NECE Exchange

26.10.2015 | Von:
Maram Anbar

Citizenship Education in Spain

Country Profile Spain (© bpb)

  • Background Information and brief history
  • Definition of citizenship education
  • Ecosystem of the non-formal citizenship education
  • Legal Environment
  • Stakeholders
  • Challenges

    Background Information and brief history

    The educational system during the period of Franco’s rule (1939-1975) was influenced by Catholic and Christian values, as the Church occupied an important place in the lives of many Spanish people. At the time citizenship education programs focused on promoting patriotism, assimilation, Christian ethics, and indoctrinating citizens in government adherent values. This historical period is compared to McCarthyism in the USA where people were denounced, fired from their jobs or served jail time for being Republicans or entertaining secular ideas. Both the state and the church advocated for traditional gender roles and for citizens to comply with their instructions. In her research ‘Education, Fascism, and the Catholic Church in Franco’s Spain’ Joan Domke explores this relationship in detail and analyses the text books that were used during this period. The link between the State and the Church will continue to mark the future and course of citizenship education in modern Spain.

    Definition of citizenship education

    The Spanish Royal Decree 1631/2006 define the objectives of citizenship education “to promote the development of free and upright people through nurturing self-esteem, personal dignity, freedom and responsibility and the formation of future citizens with discretion, respect, equity and solidarity, they know their rights, assume his duties and develop civic habits so that they can effectively exercise citizenship and responsible”. Using formal, non-formal, and informal learning methods, citizenship education was introduced directly as a school subject in the curriculum; as part of another subject; and as a cross-cutting theme in different subjects. The Spanish curriculum focused on two main approaches: education about citizenship including information and literature, and education for citizenship focusing on behavioral change (Hatt, A. & Issa, T., 2008). The fusion of the different modules and methods of education would address the students’ cognitive capacity, experiential learning, analytical thinking, learning by doing and ultimately that would lead to a change of attitude to become an active ‘good citizen’. Furthermore the topics studied reflected mostly issues of social cohesion and diversity including non-discrimination, homophobia, gender equality, etc. A number of civil society organizations work on raising awareness and providing information on responsible citizenship through educational programs, voluntary activities, workshops, and study visit providing knowledge, soft skills, and a space for dialogue on social issues.

    Ecosystem of the non-formal citizenship education

    The story of citizenship education in Spain has proven to be quite complex and complicated. On the one hand there is the issue of the country’s educational system with a decentralized structure that allows for both the Ministry of Education and the country’s 17 autonomous communities to regulate the adaption of the curriculum in their territories. On the other hand, there is the political struggle between the two leading political parties, Popular Party and PSOE Socialist Party, mingled with the ideological debate of religion vs. secularity and liberal thought. Not to mention the country’s financial crisis in 2008 which led to a major budgetary cut in education funding[1] among other areas of public spending. It is also important to note that while looking at citizenship education in Spain its definition was evolving with social and political changes in the country, and that this definition or understanding will remain to be subject to political and social change and influences. Civil society organizations such as Education in Crisis, Amnesty International, Fundacion Cives, Democracy and Human Rights Education (DARE), Documenta, Moviment laic i progressista, and Spanish League of Education and Popular Learning in Europe mostly focus on addressing the complexity, levels and layers of local, regional/autonomic and national identities within citizenship education. Many target youth, teachers, and concerned citizens through volunteering activities, research and raising awareness on social inclusion issues, migration, equality, diversity, and the country’s rising multicultural pluralistic communities. Public events and school activities provide an open space for dialogue and knowledge sharing through participatory pedagogical tools. Many non-governmental organizations receive government funding or support through the International Development and Cooperation Agency (AECID) and/or public and private foundations.

    Legal Environment

    After Franco’s death and with the beginning of a new democratic era, it was the 1978 constitution that marked a new beginning in defining citizenship in Spain. The country’s constitution spoke of issues such as justice, freedom, liberty, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. In 1976 Adolfo Suarez’s government approved the Law for Political Reform (Ley para la Reforma Politica) introducing parliamentary democracy in Spain and a new electoral system. Another dimension to citizenship education emerged with Spain’s membership in the European Union in 1987 bringing in a new element to the Spanish identity. All of these historical moments helped shape Spain’s citizenship education and structure through programs and curriculum proposed by the Ministry of Education, the European Union and the Council of Europe among other institutions and organizations. Over the last decades, citizenship education was a generic part of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum and a transversal element in many subjects including those of humanities and social sciences (Hatt, A. & Issa, T. 2008). It was not until 2006 when the Spanish Parliament approved[2] the Statutory Law of Education proposal presented by President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government[3] to introduce the subject of Education for Citizenship and Human Rights (Educación para la Ciudadanía y los Derechos Humanos) and Ethic-civic education in the educational curriculum in accordance with the 2002 Council of Europe recommendation and the Spanish Constitution. The subject aims to “develop participation capacities for social, cultural, political, and economic life and to make effective their right to democratic citizenship” and would be taught in all schools during the last cycle of primary education (10 to 12 years old) and the full cycle of secondary education[4]. This included units on human rights, democracy and citizenship, ethics and policy, justice and freedom, social cohesion, and education for peace. However, despite this triumph, the 1631/2006 decree was reverted by the end of 2012, effective as of 2013, after the conservative government won the elections in November 2011. The new government, Popular Party (PP) presented a bill abolishing citizenship education as an obligatory subject and proposed substituting it with “civic education and the constitution”. The new subject would steer away from issues of social conflict such as homosexuality and inequality and replaces them with topics like nationalism, terrorism, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. The proposal was not approved and students have the choice between two optional subjects: religion and ethics.


