Education for democracy - education for the future

Josef Huber, Head of the Pestalozzi Programme, Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation, Council of Europe, Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, Pedagogical consultant for the Pestalozzi Programme, Council of Europe

A brief »tour d’horizon« looking at today’s world around us – environmental, economic, political, humanitarian crises and wars to name just the most visible - shows us very clearly that we need to focus on the maintenance and further development of our democratic societies. More than in the past decades, our concerns regarding the future of our democracies occupy centre stage. The situation is furthermore compounded by a crisis of vision and values. People ask themselves whether what we have done over the past 50 or more years has really made our lives and the lives of humanity globally and substantially better, whether we are moving in the right direction. Questions such as; Are we doing the right things? pop up across the board in different types of contexts and overtake the question that we used to ask; Are we doing things right? Are we doing things efficiently? Important though it is, the latter pair of questions is not of great help without an answer to the first question.

Are we doing the right things? Where is society to evolve? What is the vision we are aiming at? At the Council of Europe that gathers 47 European states around the central issues of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the vision points towards democratic societies, that are sustainable environmentally, economically and societally. Such societies require democratically minded people, critical, empowered to participate, self-confident, happy, creative, ready to cooperate, knowledgeable, with a developed sense of responsibility and a highly developed capacity for value judgement and a behaviour that is firmly anchored in the values of human rights and equity.

Furthermore, democracy is not established and guaranteed once and forever, it needs to grow with each generation, with each passing decade. Such nurturing calls for a particular education.

Education is key. Beyond an education that develops pointed, and often technical, competences in what can be termed subject-specific competences (mathematics, sciences, languages, literature, etc), we are imagining an education that promotes and develops learning for democratic action, inclusion, justice, participation, mutual understanding, critical thinking and personal development.

Many have realised this. In 2010 the European Ministers of Education of the 47 Council of Europe Member States at their 23rd Standing Conference in Ljubljana underlined the importance of education professionals as actors of social change. Then in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, at their 25th Standing Conference in Brussels in spring 2016, they adopted a framework for the development of competences for a democratic culture in education. UNESCO published a teachers’ guide to the prevention of violent extremism in summer 2016, and in early 2016 the EU voted for a resolution on promoting socio-economic development and inclusiveness in the EU through education. These are just some of the many calls for increased action in education to ensure that we will be able to meet the challenges we are already facing and those we will face in the near future.

Now we need to put such policies into practice, and urgently. We need to move to action, for vision alone will not change the world and what we do in it. To be successful, the action needs to be imbued with the values that the vision carries and therefore model the values and principles of democracy, participation, cooperation, tolerance, inclusion and diversity.

How? Do we need more courses on democracy and human rights? Courses on diversity and tolerance? Courses on intercultural understanding? Courses on democratic participation? Yes and no. Yes, these are all the major thematic fields in which humans need to develop their capacity to understand but also to act. It is this latter part, the action, which will not be serviced and helped much through courses which appeal to the cognitive side only.

The development of such competences requires experiential learning activities that involve action-oriented learning or learning by doing, learning activities that model real life situations, and hands-on education experiences with research-oriented activities, to experience what it means to activate an ethical principle within one’s community and personal life… Values are applied and tested; one may say they are contextualized: closely related to, and rooted in, the contextual reality of the learners.

Personal values and beliefs are to be examined, which requires that teachers and learners question their attitudes and practices. The values promoted are modeled through all the processes of the training model, thus linking values, attitudes and practical skills. The reflection remains respectful of each individual perspective, with awareness of the necessity to respect the right of individual learners to independently hold or reject values, and understand that within the search for common ground, respect for all types of diversity is a central value. At the same time values and value judgements must be open to exchange, criticism and debate.

Teachers need support to develop professionally and be able to change their day-to-day practice in their diverse classrooms in such a way that they promote and support the development and emergence of the necessary attitudes, skills and knowledge, with the capacity to continue developing these throughout their lives. A change which moves school practice from a primacy of knowledge transmission towards a primacy of an exploration of what it is to live together in diversity and cooperate for the greater good. For this teachers and other education professionals need authentic and continuous opportunities for professional development.

We would like to offer three links to material developed within the Council of Europe which are intended as a support for education professionals in their quest to strengthen education for democracy:

Competences for democratic culture Living together as equals in culturally diverse democratic societies

The initiative came from Andorra during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and since December 2013 the project has been developed by an international and interdisciplinary expert group. The mandate is to develop non-prescriptive guidelines and will in the future include descriptors for competence for democratic culture and intercultural dialogue that national authorities and education institutions can use and adapt as they see fit. The current document describes a conceptual model of values and the competences which need to be acquired by learners if they are to participate actively in a culture of democracy and live peacefully together with others in diverse democratic societies. It is intended that the model will be used to inform educational decision making and planning, helping educational systems to be ready for the preparation of learners for life as competent democratic citizens.

Education for change – Change for Education: a teacher’s manifesto

This manifesto has been prepared by representatives of the Community of Practice of the Pestalozzi Programme*) and the working group  »Teachers’ profession in the 21st century« of the Education and Culture Committee of the Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations of the Council of Europe for the jointly organised conference »The professional image and ethos of teachers« in April 2014 at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

It is intended as a message from practitioners to other practitioners and to policy makers. Despite all differences of context across European classrooms and learning spaces, the principles and the orientations contained in this manifesto can offer a shared vision of what education for democracy can and ought to mean in the 21st century.

TASKs for Democracy – a handbook

Faced with the wish and the demands to promote, in their day-to-day work, competences related to democratic citizenship, human rights, socio-cultural diversity, social media, communication, history, peace education and environmental education to name just a few, teachers feel and express the need for more practical support. This book, TASKs for democracy – 60 activities to learn and assess transversal attitudes, skills and knowledge, developed with practitioners for over six years of collaboration, within the Pestalozzi Programme Community of Practice, is a handbook for practitioners in formal and non-formal educational settings. In its current online version it proposes a collection of over 50 learning and training activities which help develop the various components of competences for democracy as well as a number of assessment activities that  help the practitioners to evaluate progress in the development of these components, in their day-to-day educational practice. In its full version it also contains a list of components of competences for democracy, a rationale for the necessity to focus on these competences in all areas of education (vertical – from the cradle to the grave i.e. lifelong learning; and horizontal – in formal, non-formal and informal educational spaces) a description of what transversal attitudes, skills and knowledge mean and why they are important to be taken on board by all education professionals as well as an introduction to cooperative learning principles and structures and how these contribute to democratic practices.

This book is not meant as a final answer but rather as work in progress. We hope that you will find it inspiring and useful.

Strasbourg, September 2016

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Hans Nytell

Hans Nytell
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e-post: hans.nytell@fba.uu.se