How Did the Portuguese Use Education and Technology For Their Voyages of Exploration?

September 11, 2023
David Sunnyside

A century before the voyages of Columbus, Portuguese seafarers had developed a powerful network of commercial and industrial technical schools, called escolas de ensino medio. They taught students the necessary skills to sail, trade and navigate. These specialized educational institutions were a key part of a larger social and cultural transformation that saw small kingdoms such as Portugal, Spain, France and England transformed into nation-states with centralized authority in the hands of monarchs who could finance overseas exploration.

Education was a privilege of the elites in Portugal until the mid-1980s when programs for democratization of education, specially in secondary and higher education started to operate. However, even today the quality of education in most Portuguese state-run colleges is below international standards and many universities have been criticized for their inability to deliver a quality product and for granting degrees without any specific academic requirements.

The quotas imposed on public education institutions to create room for students from former Portuguese colonies, who get automatically a place in those institutions, are also problematic as they exclude a portion of the Portuguese born that have lower grades, excluding them from studying in these establishments and getting their first choice courses. In addition, the enrolment in most courses is limited to certain levels of academic achievement, which also excludes some students.

Christopher Columbus, a Genoese man by birth, launched his voyage of discovery in 1492 after reading a 15th-century book by Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly that suggested a western route to the East. The ensuing territorial disputes with the Spanish led to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which established a line 370 leagues west of the Azores as the boundary between the two empires.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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