the students. This educational level lasts for 9 years.
  • Ages: 6-15 
  • Grades: 1-9
Certificate awarded: After the successful completion of the basic education, students are awarded a “certificate of basic education”. 

The basic education is split up into 3 cycles: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3. The first cycle (EB-1) is offered by primary schools, while the second and third cycles (EB-2 and EB-3) are offered by secondary schools. These 3 cycles are jointly known as Basic Education.

First Cycle (EB-1): This cycle is of 4 years in duration and a single teacher is responsible for teaching the students. It focuses on the integrated development of reading, writing and spoken language. The first cycle also develops the fundamental skills and knowledge in artistic expression, arithmetic, physical studies, sports, music and dance. Foreign language is introduced. 
  • Ages: 6-10
  • Grade: 1 to 4
Second cycle (EB-2): This cycle is of 2 years in duration. This cycle emphasizes on enhancing the first cycle areas and additionally offers technological, economical, scientific and sociological studies. Civic and moral education is also taught. This cycle develops the critical and creative thinking skills. 
  • Ages: 10- 12
  • Grades: 5-6
Third cycle (EB-3): This cycle is of 3 years in duration. This cycle emphasize on prepares students for further education or for workforce. In this cycle, one teacher is responsible for teaching the given subjects area. This cycle marks the end of basic educational level. Subjects offered are: literature, physical education, arts, science and technology, and humanities.
  • Ages: 12-15
  • Grades: 7-9
Admission Procedure: Students can apply directly to the school they wish to attend. Following documents must be submitted: 
  • Registration papers: These can be taken from the respective school
  • Health certificate
  • Identity proof and 3 passport photos
  • A leaving certificate: This certificate indicates the last educational level passed by the student
Basic Education Level Assessment:
Students are evaluated at the conclusion of each school year. Students have to sit for a National exam at the end of each cycle. Students who pass the exam can move onto the next level. Students who do not pass the exam have to repeat that particular year.  

A certificate of basic education (diploma do ensino basico) is awarded to students who successful pass the third cycle of basic education.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Portugal is compulsory. This educational level prepares students for higher education, or technological courses, or to enter the job market. This level prepares the pupil intellectually, socially, and emotionally to play their part in society. 
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Ages: 15-18
  • Grades: 10-12
The secondary education in Portugal is divided into two forms:

General courses: This form of secondary education is for students who wish to go for higher education. 

Professional courses-Technical or vocational: This form of secondary education is for students who want to enter the job market after taking the vocational training.

General Secondary Courses

The General courses encompasses science and technology, socio-economic sciences, social and human sciences, and visual arts. 
Sciences and Technologies
  • Main subject: The main subjects is Mathematics A and is applicable for grades 10-12
  • Specific Subjects: Covers physics, biology, descriptive geometry, geology, and chemistry. Students must select any 2. These subjects are for grades 10 and 11. 
  • Optional Subjects: Covers chemistry, geography, psychology, biology and chemistry.  Students must select any two. The optional subjects are available at Grade 12 only.
Socio-Economic Sciences
  • Main subject: The main subjects is Mathematics A and is applicable for grades 10-12
  • Specific Subjects: Covers history B, economy and geography. These specific subjects are for grades 10 and 11. Students must select any 2 out of these three.
  • Optional Subjects: Covers law, economy, psychology, geography and sociology.  Students must select any 2. The optional subjects are for Grade 12 only.
Social and Human Sciences
  • Main subject: History A; this is for grades 10-12
  • Specific Subjects: Covers Portuguese literature, geography, German, Latin, math applied to social science, and foreign language II. Students must select any 2. These subjects are for grades 10 and 11.  
  • Optional Subjects: Covers philosophy, law, economics, Latin, psychology, Latin, sociology.  Students must select any 2. The optional subjects are for Grade 12 only.
Visual Arts
  • Main subject: The main subject for all secondary level grades, i.e. 10-12 is Drawing A
  • Specific Subjects: Covers art and culture history, descriptive geometry and mathematics B. Students must select any 2. These subjects are for grades 10 and 11.  
  • Optional Subjects: Covers philosophy, art atelier, psychology, materials and technology, and multimedia. Students must select any 2. The optional subjects are for Grade 12 only.

Professional Education Courses

The professional courses comprises of electronics, sports, marketing, social animation, environment, architect technician, computing, equipment design, administration, multimedia, civil construction; and specialized artistic courses, such as music, visual and audiovisual arts, dance, drama and cinema.

Admission requirement: Students who wish to take admission into the vocational schools (escolas profissionais) should have completed basic education or its equivalent.

Evaluation: At the secondary education level, internal as well as external evaluation is done. Internal evaluation is done by a written test in each subject at the conclusion of grades 10 and 11. The written test is general in nature. External evaluation is done through the final written examinations  at the end of grade 12.

Certificate awarded: After completion of the secondary education, a diploma of secondary education is awarded (diploma de ensino secundario) that indicates the courses undertaken and the final scores attained. 
Students who finish a technical study programme get a vocational training certificate level III  or Professional qualification diploma level III (In Portuguese: diploma de qualificacao profissional de nivel III).

Other Secondary Education Courses

Vocational Courses

Vocational courses covers socio-cultural and scientific studies, practical, technical and artistic education. Pupils who successfully finish e a vocational course are awarded a level III vocational qualification. 

Courses offered: Artistic work, administration, civil construction, catering and tourism, services and commerce, communication, agro-food, information technology, cultural heritage, environment and natural resources, personal and social services, performance arts, textiles, graphic arts, machine tools, civil construction, design and technical drawing, clothes and footwear, electricity and electronics.

Adult Education Courses

The curricula of adult education include general, technical, and scientific education. These courses are for individuals aged 15 or above for basic education programmes; and 18 or above for secondary education programmes.
Pupils can select between the following options:
  •  Secondary education certificate and level III vocation qualification, general education along with 2 subjects from the scientific education and technical education elements
  • Secondary education certificate along with the general education element and at least 4 subjects from the scientific education element
Technical courses provided in the adult education are as follows: information technology, electrical engineering, civil construction, accounting, media design, mechanical construction design, community arts, accounting, media, secretarial services, arts and crafts. 

Arts Courses

The arts courses are offered in the basic education level- 1st, 2nd and 3rd cycles; and in secondary as well as higher education. Special arts courses include visual arts, dance, drama and music. 

Special Needs Education

Special needs education is offered at the all the K-12 education levels. The Ministry of Education has formed a department of special education for basic and secondary education levels. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services in Portugal (Direccao-Geral da Seguranca Social, da Familia e da Crianca) provide support to families with children who are having special needs. Support in the form of education, funds, accommodation, etc. is provided. 

In Portugal, there are several special schools. The Instituto Antonio Coelho and the Instituto Condessa de Rilvas are responsible for intellectually disabled children. The Centro Infantil Helen Keller is for visually impaired. The Instituto de Assistencia aos Menores is for visually and hearing impaired children. 

 School Year

The school year in Portugal starts in mid-September and goes on until June. The school dates vary from school to school, but there are about 180 school days in each year. During the school year are the holidays-summer, spring and Christmas holidays.
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