Until 1991, Moldova was one of the fifteen republics that made up the Soviet Union. Perestroika was followed by the resurgence of the Moldovan nationalist movement, the Declaration of Sovereignty (adopted in 1990) and the Declaration on the Independence of the Republic of Moldova, adopted in 1991. After gaining independence from the USSR, Moldova began its transition from totalitarianism to a democratic political system.
Having lived under a non-democratic system for many years, the Moldovan population initially lacked experience of democracy. This meant there was an acute need to educate the population about democratic culture and the principles, standards and values associated with democratic societies. In turn, this necessitated the creation of a new system for educating citizens about politics. This system was designed to foster democratic ideas of citizenship, including respect for human rights, the rule of law, cultural diversity, pluralism, tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue.
In the early phase of the transition to democracy, the political consciousness of Moldovan citizens changed drastically. Totalitarian thinking was replaced by a ‘pro-democratic consensus’ that united society around the concept of democracy. Today, however, it is clear that despite its declared commitment to democratic values, modern Moldovan society is finding it extremely difficult to embed these values in practice.
With a view to establishing and developing a democratic culture in Moldova, citizenship was introduced as a compulsory part of the school curriculum for pupils in secondary schools (gymnasiums) in years 5-9, and lyceums (years 10-12), starting in the 2009-2010 academic year. In Transnistria, which is not subject to Moldovan law, teaching is based on Russian models that do not include lessons in citizenship. Issues related to democracy, human rights and civil society are instead addressed in the context of other different subjects (including history). As civil society began to develop in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) began to spring up, focused on the issue of human rights (examples include the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, CreDO, Promo-LEX, SIEDO, CIDDC and CONTACT). In the second decade of the twenty-first century, NGOs offering education in citizenship have appeared on the right (Diversitate, CICDE, Pilgrim-Demo) and left banks of the Dniester (Pilgrim, Okno v mir [Window on the World], Vzaimodeystvie [Cooperation], Apirori), and are actively working to help foster a culture of democracy.
2. Definition of Citizenship Education
The definition of citizenship education has become a controversial topic in recent times. From the point of view of the democratic discourse, citizenship education is education on the topic of self-government. The underlying idea is that citizens should not simply be subservient to their rulers, and should participate actively in the process of government.
According to the approach adopted by the Council of Europe, citizenship education can be defined as ‘education, training, awareness raising, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law’
Many researchers see citizenship education as a socially-orientated system of continuous state and society-focused learning and education that aims to foster citizenship skills and democratic culture as well as satisfying societal needs in the interests of individuals, civil society and the rule of law.
However, other academics take the view that citizenship education is conducted as part of the formal education system. In their view, citizen education takes whenever and wherever the knowledge, skills, understanding and values that are essential for a democratic society to function at all levels are transferred to learners. The primary objective of citizenship education is, as far as possible, to prepare children and adults to participate actively in democratic life. This is done by helping them to accept and exercise their rights and responsibilities in society by providing them with a variety of experiences and exposure to societal practice. Citizenship education is based on three fundamental pillars, specifically the individual providing the training, civic participation, and the joint use of the outcomes of the training.
The definition of citizenship education is in large part dependent on what we understand by the essence of citizenship, and there is no single accepted view of what citizenship means. From a political and legal standpoint, citizenship is viewed as the ability and readiness to assume the role of a citizen with rights and responsibilities guaranteed by the state and, by the same token, to fulfil the associated responsibilities set out in law. From a sociological point of view, it can see as a commitment by an individual to the interests and values of the state and society that bridges the gap between their individual interests and those of the state. Ethically, it can be defined as an individual demonstrating that a given person has a socially-conscious attitude to their rights and responsibilities.
We see, then, that citizenship education can be defined in multiple different ways, and this same variety can also be observed in Moldova. If forced to come up with a synthesis of all these different approaches, we can define citizenship education as formal or informal activity designed to promote the creation of a culture of democratic citizenship based on the values of human rights, tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue.
3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education
Non-formal citizenship education is used as a tool to develop a range of citizenship-related skills and abilities, and is conducted outside the framework of the formal education system. An informal learning programme compliments and expands on formal education, allowing learners to obtain greater practical experience of tolerance, partnership and reaching agreement. One non-formal way of doing this is by organising student associations, independent school administrative bodies, and other similar initiatives. Both non-formal and formal citizenship education share the objective of equipping learners for life in the modern world in all its cultural diversity and fostering a readiness to take part in and influence their country’s national life. This is done by helping them acquire the knowledge, skills and models of behaviour they will need to function as successful citizens.
