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Policy Paper on Civic Education

AEGEE-Europe Policy Paper on Civic Education

Adopted in Spring Agora Bergamo, May 2016

01 | Summary

AEGEE-Europe / European Students’ Forum strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. We consider that civic education is fundamental in order to achieve this vision, and we have chosen it as one of our main areas of work since 2014. AEGEE believes that civic education should be included in the political agenda at all levels in order to ensure that all individuals become active, democratic, responsible and critical citizens. AEGEE is a non-partisan interdisciplinary youth organization gathering 13.000 members from 40 different European countries. Despite of our diversity of cultures, backgrounds and ideologies we share the perception and demand that more and better civic education is needed.

We advocate for the following measures to improve civic education in Europe:

– More time and attention should be dedicated to civic education at all levels of education, with a particular emphasis during secondary education.
– A change in the methodology to teach civic education should take place to use more participatory and practical approaches, such as non-formal education methods.
– Increase support for mobility programmes and opportunities, such as Erasmus+ and international projects organized by youth organizations.
– Promote and support the participation in volunteering and youth organizations as places for citizenship learning.
– Improve the training of teachers so they are prepared to teach about civic education and transmit civic values.
– Increase the possibilities for the participation of students in the decision-making of the class and the organization of schools and universities.
– Provide opportunities for encountering people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…) in the school and other contexts.
– Support non-formal education courses about civic education topics in order to complement the formal education that students receive.
– Improve the preparation of those who appear in the media so they transmit civic values and attitudes.
– Improve education especially in the following topics: intercultural communication, media literacy and hate-speech online, interreligious communication, functioning of EU institutions, political knowledge, critical thinking, participation in elections and democratic decision-making, environmental sustainability, citizens’ rights and duties, and global education.
– Specific civic education should be provided to groups with special needs, mainly migrants and refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.
– There is a need for more education on non-discrimination, especially of immigrants and refugees; LGBTI people; and people from frequently discriminated ethnicities and religions.
– A bigger sense of both European and global citizenship should be promoted.
– Learn about social and humanistic sciences, such as history, from multiple perspectives, not only the own national one.
– Emphasize the importance of the arts and humanities (such as music or philosophy), whose presence in the curriculum is being reduced in some countries, for the civic and comprehensive development of people.

AEGEE calls upon the different education stakeholders, and mainly policy makers and educators, to contribute from their area of action to the implementation of the recommendations collected in this Paper.

02 | Contextualization

AEGEE understands civic education as the education which aims at learning the competences, i.e. skills, knowledge and attitudes, required to be an active, democratic, responsible and critical citizen. Its ultimate goal is to educate the population on democratic citizenship and make them aware of their rights and responsibilities. In this Policy Paper, civic education is considered as synonymous of citizenship education, term which is used in other instances. Our idea of civic education is not restricted to formal education, but includes also non-formal education and practical experiences contributing to develop civic competences.

The results of the ICCS 2009 study [1] showed big disparities of civic knowledge between countries; and that while students in lower-secondary education in most countries endorsed democratic values, they presented several deficits in civic attitudes. Meanwhile, the PIAAC study of the OECD [2] has shown that highly educated adults are more likely to participate in volunteer activities, trust others and feel that they have a say in government. However, the mere participation in education is not enough to develop civic competences to a satisfactory degree and specific civic education is needed. As the 2012 Eurydice report on Citizenship Education [3] indicates, civic education is part of national curricula in all EU countries (as well as others as Turkey), either as a subject in itself, as part of another subject and/or as a cross-curricular dimension. The level of presence in the curriculum varies a lot from country to country, though.

Since 2001 the European Union has identified active citizenship as one of the four objectives of education and lifelong learning [4]. In 2006 the European Parliament and the Council included social and civic competences as one of the 8 Key Competences of its Reference Framework of Competences [5], competences which should be developed by all the students during their school education. This support for civic education by the EU has been kept in policy documents as the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (‘ET 2020’) which indicates that “Education should promote intercultural competences, democratic values and respect for fundamental rights and the environment, as well as combat all forms of discrimination” [6].

More recently, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France and Denmark of early 2015, education ministers of the EU countries gathered and signed the Paris Declaration [7] on the 17th of March 2015, calling to reinforce the education on citizenship and the acceptance of common fundamental values to lay the foundations for more inclusive societies. One year after it, Eurydice published a new publication to evaluate the degree of implementation of the Paris declaration in EU member states [8]; with many countries reporting the development of new education policies since then. While the terrorist attacks has meant a reactivation of attention upon civic education by national and European politicians, AEGEE identified civic education as an important area of policy improvement already in 2013, so our interest and demands in this area come from an intrinsic belief that the topic of civic education needs improvements and deserves more attention.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe (CoE) has been a great supporter of education for democratic citizenship since 1997. In 2002 the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration [9] which recommends national governments to make education for democratic citizenship a critical objective of their education policies and reforms. Later on, in 2010 the CoE and its 47 member states, adopted the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education [10]. Recently, the CoE gathered representatives from education ministries from all over the continent to adopt a new document which outlines the “competences for democratic culture” [11]. These competences bring together the values, attitudes and skills as well as the knowledge and critical understanding necessary for the exercise of democratic citizenship and intercultural dialogue.

