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Citizenship Education in Spain

Concha Maiztegui

/ 11 Minuten zu lesen

Take a deeper look at the situation of Citizenship Education in Spain with a focus on the definition, the broad ecosystem of non-formal CE, the legal environment as well as on stakeholders and challenges. For a better understanding, the educational history of the country is discussed shortly.

Spain (© bpb)

1. Background Information

For the last decades, the concept of citizenship has been present in many different ways in a sequence of education laws that alternated the degree of (in)visibility of citizenship in the Spanish educational curriculum.

During Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975), both the State and the Catholic Church advocated traditional gender roles and promoted patriotism, Christian ethics and indoctrination in the regime's adherent values In 1976, a new political era introduced parliamentary democracy and a new electoral system. Among the relevant events towards democratization and a reformed education system, is the approval of the current constitution (1978), which states the importance of citizen education by including issues such as justice, freedom, democracy and human rights. Years later, the Educational Act (LOGSE) incorporated these issues. At that time, education for citizenship was a transversal training in compulsory education, and not a proper citizenship training. Although considered a vertebral axis of transversality and a cross-cutting element in many subjects, mainly in the humanities and social sciences, these areas were often relegated to positions of lesser importance, or simply forgotten about in comparison with the traditional materials, especially at secondary level.

Another milestone in this process of visibility was the Educational Act (LOE) (2006) , which incorporated Citizenship Education as a compulsory school subject for all educational levels. Its approval provoked a wide debate and the explicit rejection of the idea of including education for citizenship in the school programme. Some conservative sectors feared that the contents would be marked by the public administration, with the risk of indoctrination. They proposed that the contents be determined either by the ideology of the centre itself or by the families. A new change of government, the Popular Party (PP), led to some adjustments and the approval of the current Organic Law (LOMCE, 2013). From that moment on, it became a free choice elective and an alternative to religious education.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

The concept of citizenship appears in the legislative and regulatory framework, as well as in the reference documents drawn up by different institutions and NGOs involved in this issue. The current Law LOMCE (2013) recognizes that the Spanish Educational System seeks the transmission and implementation of values that ‘favour personal freedom, responsibility, democratic citizenship, solidarity, tolerance, equality, respect and justice, as well as helping to overcome any type of discrimination’. Following the recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council (18 December 2006), the same document states that its main objective is ‘to prepare for the exercise of citizenship and for active participation in economic, social and cultural life, with a critical and responsible attitude and the ability to adapt to the changing situations of the knowledge society’.

An optional Citizenship Education course called Social and Civic Values is presented as a fundamental subject for all individuals living together in a democratic society, promoting the construction of an individual identity, as well as strengthening of coexistential and interpersonal relations, based on recognized civic values (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, 2014). Despite the fact that it is pointed out that this training is aimed at promoting participatory citizenship, which is necessary for the cohesion of our societies, in addition to being a more important right than the right to coexistence, its condition of being optional seems to be somewhat of an inconsistency.

In non-formal education, a variety of institutions seek to encourage a debate that will facilitate democratic progress, in collaboration and, as far as possible, with the involvement of other NGOs, and the public administrations. Among its objectives are education in values, solidarity, and personal responsibility in hopes of achieving among many other things a more democratic, participatory and tolerant society. Most of those documents emphasize the value of social participation. An example is the background document for the series on citizenship published by the Esplai Foundation: ‘By "citizen" (…) we refer to the person who is aware that they have political and community responsibilities, because they live in community’.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) also have a relevant role in education for global citizenship (GCE). The objectives of sustainable development (OSD) are a broad frame of reference whose achievement requires addressing social complexity through active participation, where the global is found with the local.. The proposals broaden the educational view with a new model that complements the concept of citizenship by emphasizing the global perspective and incorporating a range of diverse societal themes. Intermon Oxfam web site explains: ‘Educating for global citizenship means promoting respect for diversity, environmental awareness, responsible consumption, human rights, gender equality and democratic participation’.

3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education

The panorama of non-formal education is very broad. A wide network of non-governmental entities of the third sector offers extracurricular education for young people in schools or as after-school activities. Some organizations develop their own extracurricular Citizenship Education materials and projects that schools can use: for example, a school programme on responsible consumption or talks and activities on living together in cultural diversity. The target groups of these organizations are usually students in schools (primary or secondary). Another line of intervention is in the relationship of various social entities with the university through the offer of training for future professionals, normally in the field of education, on key issues related to the defence and promotion of human rights, as well as on the future role in the education of critical citizens.

Also, non-governmental civil society organisations provide educational projects in which participatory methodology is both an incentive and a resource for developing values and skills. For instance, ALBOAN has opened a school of critical citizenship aimed at young people interested in deepening their commitment to citizenship .

