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Citizenship Education in Ecuador: Let’s not Till in the Sea

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Citizenship Education in Ecuador: Let’s not Till in the Sea

Andrés González

/ 15 Minuten zu lesen

"With education, everything; without it, nothing," quotes the author. With a touch of irony and a deep background, the author describes the development of citizenship education in a "democratically imperfect system" in Ecuador and not only shows needs and trends, but also makes forecasts and demands on the government and society.

1. Background Information on Ecuador

To fully understand the status of political education in Ecuador, it is necessary to make a quick review of the Ecuadorean political experience and how it has affected people’s perception of topics such as politics, citizenship and political education. This will stand in direct correlation to the status of citizenship and political education and provide more insights towards a fuller understanding of the status thereof.

Ecuador is a presidential republic with a longstanding political history. It was in the capital, Quito, that the first organized revolt against the Spanish rule of the 19th century was organized. Independence was finally reached in 1822 and, ever since then, the country has faced times of renewal and political transformation. Although most governments were elected democratically, Ecuador has had its share of military dictatorships, similar to almost every Latin American country. Nevertheless, these regimes, were weaker in terms of their impact on Ecuadorean society and politics and did not leave a permanent mark on the country’s political life as they did in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, or Chile. The late 1970s saw the end of the last military junta and late President Jaime Roldós reopened the new era of democracy in 1980, becoming Ecuador’s new symbol of governance. However, the enthusiasm for the new young President vanished in the wake of his tragic death in an airplane crash in May of 1981. The political landscape was shaken and Ecuador faced the challenge of maintaining a new and fragile democracy. The 1980s showed a constant change between right and left government. The majority of the electorate were traditionally drawn to the candidate with the best proposals, then only to be disenchanted by the little that could be achieved. This scenario lasted until the mid-1990s, when Ecuador underwent its most traumatic period since the return to democracy and the death of Jaime Roldós.

In 1995, populist candidate Abdalá Bucarám, an outsider, was elected, triggering a series of events that shaped the political landscape of Ecuador until 2006. Due to his managerial style and several corruption scandals, Bucarám was removed from power by Congress, under the Ecuadorean Constitution. This was the result of popular unrest and local media, which managed to pressure Congress to undertake such a determinant action. What followed was a series of replacements and elections all of which ended up in the same manner, driving the country into complete political and economic turmoil.

The elections of 2006 ended this period of instability with the election of Rafael Correa, a young economist and former professor in Ecuador’s largest private university. With close ideological ties to Hugo Chávez from Venezuela and Evo Morales, Correa proposed a new Latin American progressivist posture under the name "Socialism of the 21st Century", which he implemented at full throttle for over 10 years. His government managed to stay in power for such a long period due to constitutional reforms driven by President Correa himself, whose governing style ended up being a "hyper-presidentialist" model, leading to interference in all branches of government. Correa left power in 2017, leaving his position to his former vice-president, Lenín Moreno, who was expected to follow the "revolutionary" line of his predecessor. Moreno, however, turned the tides and became a transition president dismantling the structures of clientelism and entanglements with the press and the opposition of the former regime. Although his popularity declined rapidly after popular unrest in 2019, he was able to finish his mandate, which ended in severe violent outbursts in the main cities. On top of that, the pandemic hit Ecuador’s health system at its very core, giving Moreno no opportunity to manage the crisis in a proper way, which diminished his popularity even more. A new government was recently inaugurated, in May 2021, with the conservative candidate and former banker Guillermo Lasso, who has made a promise to re-establish a sound economy and foster democratic values in a country where politics are usually associated with corruption and mismanagement.

2. Citizenship Education in a Democratically Imperfect System

A country like Ecuador, with such a political past, makes an interesting case for citizen and political education, given that the people’s attitudes towards politics seem somehow negative. When asked to what extent they trust political institutions, the answers overall are negative, with political parties receiving the lowest levels of trust. However, the democratic belief is somehow fervent, as most citizens disagree with any other form of government that is not democratic. The trend in the region clearly shows a tendency towards believing in the role of democratic institutions and less so in the consequences of authoritarian rule. In a study sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its International Bureau of Education, the results in Latin American countries reflect that "the contemporary challenge facing the region is described as the passage from a democracy of voters to one of citizenship". The authors agree that the role of schools in what they see as the value of political education is key to achieve a greater understanding and sympathy towards "the political". Although every country has its history and political development, there are several paths in which Latin American countries coincide. For example, none of the countries in the region have experienced a military or de facto government for at least three decades. This has been regarded as a critical factor towards the development of political citizenship and thus political education. The alternation of government, in all the cases via elections, has shaped the attitudes of the population towards democratic processes. The rule of law, the role of institutions, and good governance are the standard expectation across the board for all countries in the region.