At the same time, many civil society organizations have published positions and documents to support civic education during the last years. Of particular interest here is the Policy Paper on Citizenship Education by the European Youth Forum [12], representing the views on the topic of 100 international youth organizations and national youth councils.

03 | Position of AEGEE-Europe

Civic education, as education in general, is a national competence and the situation regarding civic education varies from country to country. Therefore, the experiences with civic education are not the same among all the AEGEE members. In a similar way, their perceptions about the quality of civic education are not the same either. However, there is a general opinion among AEGEE members that there is quite a lot of room for improvement and that there is a need for more and better civic education.

AEGEE advocates for a lifelong learning approach to civic education, which covers all the stages of formal education, but that also includes non-formal education and informal learning opportunities; as recommended also by the Council of Europe [9]. AEGEE believes that more time should be dedicated to civic education in the education at all levels; although some of our members put the emphasis on improving the quality and the methods used, more than increasing the amount of time dedicated to it. We see the need for more civic education especially for students aged 12 to 18 years old (stage many times called Secondary Education). We alert about the fact that students under 18 years old in Vocational Education and Training are not receiving the same civic education as other students in the academic path. It might be difficult to find enough time to dedicate to civic education among other education priorities and topics. However, we think that civic education should be considered as a priority and that enough time should be dedicated to it. Nevertheless, we also find that there are other measures which are even more important in order to improve civic education.

AEGEE advocates for the following measures to improve civic education:

Participation in exchange programmes. The participation in international events, conferences and training courses has a big influence in opening people’s minds to other cultures and realities. The support to mobility programmes and opportunities as the ones offered by Erasmus+ or organizations like AEGEE should increase in order to allow that everybody has the opportunity to live an international experience.

Participation in volunteering and youth organizations. The EU Youth Strategy 2010-2018 [13] already indicates how volunteering and participation in civil society activities contribute to the development of civic skills. Through involvement in youth organisations, such as AEGEE, young citizens get practical experiences with democracy, decision-making, taking responsibilities and initiatives, etc.; complementing this way the more theoretical civic knowledge provided by formal education. We recommend to promote and support the participation in volunteering, a bigger cooperation between formal education institutions and youth organizations, and to integrate volunteering in education with experiences as service-learning.

Change the methods used to teach about the topics related with civic education. In order to improve the methods used to teach civic competences in formal education, we would like to have more interactive lessons and practical activities which connect with the everyday life of students, with activities as simulations and study visits to institutions and NGOs. This can be achieved through the use of non- formal education methodology, which is learner-centred and takes a participatory approach.

Improve the training of teachers so they are prepared to teach about civic education and transmit civic values. All the teachers need to be prepared to teach in multicultural classes as well as fostering the development of civic competences, since civic education should be also addressed with a cross-curricular point of view from different subjects. This preparation should focus both on content related to civic education, as well as on methodology and methods, for which teachers should get familiar with non-formal education approaches. The 2012 Eurydice report on citizenship education [3] alerted of the need for improving teachers’ skills for teaching about civic education.

Increase the participation of students in the decision-making of the organization of schools and universities. This goes together with the overall vision of AEGEE of a Europe where young people take active part in its construction. Students and young people should be given the opportunity and be empowered to take part in decision-making as relevant stakeholders, such as in students councils and co-decision boards; since this helps them to learn about participation and why it matters. Having a situation where students have little power to influence decision-making in schools and universities contradicts the idea of promoting democratic participation.

Provide opportunities for encountering people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…) in the school and other contexts. In order to learn to treat others as equals it is essential to have a direct contact with people different than themselves. This way, AEGEE favours having diverse schools, where pupils need to coexist with people from other cultures; as well as providing similar opportunities outside the school or university.

Support non-formal education courses about civic education topics. Non-formal education can complement the formal education that students receive by providing alternative methods and opportunities to develop civic competences. It should be considered here that youth organizations are the main providers of NFE for young people.

Transmission of civic values and attitudes by the media. The media are an important source of learning for many people, and we consider that those who appear there, including journalists and political leaders, should be aware of their impact and receive appropriate preparation in order to transmit civic values and attitudes. In order to ensure that students receive civic education, AEGEE thinks that it is useful to have a separate subject about it, although it should be complemented with a cross- disciplinary approach, contributing to develop civic competences from different subjects. Additionally, AEGEE considers that specific civic education should be provided to groups with special needs, mainly migrants and refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.

Among the topics connected with civic education which would need improvement, we would like to highlight the following ones:
– Intercultural communication
– Media literacy and hate-speech online
– Interreligious communication
– Functioning of EU institutions
– Political knowledge
– Critical thinking
– Participation in elections and democratic decision-making
– Environmental sustainability
– Citizens’ rights and duties
– Global education

AEGEE considers that there is a need to increase the competences about intercultural communication and interreligious communication in order to enlarge understanding of other cultures and religions, avoid prejudices and make people to be able to live and work together in a world which is increasingly mobile.

