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Civic Education in the Czech Republic

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Civic Education in the Czech Republic

Ondřej Horák

/ 11 Minuten zu lesen

Learn about the situation of Citizenship Education in the Czech Republic with a focus on the definition, the ecosystem of non-formal CE, the legal environment as well as on stakeholders and challenges. Also, we will review Citizenship Education in two categories: children/youth (primary education) and adults.

Czech Republic (© bpb)

1. Background Information

Citizenship Education in the Czech Republic has a long tradition, reaching back to the 19th century. The first law on Citizenship Education was adopted on 7 February 1919, three months after the creation of an independent republic. Ondřej Matějka, a historian and leading expert on Citizenship Education, believes that this period resulted in a positive legacy: a strong democratic ethos; the above-mentioned Act; a relatively long tradition of civil society and an experience with modern society (including e.g. the emergence of a dense network of public libraries).

Subsequently however, long periods of oppression during the Nazi and communist dictatorships eroded the favourable conditions. After 1948, communists demoralized and corrupted the society with promises of material wealth. Opposition was weakened and many leading figures were forced into exile. Civil society was systematically prosecuted and Citizenship Education was replaced with massive propaganda and political indoctrination. It is therefore no surprise that when communism fell in 1989, Czechs had a deep distrust of the state along with any kind of civic or political education.

It took 20 years, a deepening crisis of political legitimacy, a new generation of politicians unburdened by the past but exposed to experiences abroad (within EU and beyond), and unrelenting advocacy of the civil society, to realize that civic activism and individualized initiatives could not substitute for systematic Citizenship Education, a vital instrument in nurturing free and critically-minded citizens. In 2009, a round-table brought together NGOs, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT), universities, schools, and professionals to discuss prospects for Citizenship Education. This resulted in efforts to address Citizenship Education systematically and for the long-term, and included the founding of the Civic Education Centre, the only institution designed to pursue this goal.

The Centre was established in 2009 with initial financial support from the MŠMT as an independent department of Masaryk University in Brno. In 2014, the Centre moved to Charles University in Prague. Apart from the limited initial fund from the MŠMT, the Centre is financed exclusively by grants, with no systematic support from the government.

Today, in 2020, ten years after the Centre’s founding, we may note that despite its indisputable success and contribution to civic education (on the ground, in academia as well as in the political sphere), the Centre cannot fulfil the role of an actor with the capacity to fundamentally contribute to a systemic transformation of the civic education sector in this country. Transformation towards a more conceptual approach to this educational field is such a complex process that under current conditions it cannot be achieved without long-term political support. In the past years, such political support has been absent; in fact, in respect to the political representation, we may instead speak of tendencies that have an undermining effect on civic education.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

There is no official definition of Citizenship Education. Initial concepts defined in 2008 and 2009 emphasized core principles rather than definitions, trying to firmly establish the field as a part of liberal democracy and to defend it against accusations of indoctrination, propaganda and political manipulation. The German example proved useful, particularly the principles defined in the Beutelsbach Consensus.

While Hloušková and Pol or Rabušicová and Rabušic consider Citizenship Education as a part of lifelong learning linked with active citizenship, a clear definition of active citizenship is absent. Analyses conducted by the Civic Education Centre confirm a lack of definition and long-term strategy in the Czech Republic and Europe . The Civic Education Centre therefore uses the following working definition:

Citizenship Education empowers citizens to actively engage in public affairs and contribute to developing a democratic society in an informed and responsible way.

It is important to note that even this definition is not accepted by all actors. This has, by way of example, become apparent in the course of the last systematic attempt to adopt a Civic Education Policy (around the year 2017; for more information see below). Actors are not able to agree on the fundamentals of the definition. This is due to the fact that the topic of civic education is often perceived as an ideological, rather than a political or pedagogical matter. The only general definition that may be used (for the purposes of curriculum revisions, for example) is that from the 2018 European Commission’s Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. A civic competence is defined here. The practical use of the lengthy text, however, is limited.

3. Ecosystem of Citizenship Education

In the Czech education system, Citizenship Education takes place in two distinct groups: (a) children and youth (initial learning) and (b) adults .

a) Children and Youth

  • Official curriculum includes Citizenship Education particularly from the secondary level (age 11-15), although some aspects are already included on the primary level. The issue is mostly covered in a specific subject (Civics), which includes a multitude of related topics, compulsory for the teachers to cover. Moreover, parts of the skills and knowledge related to Citizenship Education are covered in the cross-curricular theme titled Civic Education , which should somehow permeate all subjects. In practice, teachers mostly focus on imparting information, without giving sufficient attention to developing skills and forming opinions. For example, current issues are seldom discussed, if at all. The official curriculum unfortunately allocates minimum time for Citizenship Education, without suggesting appropriate teaching methods. It makes due with target formulation, but lacks real content and impact. To summarize, Citizenship Education is not adequately covered in schools. The Association of Civics Teachers shares this view.

