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European Vocational Skills Week
News announcement29 August 2019Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion1 min read

A student named Nélson


Some 20 years ago, I worked with a class, which had an alternative curriculum, in the Manoel de Oliveira Basic School in Aldoar (Porto) – next to the city Park. The class consisted only of students with recognised social, family, learning and behaviour problems. One of these students was Nélson, then a 13-year-old, well-educated young boy, a little pushy but with enormous learning difficulties in a regular school.

I remember him very well, almost always dressed in jeans and a T-Shirt, sitting on the left side of the room. Sometimes gesticulating with his arms – as if asking for more help from the teacher – to accomplish a task that had been entrusted with it.

That school brought together students from favoured social and economic backgrounds, as well as students from families with very low social, economic and cultural status. Nélson was of the latter category, but he seemed to be quite a happy young boy with many friends, and above all, very smiley and playful. For most teachers it would be another young man with no future, either dropping out of school or falling into a path of hopeless life or marginality.

Last year, I was traveling by bus through a luxury part of Avenida da Boavista and I suddenly heard this call, in a voice that I did not identify:

“Hello, teacher? Don’t you remember me? I'm Nélson, from the school in Aldoar!”

I was speechless. He was – in fact – Nélson, a young man, and with that good mood, I had known years before. He wore an elegant suit, a classic white shirt, a tie and a pair of matching black shoes. Of course, I recognised him right away. We exchanged memories and talked about present times.

"I've finished a professional cooking course and I'm working at the Sheraton Hotel”, he said to me. I heard those words with a jubilant joy.

Education changes lives. Often, we cannot see the potential that each young person has, as if they were a secret kept, a gift very well tied, for someone to learn how to unwrap it.

Joaquim Santos, FNE (EAfA member), Portugal


  • Teacher/trainer