Ecuador is not the exception and has followed this regional trend, supporting in its majority and in general the idea of democratic rule as opposed to an authoritarian form of rule – as was the case until the late 1970s. However, the past two governments, especially the one led by Rafael Correa have brought some changes to the electorate’s levels of satisfaction with democracy. A study made at Vanderbilt University reveals that the level of support for democracy in Ecuador has decreased from 66.7% in 2014 to 54.4% in 2019. This shows a constantly growing critical discontent with the government and its actions. Also, there is a considerable number of Ecuadorians who support the idea of a military take-over "when there is a lot of crime and a lot of corruption".

In this context, Chávez presents the case of citizenship education in Ecuador as a challenge, since political participation in the last 30 years has been mostly limited to the "format of protesting". The idea of political participation was to increase the volume of public discontent up to the point at which the president resigned and fled the country, leaving mainly the vice-president in charge to finish the term and hold new elections, in which protesters would get the chance to make a "good choice", to then be quickly disappointed and go back to protesting. Citizenship education found its way into the school curriculum during the government of Rafael Correa in 2012. The final objective of the government was to make students and teachers realize that there was a political environment surrounding them and that, in such an environment, rights and responsibilities played a special role.

Therefore, the Ministry of Education decided to take out the topics of citizenship and political education from where they were traditionally found (e.g. social sciences) and provide a fully separate course for these topics. Thus, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education defined the objective of citizenship education as being to "understand and value the basic principles of Ecuadorian democracy in order to exercise independent, participatory, and responsible citizenship, and assume a personal, defined and independent position regarding dilemmas or controversies in social life". Also, according to Chávez, the goal of citizenship education was not to provide a mere content-conveying class when it came to citizenship and political education, but rather, to have students and teachers be more active and involved in the discussions, so that a proper "citizenship training" could be provided.

3. The Ecuadorian "Ecosystem of Citizenship Education"

After the definition of the objectives of citizenship education by the Ecuadorian government, there came the major challenge of implementing this idea in the curricula of schools across the country. Thus, the development of textbooks containing the idea of what "citizenship education" should accomplish quickly became a part of the government’s strategy.The production of such tools quickly became an important project of the Ministry of Education. Based on the concept provided by the government, the topics – proposed to provide students with a broad base of knowledge about citizenship education – were organized in four units in the following way:

  • Citizenship and rights

  • Modern democracy

  • Democracy and the construction of a plurinational state

  • The state and its organization

This allowed the Ministry to be the official voice of citizenship education by covering all aspects of citizenship education. Although the material seems universal and could be applied to any Latin American country, the government did not miss the opportunity to include politically-inclined content, for example, parts of the latest Constitution of 2008. The concept of "Buen Vivir" (good living) is present throughout the entire text, while hints as to the worthiness of the new constitution was can also be found, thus making this kind of citizenship education severely biased and not in accordance with the neutrality proposed in the government’s original idea.

Therefore, we can say that until today the "ecosystem" of citizenship education in Ecuador has been significantly shaped by the Ministry of Education, serving the political line of former president Correa and his successor Lenín Moreno (his former vice-president), thus making the approach more "political" than "educative."

There was a vast number of initiatives for "Schools of Citizenship Education" and similarly, however, these were all either a part of the official government line or were affiliated with a political party. Therefore, we can say a true concept of a neutral and non-partisan political education has been practically absent in Ecuador since the return to democracy. There have only been attempts by all the governments to establish some form of curricula for students to learn about certain aspects of the political structure and values of the country, however, none of them presented in a neutral way, thus making the idea of citizenship education almost a utopia.

Beyond this, there are several foundations and organizations of civil society that are dedicated to the formation and education of leaders of all ages. Amongst the most prominent we can name Fundación FIDAL, an education institution that provides many leadership programs and is directed by former vice-president Rosalía Arteaga; and Corporación Líderes para Gobernar, which is a kind of citizen-participation think tank that offers courses in leadership, open government, and political communication. However, it is important to note in this case that there is no central coordination from the government as to how these organizations should work and what they aim to do. Every institution has its own goals, budget, and scope.