  • Education in schools includes a number of projects employing methods of non-formal education. These projects are implemented by NGOs (often in cooperation with the teacher), filling the gaps in the official curriculum. Examples include pupil parliaments, project-based learning, community activities, actions against racism, etc.

  • No uniform policy exists for Citizenship Education and individual actors are not bound by formal rules. Non-formal Citizenship Education takes place independently in youth organizations under different definitions and rules. Major organizations often adopt definitions and methods from abroad.

b) Adults

Even though Citizenship Education takes multiple forms , Palán suggested that in the context of lifelong learning, the main categories respect the following model:

  • Learning in institutions of higher education leading to a diploma (formal education).

  • Other education (non-formal education)

    • Further professional education (e.g. courses for bureaucrats in their respective fields, with aspects relevant to Citizenship Education)

    • Leisure education (extending into Citizenship Education, e.g. in libraries)

    • Direct Citizenship Education (community activities, awareness campaigns, courses, experiential learning; sometimes focused on political engagement)

Organizations primarily focusing on Citizenship Education for adults are virtually non-existent. The situation is comparatively better in initial learning, however even here Citizenship Education remains one of several aspects rather than being the primary focus of the organizations.

4. Legal Environment

Citizenship Education in the Czech Republic is not governed by a specific law. After persistent and systematic lobbying, the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic adopted a declaratory resolution in support of Citizenship Education on 30 October 2014. Neither this resolution, nor any other official document, constitutes a systematic and strategic support by the state for Citizenship Education.

Act no. 302/2016 Coll., amending the election laws and all related bills, presents an exception, as it provides for the financial contributions to political institutions established by parliamentary political parties. These may engage in education, among other things; yet this Act raises the question as to whether such contributions are supporting civic or rather political education. The author of the article, however, does not hold that such types of activities present an unambiguous contribution to the development of competencies people need to effectively participate in a democratic society.

Existing partial strategies and policies have little impact, as they seldom carry concrete measures or budgets. Examples include the Strategy of the MŠMT for Lifelong Learning or the Strategy of Library Development 2011-2015. The Czech Republic adopted the Declaration of the Council of Europe and the Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Vocational Training (ET 2020). The Czech education system addresses active citizenship in its Education Strategy 2020. While official curricula include various references to Citizenship Education, the Education Act does not mention it at all. Declaratory mentions of Citizenship Education thus primarily serve NGOs as a footing for advocacy.

The 2015 Paris Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education , adopted by the EU Ministers of Education in response to terrorist acts in France and Denmark, has met the same fate. In its aftermath, the Czech Ministry was for some time open to supporting the topic of civic education, yet under the current Prime Minister, at the latest, this openness has disappeared. The Civic Education Centre has been actively engaged in the Declaration follow-up between 2015 and 2018. Along with other actors, the Centre carried out a pilot project with systemic potential for the Ministry .

Between 2016 and 2018, attempts to adopt the so-called Civic Education Policy, which would lay the main framework for the course of the civic education policy, have been proceeding parallel to one another. Despite the participation of a large number of actors and partial political support, the process was first reduced to the preparation of “a fundamental document for the creation of the civic education policy” (as a preparatory document preceding the policy adoption process). Despite momentary hopes, even this process was eventually “postponed” by the current government headed by Prime Minister Babiš.

The current political reality prevents systemic-level changes in civic education. A planned change of curriculum following the adoption of the Strategy for Education Policy of the Czech Republic 2030+ (Strategy 2030+). could be a reason for hope. What is of crucial importance, however, is implementation (whether and how it will be reflected in grant schemes available to civic education actors, for example).

5. Stakeholders

There is an abundance of stakeholders for Citizenship Education. This article only mentions those that have been actively engaged. In the context of the issues related to the definition of civic education, it is not clear who should be considered a stakeholder. The author therefore tends to consider stakeholders to be all those who consider themselves to be relevant actors and are actively engaged in the field:

  • Teachers of all grades

  • Pupils and students

  • School headmasters and responsible authorities

  • Government authorities, particularly from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT)

  • Local and national politicians

  • NGO workers and independent experts

  • Public libraries

  • Media

  • Political institutes (institutes established by political parties)

6. Challenges

One of the main obstacles to Citizenship Education is funding. There is no long-term, systematic financial support from the government. Most activities are funded as individual projects from public funds (e.g. European Social Fund, European Commission, Youth in Action), or by private foundations (e.g. the Open Society Fund Prague, the Via Foundation) or political foundations (more so in the past).

High levels of controversy surrounding the issue present another key challenge. As mentioned above, even when all stakeholders manage to come together, it is very difficult to achieve an agreement on civic education—not even on its basic framework (definition and scope, not to mention its implementation in practice). The presence of many interest groups among stakeholders tends to lead to an ideologically framed discussion. Considering the current political context and the negative trends in the overall development of political culture in the CEE region, it is improbable that conditions will become favourable towards a more systematic approach to civic education for some time to come.

