New Opportunities aims at significantly enhancing the relatively low qualification levels of the Portuguese population, which generally involves older generations but also younger people. Thus, the guiding objective for New Opportunities is to bring the general schooling up to the upper secondary education level. The project has two main pillars: 1) Addressing the low levels of schooling (and high drop-out) among young people; 2) Raise the basic qualification levels of the adult population. This requires: Âa) Structuring the supply of vocational education and training courses to cover a growing number of people in qualifying paths; Âb) Recognizing (lifelong acquired) competences; Âc) Stimulating demand, mobilising the Portuguese population to the challenge of lifelong learning.
Only 20% of the adult population (25-64) completed upper secondary education, whilst the OECD average is 70%. Furthermore, of the 5 million active workers, 50% did not complete compulsory education (9 years of schooling). Also, the average schooling years of the adult Portuguese population is 8.2, the lowest in the EU.
The consequence for (e.g.) ICT, according to Information Society statistics 2004-2007 (see â€œThe Information Society in Portugal 2007â€; Portuguese National Statistical Institute and UMIC/Knowledge Society Agency (Dec/2007): http://www.osic.umic.pt/governo/relatorio_ficha.aspx?id=69), is that Portugal lags significantly behind other EU countries in the use of the internet: whilst 40% of the overall population (16-74 years old) uses the internet regularly â€“ which is significantly lower than the EU25 average, 59% -- the breakdown by education level is revealing:
Â- individuals with low education level: 24% (19% in 2006)
Â- individuals with medium education level: 81% (80% in 2006)
Â- individuals with higher education level: 90% (87% in 2006)
This means that among the more educated segments of the population, Portugal ranks a respectable 5th in EU25. What pulls the global numbers down is really the average low schooling level of the overall population and the associated digital illiteracy.
The basis for the Initiative is clear: the upper secondary education level is the reference objective for the qualification of young people and adults.
By 2010, the goals are to involve over 650.000 young people in courses of double certification at the upper secondary education level and to integrate in occupational paths those at risk of leaving school without qualification, as well as to involve 350.000 adults in vocational education and training courses and to guarantee that more than 650.000 adults have obtained a competences certificate.
Of particular importance is the synergy between the New Opportunities Initiative and the e.School Programme.
Young people (15-18) having a qualification level lower than the upper secondary education and/or dropping out of the education system before completing 12 years of schooling. People over 18, whether employed or not, who have not completed 9 or 12 years of schooling.
Central management is jointly entrusted to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity, coordinated by the "National Qualifications Agency".
The role of the Regional Departments of both Ministries of Education and Labour is very important in terms of local bodiesâ€™ participation and attendance.
There is a significant cooperation with other public training institutions, namely the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (In Portuguese: Instituto do Emprego e FormaÃ§Ã£o Profissional), the Tourism of Portugal (In Portuguese: Turismo de Portugal), the National Institute of Civil Aviation (In Portuguese: Instituto Nacional de AviaÃ§Ã£o Civil), etc.
The Initiative has a decentralised approach, implemented by a network of public and private teaching and training providers.
A panel of national and international experts has been appointed to perform external monitoring and validation of the the Initiative.
The National Qualifications System (Decree Law No. 396/2007, dated 31 December) aims at integrating all qualifications systems and sectors, as well to improve qualifications access, progression and quality to the labour market and the civil society, adopting the European Qualifications Framework principles to describe the national qualifications in terms of learning outcomes and to follow the descriptors connected to each qualification level.
At non higher education level, the national strategy is to revise the national qualifications systems and sectors in order to integrate them all in the National Qualifications Catalogue, as a device to qualifications management for both enterprisesâ€™ competitiveness and updating personal and social development. Currently, the Catalogue includes about 240 non higher education level qualifications, covering 41 vocational education and training areas and defining for each one of them the occupational profile and the modular training and validation standards.
Concerning the young peopleâ€™s pillar of the Initiative: Changing education and training paths at the upper secondary level has already allowed reversing studentsâ€™ losses, reducing failures and preventing early drop-outs. The young people enrolled in double certification courses (2007-08) at the upper secondary education level is 40% of the total at this level, an amount near the 50% of the OECD countries and the Initiative goal by 2010. There are 120.764 young people enrolled in double certification courses at upper secondary level in 2007-2008 (116.008 in 2006-07).
Concerning the adultsâ€™ pillar of the Initiative: Widening and strengthening the New Opportunities Centres network and the Adult Education and Training Courses and implementing a decentralized management have contributed to improve the response ability of the education and training system structures.
The process for recognising, validating and certifying competences and the adult education and training courses is grounded on the Key Competences Reference Framework for Adult Education and Training to obtain a formal certificate of 4, 6, 9 and 12 years of schooling and on the specific Occupational Standards to get a level I, II and III of professional qualification.
Created, presented and published in October 2007, the Quality Charter of the New Opportunities Centres aims at to improve quality assurance in the validation of non-formal and informal learning processes and the activities carried out by the network.
Having started with 6 centres in December 2000, the network has been progressively launched up to 2006 (98 centres) and boomed in 2007 (269 centres) and 2008 (457 centres).
In 2006 and 2007, the New Opportunities Initiative covered 352.563 adults, 150.542 of whom demanding an upper secondary level qualification.
Lesson 1 - The integrated public policies in the field of education and training are very important and reveals as a key instrument of the New Opportunities Initiative.
Lesson 2 - The currently national network of New Opportunities Centres held by diversified institutions (public schools, training centres, municipalities, companies, local development associations, etc.) is a crucial device for promoting the Initiative goals.
Lesson 3 - The National Qualifications Catalogue is an innovative tool for training and recognition systems that puts all stakeholders working with the same referential.