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‘Mind the gap - how to strengthen civic education for all throughout Europe’

31/05/2017

The 19th of May, during its 4th edition, Europe on Tracks stopped in Brussels and AEGEE organized “Mind the Gap”, a round-table event to present the project, and discuss about civic education and the several initiatives, promoted by institutions and organizations, to foster active participation of youngs.

Agapiou Natalia, administrator at European Economic and Social Committee, started the debate focusing on EESC engagement towards the complex concept of civic education, and the closeness of Europe on Track’s goals to theirs. Thanks to "Your Europe, Your Say", an event for 100 high school students organized by the European Economic and Social Committee: they take the floor, work in groups, discuss and bring their position about the future of the EU and they vote three recommendation that are sent to the European Commission. During this edition they proposed to:

1)Reduce food waste to help the impoverished and promote sustainability;

2) Combat nationalism through interactive education and an internationally agreed history curriculum;

3) Increase political interest in Europe by tapping the potential of social media and education, introducing attractive content (e.g. animations) and a Europe day for schools.

Many people want to raise their voice but only a minority have the financial and human network opportunities that consent to reach political institution through democratic instruments. AEGEE perspective is to fill the gap between people and institutions, bring the people’s voice to EU establishment. Something has to be made in order to make the citizen an active participant.

The AEGEE President Réka Salamon and the ‎Projects and Communications Director Joanna Pankowska identified the need of giving space for learning to youngs, at a grassroots level, that is critical to have more questions, and recognize the unconventionality of “Europe on Track”, that foster civic education by doing civic education without borders. The ambassadors, who compose the team of Europe on Track, disclosed issues and problems that arose during interviews and workshop with students from all over Europe. Regarding civic education, students, in some cases, have to deal with more than fifteen subjects per year, and teachers barely have time for civic education. About active participation, generational and cultural issues are specified by participants, some examples are that: 

- older generations stop youngs and make them inactive;

- there are difference in perceptions of civic needs from one culture to another;

- corruption blocks personal initiative and development;

- for Turkey, political threats undermine personal freedom;

- fake news diffusion has become an urgent matter because linked to a raising voice of masses by means of social media.

Civic education doesn't have to be a specific subject, it could be an element of other disciplines such as humanities (e.g.philosophy). It was also proposed to include a civic education component in each subject, even if students pointed out the risky possibility that those moments could be considered as free time, or moments in which to stay less attentive. The involvement of non governmental organizations in education is advisable, whereas more work to enhance trust between NGOs and schools has to be done.

Another influential speaker was Brikena Xhomaqi, Director of Lifelong Learning Platform, who focused firstly on European commission’s orientations and measures about inclusive education, social competences and the need to tackle inequalities, in order to prevent disparities and the outstanding (but recently acknowledged) problem of radicalization. Many different processes have been launched, including working groups, peer learning activities, an agora to discuss radicalization in 2015, the promotion of common eu values and inclusion, the revision of key competences system.

For the first time education is a priority fo EU, even if it isn’t a EU competence. A lot has already been written, but the problem is action and implementation by member states, who have to also face oppositions by local autonomies. EU commission has its responsibilities, but some of what has been indicated wasn't received and included. We need to advocate at different levels, get out of Brussels because more investments are necessary”.

The challenges consist in financial and infrastructural aspects, but also in opening the rigid barriers created by formal system: “it is difficult to have out of classes lessons, and usually one refers to modernisation of school and higher education, missing the link between informal and formal learning. All depends on the openness of formal system to welcome other form of education and to promote active participation”.

Finally, Maarten de Groot of AEGEE/European Students' Forum moderated a debate rich of emerging questions and possible solutions to the problems identified, particularly focused on formal education. Speakers were Ann Dejaeghere - Policy advisor for Flemish Ministry of Education, PhD’s candidates Dorien Sampermans and Joke Matthieu, Laufey María Jóhannsdóttir - Board Member of OBESSU. During the debate, a very interesting comments were done by the PhD candidates, who  described some threats to democracy such as the decline of institutional trust, the low interest in politics, the decline in electoral turnout, identifying the crisis not as a disease, but as a challenge to face. Active participation and a modern form of student/learner centered education, where teachers take on a crucial role in the process of learning by doing, are needed and provide students with participation attitudes that can be spent for the lifetime. Political participation and civic engagement depends on school climate and participative school where democratic values are emphasized.

Some effective solutions are already active but not fully promoted such as Erasmus+ and European Social Funds, that contributes to education, particularly for vulnerable people. More work is still to be done especially in reaching rural areas. The development of civic competences is still elitist, not everybody knows or is encouraged to be an active participant and our organizations have to be more inclusive: “civic education mustn’t be limited to theory, learning should be as practical as possible”.


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