PORTUGAL: New Vocational Program Gives Struggling Students Second Chance
(MissionNewswire) Portugal has seen record poverty and unemployment rates in recent years. The World Bank estimates that close to 18 percent of the Portuguese population, roughly 1.8 million people, are living below the poverty line. Nearly 400,000 of Portugal’s total population of 10.5 million benefit from the support of the country’s food banks each month. In 2010, the European Commission noted that Portugal has the largest income inequality among European countries, with the top 10 percent of wealthy individuals holding 27 percent of the total income.
Salesians in the country focus their efforts on education and vocational skills training for poor youth. Recently, Salesians missionaries in Vila Nova de Poiares, a municipality in the Coimbra district in north central Portugal, have launched a new professional training course aimed at young people who have struggled in school and have failed two or more courses.
The missionaries in Poiares have been providing vocational skills training for the last nine years. The new professional training program serves students in grades 9 through 12 and beyond. Depending upon their experience, students begin with basic or more advanced education courses, culminating in an apprenticeship and on-the-job training. The smaller class sizes and individual assistance offered in the new program are appealing to those who struggle in larger, more traditional classes.
“Education and skills training is necessary for poor youth to help them break the cycle of poverty,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Salesians helps students achieve success in basic education courses in order to be more prepared for Salesian vocational and technical training, which helps youth access long-term stable employment.”
In the Poiares region, work in wine production, catering and the tourism industry is readily available. The new program takes advantage of existing Salesian resources – a three-hectare vineyard, a restaurant, workshops for electricians and a multimedia studio – by focusing coursework on viticulture, catering, electricity, hotel management and media.
The goal is to provide vocational skills training in professions were work is accessible and available. The ability to offer real work experience contributes to the overall success of the Salesian program and educational experience, particularly when students find themselves at an advantage connecting with employment immediately after graduation. Many students are offered jobs at the companies where they completed their apprenticeships while others choose to go on to obtain advanced degrees.
“The new vocational program meets a local need and provides advancement for poor youth in the region – a win-win for both employers and job seekers,” adds Fr. Hyde. “Through coursework and additional social development programs, students leave the vocational school with the professional skills and aptitude necessary to excel in the workforce.”
European Commission – Research findings – Social Situation Monitor – Income inequality in EU countries
Portuguese American Journal – Crisis: The pain and shame of poverty – Portugal
World Bank – Portugal