Character Education in Portugal

By Lopes, Joao; Oliveira, Celia et al. | Childhood Education, September-October 2013 | Go to article overview

Character Education in Portugal

Lopes, Joao, Oliveira, Celia, Reed, Lauren, Gable, Robert A., Childhood Education

Around the world, children who can exercise their right to attend school spend a significant part of their lives within the education environment. Therefore, schools have a great deal of influence on children's development beyond the academic realm. Given this accessibility to children, schools have opportunities to help children develop positive character traits. Each community must determine what role schools will play in providing character education and what content would be delivered through character education programs. This article explores these issues associated with character education within Portugal, including who should be responsible for providing character education and how it can best be transmitted.



In countries around the world, public education is undergoing dramatic and fundamental changes. With inclusive education and social justice issues driving education reforms across the world, character education has assumed a crucial role in child development. Educators are now expected to recognize the importance of adjusting their resources and practices to adequately address needs related to character education that may differ with students' age, cultural context, behavior patterns, and other aspects. Additionally, the significance of bringing in systemic changes to understand and define the nature of character education as relevant to a particular context needs to be recognized. "This article highlights issues concerning character education in Portugal.


Character education is a systems-change approach to addressing student affect, cognition, and behavior. However, character education is not easily defined (Davidson, Lickona, & Khmelkov, 2008). As a general term, "character education" is used to describe numerous aspects of the teaching and learning process relating to individual student development (Otten, 2000). Student dispositions usually relate to ethical and moral reasoning, social/ emotional learning, conflict resolution/peer mediation, and overall character development. Basic social norms and values are identified, taught, and reinforced throughout the school (Otten, 2000). Davidson et al. (2008) further assert that character education reflects both performance and moral character and that a person of character seeks to achieve their full potential. According to some authorities (Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, & Smith, 2003; Richardson, Tolson, Huang, & Lee, 2009), a positive correlation can be found between character education, discipline-related problems, interpersonal skills, and academic achievement. Also, evidence suggests that schools with character education programs have better school attendance and higher scores on standardized tests (Otten, 2000). Even so, character education is a "universal" intervention; some students will need more targeted, intensive interventions to be successful (Social and Character Development Research Consortium, 2010).


Some important idiosyncrasies influence character education in Portugal, most of which relate to specific social and political developments. Some authors (e.g., Marques, 2008; Valente & Fonseca, 2007) claim that a "new character education" is needed in Portugal, one based on the Aristotelian ethic of "becoming just by doing just acts." Others identify with the paradigm of the new character education movements that restore "good character" as the central desirable outcome of schools' moral enterprise (Ryan & Bohlin, 2001). They contend that the prevailing "civic education" perspectives in Portuguese schools are not working. These perspectives are largely based on Kohlberg's socio-cognitive model of moral development (Kohlberg, 1984), which theorizes about behavior motivated by anticipation of pleasure and pain, satisfaction of one's needs and desires, and group or community standards, and on Raths, Harmin, and Simon's (1966) "values clarification," which upholds that children faced with conflicting values can wrest themselves away from value confusion through self-reflection, with proper assistance and guidance from an adult. …

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