Mechanisms that involve pupils in the way their schools are run can also be found in Moldova. One example is the National Pupils’ Council, which operates at institutional or territorial level (for example, within the learning institution itself, within a region, within a municipality, or nationwide). The Pupils’ Council identifies the demands and interests of school pupils. It provides a platform for dialogue between pupils and teaching staff, as well as being a forum through which children can pick up the skills required to participate actively in society, for example by implementing initiatives they feel are needed to improve the conditions in which they live and study (see the Regulation regarding the creation and function of the National School Council in general education, as confirmed by Ministry of Education Directive 136 of 26 March 2014). The National Pupils’ Council has taken part in debates surrounding proposed legislation, and can exercise an influence. For example, it succeeded in scrapping tests in the summer term for pupils in years 10 and 11 awarded level I, II or III certificates at the Moldovan Republican Olympiad in the current year with a grade of “10” (ten).
NGOs focused on teaching democratic citizenship skills and human rights also play an important role in delivering informal education, as does the developing range of innovative, interactive tools for teaching citizenship. The activities of non-governmental organisations are primarily focused on promoting democratic ideas of citizenship using targeted seminars, courses, round-tables, summer schools, specialist training and public campaigns, as well as by providing independent expertise. They also publish learning, methodological and reference materials on democracy and strengthening human rights in Moldova, both in specialist publications and in the mass media.
NGOs focused on issues surrounding human rights and citizenship education are operating on the left and right banks of the Dniester, and most of them have some experience of collaborating with each other. Organisations such as Promo-LEX, CredDO, Dacia and Pilgrim Demo (in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia) are worthy of particular mention for their work on human rights, including monitoring compliance with the principles of human rights and democratic processes in the Transnistria region. Within Transnistria itself, the Transnistria Media Centre, Vzaimodeystviye [Cooperation], Vialex and Apriori work to protect human rights and democratise civil society. On the other hand, a major part of CICDE’s activity is providing electronic educational materials to learners. The informal education network Diversitate provides informal education in the areas of human rights, tolerance, diversity, equality and inter-cultural dialogue, while the Institute for Democracy works with teachers to help them improve their qualifications for teaching human rights.
A large number of the NGOs focused on human rights concentrate their efforts on specific target audiences. For example, CIDDC is focused on defending the rights of children, working on the basis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many NGOs look to reach women and their families, women suffering domestic abuse, or women who have been trafficked. These groups, including La Strada, Gender Centre, The Women’s Law Centre, Vzaimodeystvie [Cooperation], Resonance, Zhyenskie Initiativy [Women’s Initiatives] and organisations such as Pro Bono, Demos and Grazhdanskaya Positsiya [Civic Position] for young people, join forces on various platforms and collaborate on areas of shared interest. Civic activists and action groups are the main target audience for the Tiraspol School of Political Studies, which engages in citizenship education in Transnistria as well as a range of other activities.
A study regarding the way the human rights of women, children and the elderly were protected, carried out by the NGO Women. Children. Elderly in January 2017, revealed a number of key points to bear in mind regarding respondents’ awareness of human rights. Those interviewed as part of the study cited a wide variety of sources from which they could learn about human rights. At the same time, however, the study showed that respondents across all the regions included in the survey lacked knowledge of the socially-focused NGOs working in the field of human rights. This lack of knowledge was especially evident in rural areas.
4. Legal Environment for Formal Citizenship Education
The school education system plays the leading role in ensuring young people understand and are aware of the norms associated with citizenship in a democratic culture and respect for human rights. The education system has a particular responsibility to develop citizenship skills and a culture of citizenship among pupils.
The way citizenship is taught is tailored to the specific circumstances prevalent in the Republic of Moldova, and is based on recommendations made in respect of citizenship, human rights and inter-cultural dialogue. These recommendations come from a variety of documents. Some, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) have been adopted internationally. Others, like the European Council Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education (2010) and the Concluding Declaration of 25th Session of the Council of Europe Standing Conference of Ministers of Education (2016) come from European bodies. A third category of references are rooted in Moldovan law and government policy; examples of these include the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova (1994), the Moldovan Education Code (2014), and the Education Development Strategy for 2014-2020, also known as ‘Education 2020’.
The skills to be taught in citizenship education are in line with the 20 competencies for democratic culture adopted by the Council of Europe. These skills encompass values, behaviours, practical skills, knowledge, and the ability to think critically about related issues.
Under the modernised curriculum of 2010, the fundamental objectives of citizenship education are to teach people to be active, responsible citizens; to prepare learners for life in a democratic society and equip them with an awareness of how a democratic society operates; and to encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and society as a whole.
Citizenship is taught as an academic subject in all formal education institutions within the Republic of Moldova. It is mandatory in secondary schools (gymnasiums), where all pupils must take one hour of classes per week. In lyceums, it can be mandatory or optional depending on the model chosen by the school, and classes account for 1-2 hours’ teaching time per week. In 2019, ‘Grazhdanskoye vospitanie’ (Citizenship) was renamed ‘Obshchestvennoye vospitanie’ (Social Education) for years V and X. These courses will devote to teaching the democratic citizenship and human rights.