4. Citizenship Education in the Ecuadorian Constitution

In 2008, the latest version of the Constitution in Ecuador was approved by a plebiscite and became the instrument through which all sectors of Ecuadorian politics, society, and the economy became regulated, mostly through the executive. However, the 2008 Constitution saw a so-called "progressivist" spirit by granting rights to traditionally excluded sectors of Ecuadorean society such as indigenous minorities and LGBTI groups. The Constitution is seen in the Ecuadorian context as a document that guarantees the rights of all citizens before the state.

Although the importance of citizenship education has been put forward by the Ministry of Education in several textbooks, the Ecuadorian constitution per se does not make a clear mention of "citizenship" or "political education" in its text. The main reference is made to the national system of education, and it provides the general directives thereof. On a closer look, the main objective of the national system of education is to "develop individual and collective capacities and the potential to make learning possible, also the generation of knowledge, techniques, wisdom, arts, and culture". Further on, the national education system is said to aim at "reaching an intercultural vision according to geographical, cultural and language diversity, respecting the rights of communities, peoples, and nationalities".Thereafter, it becomes clear that the Ecuadorian national education system shall be regulated by the government which, will serve as the main rector for all institutions. This leaves clear evidence for the bias served from all educational institutions when it comes to the topic of citizen education. The only provision on the topic of citizenship education is in Art. 347.4, in which the Constitution states that one of the responsibilities of the state is to make sure that in all educational institutions there should be topics such as "citizenship, sexual education, and environment, from a (human) rights perspective" included in the classroom.

This condition makes the case clear that the direct concept of citizenship and political education is not present within any legal framework of Ecuadorian law. There are certain aspects to peripherally touch on certain vague provisions of assuring curricula that include such topics. Also, the lack of institutions separate from the Ministry of Education makes it harder for the concept to evolve outside of official lines. There are no agencies in other ministries or branches of government that do citizenship or political education. The only ones who are obliged to do so by party-law (Código de la Democracia) are political parties. And of all political parties, only one has an approved institute for political formation. This has the effect that the landscape in this area is rather a vast sea with no real fish.

5. The Needs of Stakeholders

A country like Ecuador has several stakeholders that would benefit from a solid institution providing citizenship education. On the one hand, the primary target would be high schools. The Ministry of Education’s strategy for its curricula has had some impact on the attitudes of students on political topics. Chávez’s study shows that the learning objectives in citizenship education mostly concentrated on learning about human rights, the functions of the government, and values and moral principles. Teachers' scores for citizenship education are higher as they do recognize the need and the importance of citizenship education in general. However, Chavez concludes his study by stating that neither teachers nor students seem to have "a full understanding of the purpose of citizenship education". This could very well be due to the fact that citizenship education under the regime of Rafael Correa was only aimed at indoctrinating students with a specific vision of the future from the perspective of "Socialism of the 21st Century" and the progressive left.

Universities are also important stakeholders in the system. However, there are hardly any programs that target university students and professors in the area of citizenship education. The target here has been completely missed. The curricula are focused on the different career paths and the only majors that include citizenship and political topics are the classic social sciences, international relations, political science, and economics. Other than that, the contents of study programs are completely focused on the subjects of each major.

The last stakeholder is the non-formally-educated part of Ecuadorian society. Children, young adults, adults, and the elderly might have an interest in accessing quality political education. However, and once more, the problem is the lack of established institutions that offer this kind of education. As mentioned earlier, the only places that offer political education are so-called leadership institutes of political parties.The first problem arises from the fact that you have to be a member of the party to access this form of political education. And the second problem is that the parties do not provide neutral content to the public, as they want to advance their ideas and political postures via these institutes – which is one way of providing political education, however, not an independent way.

6. Challenges for not Tilling in the Sea

After this brief analysis of the state of citizenship and political education in Ecuador, we can say that the country faces critical challenges in this field. The main problem remains that the only sources thereof come from government agencies, more specifically from the Ministry of Education. The need for independent non-partisan organizations is urgent, as the attitudes towards democracy have been severely damaged due to the failures of the past two governments to stick to democratic principles and the rule of law. Although the outgoing government of Lenín Moreno was more flexible on human rights and freedom of expression, the legacy of Rafael Correa still lingers in Ecuadorian politics. The result is twofold. On the one hand, the disenchantment with politics continues, as we have seen from the LAPOP Barometer. This trend could be reversed by the new government; however, it is still too early to tell. On the other hand, the lack of a cohesive structure of independent institutions outside the political party landscape makes it very difficult for Ecuadorian citizens who are either part or outside of the formal education system to have access to a worthwhile citizenship education. There is still a lack of definition for what citizenship education entails (and what it does not) and this becomes a challenge in the very country known for being the first one to show the way to freedom and independence from absolutist ruling systems. As famous Ecuadorian journalist Diego Oquendo affirms: "With education, everything; without it, nothing."

