Transition to Democracy and Citizenship Education in Portugal: Changes and Continuities in the Curricula and in Adolescents’ Opportunities for Participation

  • Cristina N. Azevedo
  • Isabel Menezes


The intense historical transformations in Portugal during the last 30 years have had a profound impact on the educational system and on its role in citizenship education. During this period, Portugal experienced dictatorship, the last socialist revolution in Europe (1974), the end of colonial empire and of colonial wars, the stabilization of a democratic regime and the entrance in the European Economic Community later to be trans-formed into the European Union. Such deep social and political transformation had strong implications in education and its mission in promoting democratic citizenship has been intensively discussed, with fears of ideological inculcation and a tension between conservative vs. emancipatory goals underpinning the curricular decisions in the field. This paper considers these transformations and articulates them with the perspective of adolescents in basic and secondary education regarding citizenship, politics and civic engagement and the actual opportunities for participation they feel they have in the family, the school, and the community. The bases for this discussion are two studies with Portuguese adolescents: the IEA Civic Education Study that involves three national representative samples of students from grade 8, 9 and 11; and a longitudinal study (2005-07) with adolescents from grades 9, 10 and 11. Results from both studies show a tendency for a dissatisfaction/distrust that young people have in relation to key-institutions of democracy (government, political parties) but, at the same time, the valuing of active citizenship and the emergence of new forms of participation. That oxymoron appears as a challenge to both researchers and teachers that might take advantage in being more aware of the quality of youngsters’ participation experiences in their various life contexts.