Dual Education? Yes, but…, by Sofia Oliveira

Over the last month, the intentions of the Portuguese Government in adopting a dual educational system have been highly publicized. After a three-days visit to learn from the German experience, in last April, the Government comes to express its commitment towards boosting vocational training and dual learning, under the “Strategy for Growth, Employment and Industry’s Development, 2013-2020”.

The dual education, which in Germany is available for students older than 16, consists in a system that combines the theoretical knowledge in classroom with the technical knowledge acquired on the job, in a “learning-by-doing” approach. As a result, it requires a strong involvement of firms in the process of taking in interns for a few days a week and teaching them an occupation.

Dual education is not a new thing in Portugal. It has been promoted by the Portuguese-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and by the Schools of Hospitality and Tourism, which courses certify equivalence at the secondary level. But it is perhaps a new trend in Europe. Its popularity has risen among several European countries as it is seen as a cause for Germany’s success in matter of employment, as well as that of Austria and Switzerland.

With these good examples in mind, the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science wants to widen dual education in the public system and to coordinate it with the vocational education largely offered already in our schools, starting from the 6th grade. The goal is to increase the number of students in both tracks, from 140 000 in 2012 to 200 000 in 2020, while the strategy aims at fighting school dropouts and youth unemployment and is mainly targeted at students who failed some years and face a higher risk of leaving school.

The advantages of such system are clear: it supports the human capital investment of those more likely to abandon the system, and it gives them the necessary tools and qualifications for a smooth transition between school and the labor market as it provides a close relationship between the youth and the industry. In fact, students are paid for the job performed and face a high chance of future employment in the company that trained them, hence stimulating students’ contribution to the process. In the short-run, it may well increase the qualifications of our labor force, and work as a recipe for the 40% rate of youth unemployment.

However, this system may offer a few concerns as well. In particular, the selection of low ability students may lead to the provision of a less demanding cognitive content, compared to the regular track. Besides adding a very rapid technological development and the consequent changes in labor demand, this system may actually produce a less flexible labor force, jeopardizing future employment opportunities. As Hanushek puts it, “This evolution means that the skills that a worker initially brings to the job may become obsolete as the job changes. (…) a country viewed vocational education as mostly a nonacademic track with limited emphasis on academic skills, it might find itself at a serious disadvantage in terms of long-run growth”.

Following this reasoning, it is important to have a strong theoretical curriculum in dual education. Moreover, a serious commitment to long-life learning in Portugal, in order to update and adapt workers’ skills, would serve as a long-run complement particularly to this type of education.

Hopefully, we will get to hear more on this issue in the upcoming months, both from the schools and teachers’ side as well as firms’. The latter is particularly important in the present conjuncture of labor demand contraction, which may pose an additional challenge to dual education.

References:

–  http://diariodigital.sapo.pt/news.asp?id_news=629246

–  http://www.fenprof.pt/?aba=27&mid=115&cat=65&doc=7190

– Governo de Portugal (2013), “Estratégia para o Crescimento, Emprego e Fomento Industrial, 2013-2020”

–  Hanushek, E.A. (2012), “Dual Education: Europe’s Secret Recipe?”, CESifo Forum, Volume 13, no. 3, 29-32.

About the author: Sofia Oliveira is graduated in Economics by NOVASBE and is currently pursuing her Master studies in Economics at the same university. Her fields of interest are mainly Public Economics and policy analysis in the labor market and education areas.

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