    The subject of “citizenship education” created controversy among politicians and the Catholic Church as well as opposition ranging from parents associations to Catholic NGOs. Some people considered the subject too important to merely be taught in schools and wanted to see more pedagogical tools and programs for more experiential learning, while others supported the idea but considered that the curriculum was not developed with enough transparency. The opposition argued that the government was indoctrinating the students; that defining values differs from one family to another and can’t be generalized; and that the curriculum was insinuating values and ways of life[5] that were against the teachings of the Catholic Church, thus transmitting a foreign ideology to the students through the subject of citizenship. This debate in itself was the mere essence of citizenship education, the ability and willingness of citizens to take part in an open debate regarding an issue of social or political interest. It was also a debate that was very much influenced by social, political and economic factors. It took place during a period of change in Spain with the economic crisis of 2008; the confrontations between the two leading political parties the PP[6] and PSOE, as well as social changes and liberties with LGTB rights and migration as topics of debate. In the months to follow a power struggle broke out between the Church and the State with the subject of citizenship education as its foreground. Following the decree and instating the subject as part of the curriculum the court received several appeal petitions from parents, parents’ associations, Catholics NGOs, conservatives groups etc. in different communities (Hatt, A. & Issa, T., 2008). All claims highlighted the right for conscientious objection, the families’ right that their children receive religious teaching according to their convictions and values, and questioned the role of the state in the field of education. The court ruled against the petitions citing that the subject was constitutional and that it conforms to values of democracy and pluralism[7].


    Spain faced a series of challenges in its efforts to implement citizenship education. There were ideological disputes on the definition of freedoms, values, role of religion, and whose ‘legitimate’ role it is to establish a civic and moral education. Furthermore, there was the deeply rooted decentralization system which provides a high level of autonomy to the different communities making it a challenge to create a unified common homogeneous curriculum for the country. Autonomous communities in Spain have control over their curriculum and each community has the right to formulate the subject of citizenship education according to their model and values. Then there was the power dynamics between and within the State (the different political parties) and the Catholic Church. The teacher’s own belief system, susceptibility and the strong influence of the Catholic Church may also have been a challenging factors when addressing issues of diversity. In the case of Spain, conservative families and groups formed a hurdle to citizenship education by challenging the role of the State and the values taught in the curriculum. Financial limitation is another key factor. Like many EU countries, the education cuts affected both the educational structure and the teachers’ salaries. In 2012 the Spanish government decided to reduce and freeze teachers’ salaries making it the “largest annual budget cut since the death of [..] Franco”[8]. On the technical level the school reality confirms that the teachers did not receive adequate training, nor tools to facilitate teaching the subject. For teachers to be able to address issues such as interculturality, pluralism, diversity, and the multiple identities of today’s citizens, special pedagogical methods were required. There was a lack of monitoring and assessment strategies to the curriculum and the students’ learning resulting in difficulty in defining whether or not the material achieved the objectives, and whether the student acquired the desired skills, knowledge and eventually change in behavior. The citizenship education curriculum focused on global and national contexts of citizenship and intended to a certain extent to use an interdisciplinary approach. However, the early termination of the program prior to any assessment or comprehensive evaluation meant that Spain has yet to achieve its target for education for citizenship and not just about citizenship.

  • Fußnoten

    Spain from Crisis to opportunity. Education in Crisis
    Real Decreto 1631/2006: “La Educación para la Ciudadanía tiene como objetivo favorecer el desarrollo de personas libres e íntegras a través de la consolidación de la autoestima, la dignidad personal, la libertad y la responsabilidad y la formación de futuros ciudadanos con criterio propio, respetuosos, participativos y solidarios, que conozcan sus derechos, asuman sus deberes y desarrollen hábitos cívicos para que puedan ejercer la ciudadanía de forma eficaz y responsable”
    PSOE, Spain’s Socialist Party
    Hatt, A. & Issa, T. (2008)
    This includes issues such as abortion, mixed marriages, civil marriages, secular thinking and values of other faiths, legalization of homosexual marriage with the right to adopt, among others.
    Popular Party (PP)
    Memorandum To The Council Of Europe Regarding The Spanish Government’s Project to Remove Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education in School Curriculum. (2013)
    Spain from Crisis to opportunity. Education in Crisis

    تكوين المواطنة في أوروبا وشمال إفريقيا

    تكوين المواطنة في أوروبا وشمال إفريقيا

    Here you can find the Arabic version of this Publication.

    Mehr lesen

    European societies, albeit at different paces, have undergone profound changes in the fabric of their populations due to EU enlargement, European Citizenship, globalization and migration processes. Traditional concepts of citizenship and citizenship education in Europe have to be revised in the light of these developments.

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    Associated Partner / Organisations / Projects

    Within the NECE Database we gathered projects of associeated Organizations and their projects regarding citizenship education. Add your Project or Organization to help other People creating their own projects.

    Tip: By using the "topics / subjects"-filter you can search for euro-mediterranean projects within the database.


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