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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
Citizenship and rights
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.