Therefore, it is necessary to seek out other strategies to achieve progress in the competencies people need for effectively participating in a democratic society. Important is not to rely on the government and its institutions, but rather to gradually develop support for civic education from the bottom up and independent of central structures. One strategy involves the development of the capacity and know-how of relevant actors’ (educators in formal education and schools themselves). Sufficient capacities, as well as a sufficient number of institutions with a developed democratic culture may become a key bulwark against the corrosion of democracy.

Other challenges:

  • Ensuring a long-term strategy for Citizenship Education, including a stable and sustainable framework on the state level, with transparent financial support for individual actors.

  • Introducing Citizenship Education as a distinct field of enquiry and practice, where politicians and population would not suspect it as an instrument of indoctrination, but rather appreciate it as effective defence against propaganda, and value its principles of impartiality and non-partisanship.

  • Gradual and sustained transformation of the education system (review of key documents, system of teacher training, empowerment of civics teachers, etc.)

  • Improving the work of media

  • Providing a legal framework for Citizenship Education

  • Careful analysis and evaluation of existing projects to ensure long-term coherence and to improve impact

  • Ability to quickly react to burning social challenges, such as socially excluded communities or immigration

Fussnoten

Fußnoten

  1. That time, nationalist and labour clubs and societies were prominent, operating under the 1867 Act (15 November 1867 Act on the Right of Association).

  2. Act no. 67/1919 adopted on 7 February 1919, creating public courses of Citizenship Education, abolished in 1959. It proclaimed, inter alia, that "The state itself is obliged to take upon itself the political education of all citizens as one of its foremost and noblest goals."

  3. Interview with the author, Prague, 3 March 2015.

  4. Beutelsbach Consensus 1976. The consensus defines three basic principles of Citizenship Education: prohibition of indoctrination; admitting controversy; and encouraging independent thinking in students. [Externer Link: http://www.confusingconversations.de/mediawiki/index.php/Beutelsbach_Consensus] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  5. Hloušková, L., & Pol, M. 2006. Občanské vzdělávání dospělých v České republice (kontext, účast, nabídka a účastníci). Sborník prací Filozofické fakulty brněnské univerzity.

  6. Rabušicová, M., & Rabušic, L. 2008. Učíme se po celý život? O vzdělávání dospělých v České republice. Brno, Masarykova Univerzita.

  7. Smékal, V., et al. 2010. Analýza občanského vzdělávání dospělých. Brno, Masarykova univerzita, Centrum občanského vzdělávání; Protivínský, T., & Dokulilová, M., (2012). Občanské vzdělávání v kontextu českého školství (Analytická sonda). Brno, Masarykova univerzita, Centrum občanského vzdělávání.

  8. European Commission’s Key Competences for Lifelong Learning 2018. [Externer Link: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52018SC0014&from=EN] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  9. Kalina, O., Matějka, O., et al. 2013. Vyplatí se rozumět politice? Občanské vzdělávání. Klíč ke svobodě a prosperitě občanů. Praha, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

  10. Jeřábek, J., Tupý, J., et al. 2007. Framework Education Programme for Elementary Education. Research Institute of Education in Prague. Retrieved from [Externer Link: http://www.vuppraha.cz/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/RVP_ZV_EN_final.pdf] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  11. The Association of Civics Teachers. [Externer Link: http://www.obcankari.cz/kdo-jsou-obcankari] Accessed: June 1st 2021.

  12. MŠMT 2007. Dlouhodobý záměr vzdělávání a rozvoje vzdělávací soustavy České republiky. Praha, Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy; MŠMT 2007. Strategie celoživotního učení. Praha, Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy. p. 9.

  13. Palán, Z. 2003. Základy andragogiky. Praha, Vysoká škola J. A. Komenského s.r.o.

  14. For example: NGOs: Center for Democracy in Education, People in Need, Agora Central Europe; private sector: Frank Bold, DOX – Centre for Contemporary Art; other initiatives: Association of Civics Teachers, Czech High School Union.

  15. Návrh usnesení Poslanecké sněmovny k podpoře občanského vzdělávání [Externer Link: http://www.psp.cz/sqw/sd.sqw?cd=1700&o=7] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  16. MŠMT 2007. "Lifelong learning can significantly contribute to educating reasonable, critical and independently thinking citizens aware of their own dignity and respecting the rights and freedoms of others; able to contribute to developing democracy and civil society.", p. 46. See supra note [12]

  17. Committee of Ministers’ Declaration and programme on education for democratic citizenship, based on the rights and responsibilities of citizens (1999) and Committee of Ministers Recommendation on Education for Democratic Citizenship. CM/Rec (2002).

  18. MŠMT 2014. Strategie vzdělávací politiky České republiky do roku 2020. Praha, Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy.

  19. Paris Declaration 2015. [Externer Link: https://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/education/news/2015/documents/citizenship-education-declaration_en.pdf] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  20. [Externer Link: https://digifolio.rvp.cz/view/view.php?id=15013] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  21. [Externer Link: https://www.msmt.cz/vzdelavani/skolstvi-v-cr/strategie-2030] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

  22. [Externer Link: http://www.obcanskevzdelavani.cz/rozvoj-demokraticke-kultury-ve-skolach-novy-program] Accessed: June 1, 2021.

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