It should be pointed out that service-learning plays a relevant role as an innovative and alternative methodology for both schools and universities seeking to achieve social transformation through the practice of citizenship.

Traditional institutions of adult education (for example, the network of ‘popular universities’) as well as some entities related to the autonomous communities mention citizen education among their objectives. Those institutions, such as the Federation of Popular Universities , have a strong social function. They are open to all ages, although the majority of their participants are adults. The purpose is to facilitate access to education and training for citizens of all conditions and ages, and to contribute to equality between women and men, intercultural co-existence and active democratic citizenship. Active citizenship is among the themes that have been worked on in collaboration with other international networks.

In many entities there is collaboration between educational centres and civil society, communities and non-governmental organisations. Civil society organizations such as Education in Crisis, Amnesty International, Fundacion Cives, Democracy and Human Rights Education (DARE), Documenta, Moviment laic i progressista, and the Spanish League of Education and Popular Learning in Europe mostly focus on addressing the complexity and the various levels and layers of local, regional/autonomic and national identities within Citizenship Education. For instance, the Fundación Esplai comments: "Encouraging a debate that facilitates democratic progress with the collaboration and, as far as possible, with the support of public administrations, NGOs and the market, encouraging personal and social responsibility of citizens."

4. Legal Environment (Legislative and Policy)

The Spanish educational system, in the seventeen autonomous communities that comprise the state, combines national directives and decentralisation. In legal terms, Citizenship Education secured a place in formal education as part of the educational reform of 1990, as stated above. "The General Organic Law of the Educational System", was a great breakthrough for citizen education, developing, in the words of González and Naval (2000), two of the main pillars that must necessarily be established in 21st-century education: learning to be and learning to live together.

It was not until 2006 that the LOE introduced the compulsory subject of Education for Citizenship and Human Rights (Educación para la Ciudadanía y los Derechos Humanos) and Ethics-Civics in the educational curriculum in accordance with the 2002 Council of Europe recommendation and the Spanish Constitution. At that time, the Ministry of Education’s aims were strongly oriented towards the European concept, based on the guidelines of the Council of Europe. The objectives were focused, both in the primary and secondary level, on the knowledge and promotion of socio-cultural diversity, and on learning about European culture, literature and values.

As mentioned, this led to a great social debate. After the conservative government (Popular Party) won the elections in November 2011, the LOE was replaced by the Organic Law. The new government presented a bill abolishing Citizenship Education as an obligatory subject and proposed substituting it with Civic Education and the Constitution. The new subject steered away from issues of social conflict such as homosexuality and inequality and replaced them with topics like nationalism, terrorism, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. As the proposal was not approved, students have the choice of two optional subjects: religion and ethics. The optional nature was criticized among academics, on the one hand, for undervaluing the universal right to training in social and civic values recognized by LOMCE itself, and on the other hand, for equating training in values with training in the values necessary for a well-functioning society.

5. Stakeholders

The State, in particular the Spanish Ministry of Education, is one of the main actors that legislates the laws that regulate and administer formal education. Together with the ministry and the autonomous governments, a certain autonomy of the teaching institutions allows them to develop a central role in establishing projects related to citizen education. In this task, coordination with social organisations has a relevant role. As an instrument of change in the search for an inclusive critical citizenship, various cooperating non-governmental organizations provide alternative experiences for the development of projects in various educational centres, as well as materials that emphasize the dimension of global justice, the community dimension and personal growth. In general, they receive government funds to develop specific projects and materials, but schools always have a choice of whether or not to use the materials.

One of the proposals of these social entities is to create networks among different stakeholders that share a concern for educational issues. Such as the Red Ciudadanía Comprometida-C2: ‘The new political scenario makes the third sector ask itself what its role is in this context and how to exercise its function as an opinion generator, a generator of proposals and a channel for citizen participation. And education is, precisely, the training of citizens for their social involvement’.

Other stakeholders are primary and secondary school teachers, as well as university lecturers, who have gradually included some topics related to ‘Citizenship Education’ or who offer opportunities to participate in volunteering activities. Raising awareness of social inclusion issues, migration, equality, diversity, and the country’s rising multicultural pluralistic communities. Those activities provide an open space for dialogue and knowledge-sharing through participatory pedagogical tools.

6. Challenges

The concern for training for responsible citizenship has been increasingly present in successive Spanish educational legislations, although there are many difficulties in implementing concrete projects. One of the most controversial issues has been the difficulty of establishing education for citizenship in the education system. Benedicto considers this one of the weak points of the Spanish system and identifies two aspects that help to understand this situation. On the one hand, the memory of the use that Francoism made of schools as instruments of political indoctrination and the fear of repeating this use. Secondly, the author notes that the shortcomings of the political culture have hindered the articulation of a strategy for citizen education in schools.