One main area for improvement is media literacy and hate-speech online, especially since internet can be a source of non-civic attitudes, violent ideologies and indoctrination. Students should learn to be good citizens both online and offline. Students should also learn how to question media coverage, consult and compare different sources of information, base knowledge in science and facts, etc. For all that it is essential to improve the critical thinking of students.

We also consider that students need more political knowledge in order to understand better political systems, how democratic institutions work and the importance of voting; what would ease the participation in elections and democratic decision-making, as indicated by the AEGEE Position Paper on Recognition of Volunteers [14]. This is especially the case with the functioning of EU institutions, which are perceived as more distant by many Europeans. AEGEE has contributed to promote political knowledge about EU and participation in European Parliament elections with projects as YVote [15].

In the current world, it is essential to increase education for environmental sustainability, developing a sense of consciousness on the impact of human action in the environment and the need to make a responsible and sustainable use of resources; as indicated by the AEGEE Position Paper on Education for Sustainable Development [16]. Global education, which is explained by the European Youth Forum as “opening people’s eyes to the problems of the world”, is also needed here. Students should develop an understanding about global affairs and how the world works and be able to critically evaluate global issues.

Finally, it is essential that citizens know their rights and duties, as it is a core aspect of civic education that people learn how to defend their rights as well as knowing what their responsibilities in different circumstances are.

AEGEE members also see the need to improve education for non-discrimination, especially of the following groups: immigrants and refugees, LGBTI people, and people from frequently discriminated ethnicities and religions.

Connected with intercultural communication and global education, a bigger sense of both European and global citizenship should be promoted. AEGEE supports learning more about social and humanistic sciences from other perspectives than the national one, like through worldwide and comparative history.

At the same time, the presence of the arts and humanities (as music or philosophy) in the educational curriculum of some countries is being reduced. AEGEE would like to highlight the importance of these areas for civic education and the civic and comprehensive development of people.

04 | Recommendations for improving civic education

AEGEE calls upon all the education stakeholders to:
– Contribute, according to their possibilities for action, to implement the recommendations which appear in this Policy Paper.
– Consider civic education as a priority and make an effort to improve its learning outcomes.
– Increase the cooperation with other education stakeholders in order to maximize the effectiveness of the measures adopted.
– Support youth organizations, mobility opportunities and non-formal education courses, as important settings for civic learning.
– Increase the resources, economic and human, dedicated to civic education and to measures which contribute to the development of civic competences.

AEGEE recommends the European Union to:
– Promote civic education through the European Commission programmes Erasmus+ and Europe for Citizens.
– Strengthen financial support for consultation and networking projects in civic education policy.
– Increase the allocation of money aimed at education, training, youth and sports in the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
– Support member states to develop better civic education policies and practices by offering platforms and resources which help them to cooperate and share best practices among them.
– Define a long-term agenda and set benchmarks and indicators to evaluate the performance of member states.
– Have working groups dedicated to civic education in the ET2020 and future frameworks.
– Realize the importance of civic education, keeping its attention and support to it in a long-term basis and not only when particular events (as terrorist attacks) demand it.
– Keep a good cooperation with the Council of Europe in the field of civic education.

AEGEE recommends the Council of Europe to:
– Continue their efforts supporting education for democratic citizenship.
– Strive to ensure a successful impact on civic education of the competences for democratic citizenship framework.
– Keep a good cooperation with the European Union in the field of civic education.

AEGEE recommends European countries to:
– Ensure the presence of civic education in the national education curricula at all levels and that enough time is dedicated to it.
– Reinforce the presence of the arts and humanities in the curriculum in case it is being reduced in that country.
– Provide specific civic education to migrants, refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.
– Improve training of teachers to prepare them to teach about civic education and transmit civic values.
– Providing structural and economic support to youth organizations as places for experiential learning of citizenship and democracy as well as providers of non- formal education in different aspects connected with civic education.
– Provide enough economic support to Erasmus+ and other mobility programmes.
– Increase the cooperation between education stakeholders, with an important emphasis in the participation of representatives of students and young people as the main receivers of civic education.

AEGEE recommends education centers and educators to:
– Improve the methods used to teach civic education issues by adopting more practical, participatory and student-centered approaches.
– Collaborate with non-formal education providers, as youth organizations, and be open to the use of non-formal education methods.
– Increase efforts to constantly enhance teachers’ competences to teach about civic education topics.
– Allow and encourage the democratic participation of students in the decision- making of the school or university.
– Promote and support the participation in volunteering, and integrate volunteering in education with experiences as service-learning.
– Opt for having diverse education centers where students can coexist with people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…).
– Transmit more knowledge about other cultures and global issues; and promote a bigger sense of both European and global citizenship.
– Adopt a diversity of perspectives (not only a national one) when teaching about social and humanistic sciences, like, for example, through worldwide and comparative history.