7. References

Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador 2016. Educación para la Ciudadanía.

Moncagatta, Moscoso, Pachano, et al 2020. The Political Culture of Democracy in Ecuador and the Americas, 2018/19: Taking the Pulse of Democracy.

* Dr. Andrés González is a political scientist based in Quito-Ecuador. He obtained his Ph. D. in Political Science and International Relations at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and has taught in several universities in Germany and Ecuador. He is currently the founder of POLITIKUM, an independent education institution focused on citizenship and political education for high school and university students.

Fussnoten

Fußnoten

  1. "Primer Grito de Independencia" was the name of the first organized uprising against the Spanish rulers in 1810.

  2. Congress called upon an article of the former Constitution that if "mental incapacity" was declared, the President could be legally removed.

  3. A total of six Presidents followed Bucarám until the 2006 election.

  4. LAPOP Barometro of the Americas. Case Study Ecuador by Moncagatta, Moscoso, et al.

  5. Ibid., page 29.

  6. Cox, Bascopé, et al 2014. "Citizenship Education in Latin America: Priorities of school curricula." IBE Working Papers On Curriculum Issues No. 14. UNESCO International Cureau of Education.

  7. The study examined the curricula of six Latin American countries: Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, and Paraguay.

  8. The last country that ended with an authoritarian rule was Chile in 1990 after General Augusto Pinochet abided to follow the Constitution and initiate a transition period after 16 years of military rule.

  9. Cox, Bascopé, et al 2014. "Citizenship Education in Latin America: Priorities of school curricula." IBE Working Papers On Curriculum Issues No. 14. UNESCO International Cureau of Education.

  10. The study by Cox, et al. determines that in a poll conducted in 2007 in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru more than 60% of the people believed that democracy is "better than any other" form of government.

  11. The Latin American Barometer LAPOP is a study led by Vanderbilt University and measures political attitudes all across the region.

  12. Moncagatta, et al. 2020.

  13. Chavez, Andres Alberto 2016. "Citizenship Education in Ecuador: Perceptions of Students and Teachers." International Education Studies. Vol.9, No. 12.

  14. Constitución de la República del Ecuador.

  15. This cycle repeated itself in Ecuador 3 times between 1996 and 2006.

  16. Chávez, 2016. According to the author, citizenship education aimed to teach students about the responsibilities they had towards their nation and their communities.

  17. According to Chávez "concepts related to citizenship education were taught only in other social science classes. Components of citizenship education continue to be taught in social science classes for younger students, as separate citizenship education courses are given only to students in their last two years of high school.

  18. Ibid. Cited from the Ministry of Education, 2012.

  19. Ibid.

  20. A clear example of this is the textbook "Educación para la Ciudadanía" from the Ministry of Education, 2016.

  21. Ibid.

  22. In 2008, the project for a new constitution led by former President Rafael Correa became a reality after it was adopted by the plebiscite.

  23. Ministerio de Educación 2016. "Educación para la Ciudadanía, p. 34. "Buen vivir" or good living is a concept embedded in the 2008 Constitution which entails the government’s standards to achieve a proper level of life for all citizens.

  24. Fundación FIDAL receives the financial support of the Hanns Seidel Stiftung in Germany, the political foundation of the Cristian Social Union Party in Bavaria. Corporación Líderes para Gobernar is a privately financed educational institution that aims to provide young leaders with the proper tools for becoming successful political entrepreneurs.

  25. Ecuadorian Constitution, Art. 343 ff.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Ecuadorian Constitution, Art. 344.

  29. Ecuadorian Constitution, Art. 347.4

  30. Chávez makes an interesting analysis on the implementation of curricula containing citizenship education and the reception by teachers and students

  31. The Social Democratic Izquierda Democrática is the only party that has an formal institute of political formation under the name "Instituto de Formación Política Manuel Córdova Galarza." All other parties have loose structures and have not been able to consolidate any form of curricula for their participants.

  32. Ibid., p. 211.

  33. Ibid., p. 215.

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Dr. Andrés González, Academic Director of POLITIKUM – Citizen Education and Academic Simulations