Related to this, it is vital to note the importance of raising awareness among the entire educational community to achieve synergies and develop new proposals and initiatives through planned, participatory and long-term projects.

Thus, the attitude of teachers is a basic pillar, but institutional support will also be essential to give stability to these proposals. Unfortunately, the importance given to Citizenship Education in its curricular definition does not translate into academic practice. The school reality confirms that teachers have not received adequate training or tools to facilitate teaching the subject.

They lack special training both in special pedagogical methods to address issues such as interculturality, pluralism, diversity, and the multiple identities of today’s citizens, and in strategies for monitoring and assessing the curriculum and the students’ learning. Even though Citizenship Education is present in many different forms in formal and non-formal educational programmes, there is a general feeling of frustration in defining whether or not the material has achieved the objectives, and whether the student has acquired the desired skills and knowledge which will eventually lead to a change in behaviour.

The incorporation of social and environmental issues shows a commitment to developing projects in which students feel part of their community and, therefore, responsible for the problems affecting their environment. This implies moving towards a more communitarian, complex and complete vision in which individuals feel part of the issues raised from a global-citizenship perspective. This challenge redefines the relationship between formal and non-formal education by creating new educational scenarios.

7. References

Entre culturas: [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.

UNICEF: [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.



  1. Engel, L.C., Ortloff, D.H. 2009. From the Local to the Supranational: Curriculum Reform and the Production of the Ideal Citizen in Two Federal Systems, Germany and Spain. In: Curriculum Studies, 41 (2), pp. 179-198.

  2. Benedicto, J. 2006. La construcción de la ciudadanía democrática en España (1977-2004): de la institucionalización a las prácticas. In: Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas (REIS), 114(1), pp. 103-136.

  3. LOGSE: the Organic Law 1/1990, of 3 October, on the General Organization of the Educational System.

  4. Caballero Cortés, Á. et al. 2016. La educación para la ciudadanía en la Unión Europea: Perspectivas supranacional y comparada. In: Journal of supranational policies of education, 5, pp. 173-195.

  5. Naval, C., J. Laspalas (eds.) 2000. La educación cívica hoy. Una aproximación interdisciplinar, Pamplona: Eunsa.

  6. LOE was approved in 2006 during the government of President Zapatero (socialist party): Organic Law, Royal Decree 1631/2006 [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.

  7. Caballero Cortés. 2016. See supra note [4].

  8. LOMCE Ley Orgánica 8/2013, de 9 de diciembre, para la mejora de la calidad educativa.

  9. Ibd. LOMCE p. 10.

  10. Ibd. LOMCE p. 11.

  11. Caballero Cortés. 2016. See supra note [4].

  12. The collection ‘Documents for the Debate’ is an initiative promoted by the Esplai Foundation whose objective is to reflect and make proposals on the central role that citizens should play in our society, and in particular the role of civil society and the third sector. P.10. [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.

  13. Blasco-Serrano, A.C. et al. 2019. Actitudes en Centros Educativos respecto a la Educación para la Ciudadanía Global. In: REICE. Revista Iberoamericana sobre Calidad, Eficacia y Cambio en Educación, 9, 17(3), pp. 79-98. Doi: 10.15366/reice2019.17.3.005

  14. INTERMON OXFAM educational proposals are available on the web site: [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.

  15. ALBOAN: [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021

  16. Federación de Universidades Populares, to which more than 230 centres are associated. It was founded in 1903 on the intitiative of cultural and political intellectuals: [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 1st 2021.

  17. See LOGSE.

  18. Engel, L.C., Ortloff, D.H. 2009. See supra note [1].

  19. LOMCE See supra note [8].

  20. Caballero Cortés. 2016. See supra note [4].

  21. Benedicto, J. 2006. See supra note [2].

  22. Blasco-Serrano, A.C. et al. 2019. See supra note [13].

  23. Caballero Cortés. 2016. See supra note [4].

  24. Maiztegui-Oñate, C., Navarro Sada, A. et al. 2008. Citizenship Education in Spain: Current Perspectives in a Diverse Society. In: Ross, A. & Cunningham, P. (Ed.). Reflecting on Identities: Research, Practice and Innovation, London: CiCe, pp. 303 – 312.

  25. Moreno-Fernández, O., García-Pérez, F.F. 2018. Escuela y desarrollo comunitario. Educación ambiental y ciudadanía en las aulas de secundaria. In: RMIE, 23 (78), pp. 905-935.


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