1. Background Information
Citizenship Education in the Czech Republic has a long tradition, reaching back to the 19th century.
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
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.
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.
Even though Citizenship Education takes multiple forms
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.
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
The 2015 Paris Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education
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+).
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
Political institutes (institutes established by political parties)
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).
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