The future of Citizenship and Human Rights Education in Europe 

In early April, stakeholders, experts and practitioners representing civil society, youth organizations, networks and public institutions gathered in Turin. Together they discussed the state of Citizenship and Human Rights Education (EDC/HRE) in Europe today, and made important progress on deciding how it should look in the years to come.

As an expert in the field, EWC was invited to participate, with the Executive Director sharing the center´s priorities at the plenary addressing the future of EDC/HRE during the final day of the Forum. “In the years to come, EWC will intensify our efforts to strengthen young people’s trust in democracy and human rights. One of our priorities is to support schools, civil society and local communities to build inclusive learning environments where children and young people experience democracy and human rights in practice”, said Mrs. Ana Perona-Fjelstad to the audience.

The forum was organised to bring together and review experiences and expectation of stakeholders in EDC/HRE in youth work, non-formal and formal learning. It was co-organised by the Council of Europe, and the Department for Youth Policy and the Universal Civic Service of the Italian government, in cooperation with Amnesty International, the City of Turin, the National Youth Council of Italy and the European Youth Forum.

An important part of the Forum agenda was to discuss the third review of the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education completed this year. To learn more about the findings and work, we sat down with Elizaveta Bagrintseva, one of two researchers completing the review, to ask her some questions.

Elizaveta Bagrintseva presenting the findings of the third review of the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education at the Forum in Turin.

1. What are the main findings of the third review of the implementation of the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education? What would you say are the top (3-5) challenges for member states to implement it in policies, legislation and practice?

In the last five years, there certainly have been important positive developments in the Charter implementation. For example, the notion of civic and democratic competences has been introduced or further developed in the curricula all over Europe. According to our respondents, teachers are equipped to work with the development of democratic competences of young people to a fair extent. We don’t have data that could confirm the role of RFCDC in these changes, but they certainly demonstrate the relevance of RFCDC for national educational systems. Of course, amazing EDC/HRE projects were conducted in the last years with the involvement of both formal and non-formal education actors.

However, there are various challenges that were already identified in the previous review cycles that were not significantly addressed.

· Universal provision of EDC/HRE remains one of the most important challenges. The recommendation to assure EDC/HRE implementation in vocational education and training (VET), as well as in pre-school education was not put into practice. We also lack suitable materials to provide EDC/HRE training to VET and pre-school education professionals. Policymakers and parents remain the target groups the least involved in EDC/HRE training. Without them, the implementation of the whole school approach is impossible.

· A lot of EDC/HRE norms exist only in writing. Often, policies do not foresee any implementation mechanisms, such as cooperation with the non-formal sector, funding, or evaluation. Vulnerable groups suffer the most from policy implementation gaps. If their particular needs were not taken into account, they will find themselves excluded from EDC/HRE activities.

· EDC/HRE needs to be relevant for young people and take their realities into account. By now, the educators are hardly equipped to work with the issues that young people are particularly interested in, such as digital citizenship and media literacy. Quality citizenship education does not exist anymore without the digital component. Capacity building for the provision of EDC/HRE in online and blended learning environments should be a part of the teacher training.

2. What are the main recommendations for the next five years?

The recommendations are yet to be formulated. Important input was made by the participants of the Forum on Citizenship and Human Rights Education in Turin that took place in April. The Forum was organized in a way that various actors in formal, non-formal and informal education could give their feedback on the findings of the review and offer the ways forward.

I had a chance to talk to some participants of the Forum about their vision of EDC/HRE for the future and they mentioned several solutions that most possibly will be reflected in the last version of the recommendations. Some of them emphasized the value of RFCDC as a bridge between formal and non-formal education. We should use its potential for strengthening the capacity of education actors to find partners and sustain networks for the success of their EDC/HRE activities.

Strengthening the capacity of education professionals on all levels of education will remain an important recommendation, just like five years ago. However, the issue of ownership came up as crucial during this review cycle. The capacity building should support educators in implementing the Charter and relevant materials in a way that is of relevance to their local communities. Then their own experiences can feed into the new materials and frameworks offered by the Council of Europe.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) were mentioned by many actors as a significant challenge. Without systematic data collection, analysis and communication, EDC/HRE will remain invisible both to the donors and the wider public. The quality of EDC/HRE initiatives also suffers if there is no regular feedback from the target group or understanding of the impact of the conducted projects. We do not only need theoretical frameworks for M&E, but also the capacity building for NGOs and policymakers in this area. Just like the creation of partnerships, M&E should become integral to any basic EDC/HRE training.

The horrific war in Ukraine […] evokes a feeling of helplessness among many educators who work in the area of EDC/HRE. They ask themselves if their work was in vain. But EDC/HRE is as important as ever.

Elizaveta Bagrintseva, researcher on the review of the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights education, and EWC project officer

3. Based on the feedback from practitioners across CoE members states, what can you say about the state of EDC/HRE today?

Despite certain progress, there are still lingering challenges that have been identified during previous reviews. In the last five years, the Charter implementation has been complicated by the pandemic that is not yet over. Many actors speak of shrinking spaces for civil society in many European states. The horrific war in Ukraine that has already taken thousands of lives and forced millions of people to leave their homes shocked the whole of Europe. This evokes a feeling of helplessness among many educators who work in the area of EDC/HRE. They ask themselves if their work was in vain. But EDC/HRE is as important as ever. The data gathered in terms of the review showed the potential that the respondents see in EDC/HRE to address the crises. Assuring the quality of education in new formats, new conditions and for new target groups is only possible with the use of EDC/HRE.

4. What would you say is most important for the effective implementation of EDC/HRE in the coming five years?

The most important, I believe, is not only to formulate recommendations but to have a concrete strategy for their implementation. In the next five years, we need to assure the exchange of lessons learnt among all actors from the local to regional level and their ownership of the Charter

implementation. This can be done by including all major stakeholders in the discussion of such a strategy and by offering them to define their own role in its realization.

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Follow this link to read the draft of the final message from the Forum participants.