In Portugal, most primary schools begin handwriting instruction with print-style uppercase letters. They then switch to a vertical cursive style, which has visible influences from French models.
The Ministerio de Educação e Ciência, or the Ministry of Education and Science, is responsible for basic, upper secondary and higher education in Portugal. Education for children aged 6–18 years old is compulsory. Before that, educação pré-escolar, or pre-school education, is available for children up to age six, but is not mandatory. Basic education is free, lasts for nine years, and is divided into three cycles: 1° Cycle (4 years), 2° Cycle (2 years) and 3° Cycle (3 years), also called lower secondary.
Education in Portugal is influenced by constructivism, which posits that students don’t learn passively, but rather construct knowledge, and this is affected by their own experiences and past learning. As a result, the focus is on learning to write, and not on specific handwriting models. Consequently, research on these matters is also scarce.
The Programas e metas curriculares de português do ensino básico, or Curriculum programs and goals for basic Portuguese education, published by the government in 2015, specifies that at the end of the first year (6 years old), children should be able to transcribe a short text presented in printed letters in legible cursive handwriting. Likewise, in the second year (7–8 years old), the ability to transcribe short texts in cursive is mentioned; and at the end of the third year (8–9 years old), the child must “write correctly” and “present legible handwriting.”
Even though writing may be introduced in preschool, systematic teaching of handwriting only happens in 1° Cycle. Since schools have pedagogic autonomy in Portugal, there are differences in how handwriting is taught. Though it should be noted that they must meet the curriculum goals set out by the government and are subject to periodic external evaluations. Schools usually begin with letra impressa, or print script letters, starting with capital letters for students aged 5–6 years old, before moving to a fully joined, vertical cursive writing, known as escrita vertical. There are also some traditional schools that start handwriting teaching with letra de mão/manuscrita, or cursive letters from the beginning.
The popularity of escrita vertical
The teaching of handwriting in Portugal, like in several South American countries, has been influenced by ideas of “hygiene” in handwriting. Concepts of “hygiene” originated mainly in northern Europe, from movements to improve urban sanitation that expanded their ambit to other aspects of life, including education. At the turn of the 20th century, this influence resulted in the replacement of commercial roundhand script from England with vertical cursive writing, which remains the predominant style even today.
In 2009, designer Paulo Heitlinger produced one of the few contemporary studies on the history and use of handwriting models in Portugal. In his Caderno de Tipografia e Design Nr. 14, he points out that Portuguese cursive writing has been called escrita direita, a name that references its absence of slant; and even today, it is influenced by French cursive models. The most popular educational publications, such as those from Porto Editora and Editora Educação Nacional, present traditional vertical cursive models, similar to those used in France. The lowercase letters have round base shapes, and the uppercase letters are narrow and ornamented.
Heitlinger also released Escolar Portugal, an alternative representation of the vertical cursive style, in 2009. His design revised the proportions and foundational forms of the letters, apart from offering simplifications and standardizations in shapes. At the time of writing, Escolar Portugal had not been embraced in the educational field.