Education in democracy and values, what is it all about?
[This article was orignially published in French, translated in English by EPALE France].
Education in Democracy has become a recurrent theme during various working days, conferences and meetings, particularly following the Paris Declaration by the Ministers of Education of the European Union, in response to the various attacks that have shaken the continent's democratic foundations. I interviewed two European associations in order to take stock of the situation: Solidar and the Lifelong Learning Platform. Lucie SUSOVA from Solidar (LS) and Brikena XHOMAQI from the Lifelong Learning Platform (BX) agreed to answer my questions.
- Do you think there are specific methods for Education in Democracy?
LS: More than specific methods, we need to create spaces that implicitly promote education in civic values. Formal education is not the only aspect to consider. It is important to recognise that volunteering, non-formal education, information or protest campaigns, debates and forums are all places for such education, considering the specific need to support groups in social or economic difficulty.
BX: The places where we learn about our society, our institutions and our democratic values are important. They are what we call “educational environments”. It is crucial to understand and integrate the fact that not all educational environments pursue the same goals. However, all educational spaces should incorporate the ultimate goal of contributing to the creation of a harmonious society. Formal education still has a long way to go, but it is certainly a unique place for learning civic values. Informal or non-formal environments are better adapted to the basic needs of learners.
LS: An essential point is the need to create broad partnerships with all the major players. It is also about creating a holistic approach to education that places the learner at the centre of the learning process.
BX: I absolutely agree. Breaking down the divides between sectors can strengthen the capital for learning civic values. We mustn't forget the family, which is the first "educational environment" where democracy can be experienced. Training for families can be useful. I also think that we live in a system with multiple levels of governance. Each of these has more or less identifiable objectives. The local level often receives less funding and is less committed to education for democracy than the national or European level. Of course, programmes and curricula are important at European and national levels. But daily practice often occurs in the most local contexts, closest to everyday life, both at the formal and non-formal/informal levels.
- What skills can be acquired in Education in Democracy and Civic Values?
LS: First of all, we must consider the values that reinforce personal involvement in society. In particular, respect for human rights, support for equal rights for minorities, gender equality. These values are prerequisites for integration into a multicultural society.
BX: Without going into detail, the Lifelong Learning Platform supports the work of UNESCO and in particular the programme of education in global civic values, the concrete translation of which is the Incheon Declaration "Education 2030". One of the central points is to make greater use in formal systems of the concept of lifelong learning and the set of transversal and social competences that can be acquired.  (See the EDUCATION 2030 documentation for resources)
LS: All competences leading people to follow political and social issues are important. Critical thinking also promotes democratic processes. Anything that helps to strengthen cultural identities within an intercultural dialogue, as well as the skills acquired to repel conflicts and to promote education in peace are indispensable for education in democracy.
BX: Much has been said and written on the subject. There is no doubt that the Finnish Presidency of the European Union beginning in July 2019 will support these issues.
- From the point of view of civil society organisations, what is the vision on the urgent needs for Education in Democracy, Civic and Solidarity values?
LS: First of all, we consider that funding and support for projects and activities to strengthen active citizenship is too low in relation to the issues at stake. Increased public and private funding would help to reduce the gaps and promote greater integration of vulnerable groups. Considering the specific work of education for migrants, the Union and the Member States must put an end to the criminalisation of solidarity and allow for in-depth, daily work with migrants, at the risk of seeing new difficulties appear in a few years.
BX: While education systems need to provide learning spaces and tools for learners to both learn AND practise democracy, teachers and educators need to be supported and strengthened to do so. The professional training of teachers and educators is essential. Funds are needed for this and to allow for the indispensable mobility of professionals.
LS: Indeed, the inadequacies in the initial and in-service professional training of teachers and educators, which we have been raising for a long time, are a serious obstacle to education for democracy. Platforms for exchange and cooperation between professionals from different education sectors should also be strengthened.
BX: Yes, we have found that organised civil society is the most important 'provider' of civic education in Europe. Horizontal and vertical (thematic and territorial) partnerships are crucial because democratic needs and tools are created and tested in these places. It must be considered that democracy is not only exercised in elections, but in all acts of life.
At the end of our discussions, I asked the two speakers if they had any other points to add. Each with her own words agreed on a common global statement.
“The fundamental values of solidarity, equality and social justice are essential milestones in the process of building inclusive learning societies. People must have the opportunity to participate, to cooperate, as free and equal individuals within common social and societal frameworks. The competences to be acquired are known and identified within the framework of the tools for inclusive non-formal and formal education. Systems must now be more open to exchange, to shared participation, to a more holistic vision, in short to lifelong learning.”
Practical information is regularly provided on the websites of these two organisations.
1] The Paris Declaration adopted on 17 March 2015 by the European Ministers of Education marked the commitment of Member States to promote common values, to strengthen critical thinking and media literacy, inclusive education and intercultural dialogue.