Secondary schools can play an important role in educating young citizens, helping them to acquire political awareness and ensuring they are prepared to participate actively in politics. Such political participation might take the form of raising awareness of various political problems, or taking part in political debates or round-table events. These forms of citizenship education are also used to teach other disciplines, particularly social sciences and the humanities. Accordingly, a reduction in the number of hours devoted to teaching the humanities leads to a weakening of civic and moral values and a reduction in political activism. This effect is ultimately reflected in the success (or otherwise) of efforts to foster a culture of democratic citizenship.
Democratic citizenship needs to be taught and practised in schools and local communities, making full use of the potential that comes with informal education and citizenship initiatives. A large number of interested parties are involved in this process, including pupils and teachers in schools and lyceums, teaching staff at higher education institutions (especially those involved in training teaching staff to provide citizenship education), local government bodies, NGOs working in the areas of citizenship education and human rights, experts, the academic community, donors and other actors.
Effective teaching and learning in this area requires teaching staff who are properly trained and prepared. Back in the early 2000s, citizen education specialists were trained at the Faculty of International Relations, Political and Administrative Sciences at Moldova State University - a fact that demonstrates the close link between political science and citizenship education. Today, aspiring specialist citizenship teachers can obtain their qualifications from the Faculty of Psychology, Educational Sciences, Sociology and Social Assistance of Moldova State University and from the Ion Creangă State Pedagogical University. On completion of the relevant courses, graduates become qualified to work in education.
Civic activism and initiatives are supported by international organisations such as UN agencies, foundations and diplomatic missions (including embassies and development agencies). In the years since Moldova became an independent state, financial support for projects and schemes has been geared primarily towards young people. However, over more recent years, there have been moves to involve older people in civic activism, particularly with the support of HelpAge International. Such schemes aim to encourage the older generation to participate actively in elections and local decision-making.
Thanks to funding from donors working together with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research, a number of projects are currently being delivered with the aim of boosting the education system’s capacity to teach learners citizenship skills. One such project is known as Education for Democracy in the Republic of Moldova, which is operated by the Council of Europe with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The project forms part of an overall programme known as “Moldova: Promoting Active Civic Participation”, and has led to the development and publication of new materials for citizenship teachers.
NGOs also carry out a large amount of work in the educational sphere, particularly when it comes to raising awareness and drawing the public’s attention to issues surrounding citizenship in a democracy. They play an active role in scientific studies and in lobbying state institutions. NGOs also help to educate and train teaching staff, pupils, students, parents, civil servants, journalists, law-enforcement officers and other target groups on citizenship-related issues. Very often, they provide the only forum in which pupils, children, and young people more generally can apply and practise respect for human rights and democracy.
Moldova’s academic community is not heavily involved in teaching citizenship, as it tends to see it as a subject to be taught in schools. This means that the bulk of academic studies in this area are carried out by educationalists, to the exclusion of political scientists, sociologists, philosophers and academics in other disciplines. Developing academic and educational cooperation between the academic community and schools could serve to bolster academic research, as well as to encourage civic activism among school pupils and students.
The Republic of Moldova is now facing a number of issues that make citizenship education more important than ever. Rising immigration, growing cultural diversity, the IT revolution and globalisation are all exerting a profound influence on individual identity. People with a range of different views are living together in our communities, and there is a need to support the common values that will help to unite our society. One of the biggest problems the Republic of Moldova is facing is the way the state promotes Moldovan identity and encourages citizens to identify as Moldovan. The citizenship education provided to the population is the most widely-used mechanism for promoting Moldovan national identity. Educational institutions are tasked by the state with producing socially and politically active citizens who demonstrate high levels of social consciousness and Moldovan patriotism. In Transnistria, however, a whole generation has grown up over the last 30 years who do not see themselves as Moldovans. This means that ideas surrounding identity and nationality represent a major challenge for the Republic of Moldova as a whole.
The aim of citizenship education should be to teach learners how to operate in a world where not everyone shares their opinion, but where everyone has a responsibility to abide by democratic principles that allow all cultures to co-exist.
The gaps in existing citizenship education provision are reflected in the proportion of young voters who actually cast their ballots in parliamentary and presidential elections. At the 2019 parliamentary election, turnout among voters aged between 18 and 25 was 8.4%, while at the 2020 presidential election it was 8%. By way of comparison, turnout amount people aged between 56 and 70 was four times higher, at 32%. At the same time, sociological surveys suggest that 82.6% of Moldovan citizens consider voting in elections to be important or very important.
Moldova is a multi-ethnic state, which means that creating a culture of tolerance, fostering the ability to live in a diverse society and acquiring the skills needed to engage in inter-cultural dialogue are particularly important. Citizenship education plays an important role in the process of forming a democratic civil-society in Moldova, as it helps to ensure that young people are equipped to take an active part in society and live in a multi-cultural environment.