Introduction of civic education in the Ukrainian school: a competent voter is forgotten | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Introduction of civic education in the Ukrainian school: a competent voter is forgotten

The beginning of the 2018/19 academic year was marked by the start of a full-scale educational reform. The Law of Ukraine “On Education” defines the goal of education which, in particular, concerns the “education of responsible citizens capable of conscious public choice and directing their activities for the benefit of other people and society”. In the Concept of the state policy implementation in the field of reforming general secondary education “New Ukrainian School”, at the second stage of its realization (2019-2022), development, approval (2019) and introduction (2022) of a new state standard for basic secondary education, taking into account the competencies necessary for the personality’s successful self-realization, are planned. These standards should be based on the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union “On key competencies for lifelong learning” of December 18, 2006. Accordingly, on their basis, states are encouraged to develop a system of competencies as part of a lifelong learning strategy.

The European model framework set out in the Annex to this Recommendation defines eight core competencies, among which are social and civic ones. In accordance with the definition, civic skills should facilitate “being a participant of public life based on knowledge of social and political concepts and structures, which obliges to take an active part in the democratic process”. The democratic process in European countries operates at all levels involving educational institution, business structure or organization, local community, region, state. Accordingly, a citizen must have the knowledge, ability and willingness to actively participate in public life at all levels.

One of the main forms of the democratic process participation is voting. Election is one of the major institutions of democracy. Without a competent voter, there can be no effective democracy. Therefore, fostering a democratic electoral culture, developing civic skills necessary for competent and responsible participation in elections should be one of the key vectors of civic education throughout life. Since, at the age of 18, a person has the opportunity to realize an active electoral right, and in some European countries a lower age limit of 16 years has been established for participation in municipal elections, the main mission to develop electoral skills and knowledge should be performed by the school. In the EU countries, there is a clear tendency to strengthen this particular vector of civic education within school courses.

The introduction of the course “Civic education” within the school curriculum of the 10th form became one of this year innovations in Ukraine. The course program is developed, several tutorials are prepared. It is logical to assume there is no need to “reinvent the wheel”. The content of the program should be based on 2 main components:

1) Competencies and knowledge they are based on are already defined in the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union “On key competencies for lifelong learning”;

2) The Concept and Strategy for the development of civic education in Ukraine, which should also be based on the provisions of the above-mentioned document, are needed to be supplemented and concretized taking into account the actual absence of civic education in Ukraine and the relevant problems of transforming the society’s consciousness in certain directions.

Yet there is no Strategy for the development of civic education in Ukraine. Its project, which according to the Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine No. 430 of April 25, 2018 should have been submitted before May 31, 2018 and obtained a public discussion before June 20, 2018, is also still not presented. Given the lack of a Strategy, we will analyze the content of the existing Concept for the development of civic education in Ukraine and the program of the course “Civic education” in terms of their focus on the implementation of the civic education’s electoral vector in accordance with the content of social and civic competence defined in the Recommendations of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Recommendations of European institutions regarding skills and knowledge shaping social and civic competence

Analysis of the content of paragraph 6 of the subsection “Key Competences” of the Recommendations of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union “On key competencies for lifelong learning” make it possible to clearly identify the main components of social and civic competence and establish the interrelation between knowledge and skills.

Citizenship competence skills:

  • to be engaged effectively with others in common or public interest sphere;
  • to demonstrate solidarity and interest in solving problems of local and wider level’s significance;
  • to reflect critically and creatively on and take a constructive part in the activities of the Community (Community is understood in broad terms);
  • to participate in democratic decision-making at all levels, from regional to state and European ones;
  • to take a constructive part in the elections;
  • to respect fully human rights at all levels as the basis of democracy;
  • to understand and assess the difference between various religious, ethnic and other value systems;
  • to respect the values and privacy of others;
  • to understand and respect the common values important for the unity of society, above all, the principles of democracy;
  • to demonstrate civic engagement, maintain social diversity, promote unity and sustainable development of society.

Citizenship competence skills are based on knowledge of:

  • citizenship and civil rights;
  • Charters of fundamental rights of the European Union and international declarations on human rights;
  • practices of international documents’ application within various institutions at different levels – from regional to European and international ones;
  • concepts of democracy, justice, equality;
  • structure of the European Union, its main goals and values;
  • knowledge of European integration field;
  • knowledge of diversity and cultural awareness of European countries;
  • awareness of state, European and world history (civil and legal aspects);
  • awareness of current events and trends in social and political development;
  • awareness of the goals, values and policies of political movements/

Citizenship and social skills as well as knowledge concerning all forms of social behavior are mutually complementary. Since, the participation in social and working life is also based on the values and norms that are important for society. Participation in the political democratic process, in turn, requires knowledge and understanding of the modern principles of society’s organization. In particular, the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination, knowledge of the cultural and socio-economic distinctive features of European countries, understanding the specifics of the interaction between the national and the common European are directly related to the electoral culture and competence.

As it could be seen, among citizenship skills, the ability to take a constructive part in elections is indicated separately. On the one hand, this skill is closely related to others. A voter who does not know the essence of existing value systems and does not see the difference between them, does not respect common socially significant values, does not know the basic principles of democracy and does not realize where and how they can be applied in real life cannot be considered as a competent one. Some knowledge, as the basis for the development of civic skills, can be regarded universal. Certainly, knowledge of the concepts of democracy, the goals and values of the EU, modern political movements’ and parties’ values and policies to a certain extent form the ability to take a constructive part in elections. However, this mainly concerns Western European countries, in which elections play the role of a means of forming power and controlling its activities. Since schools function as a mini-republic model, with all electoral procedures and competition for the votes of the school electorate in elections to self-government between different “parties” with their own programs, for students some things become quite understandable based on their actual experience. Even under such conditions, given the worsening crisis of democracy and elections, as one of the main institutions, governments and educational institutions strengthen the electoral vector of civic education. In Ukraine, where elections are still too far from the role of forming power instrument, and in schools there are tough authoritarian traditions, somewhat decorated with formally existing democratic procedures, this vector should be key and ubiquitous – from primary school to adults’ education.

The Concept of civic education development in Ukraine ignores the main problem of democracy

Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 710-p of October 3, 2018 approves the Concept of civic education development in Ukraine, which defines the main directions of civic education. According to paragraph 2 of this Order, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, together with the central executive bodies accountable, should develop and submit to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, within six months, the draft Strategy for the development of civic education in Ukraine for the period up to 2022 and a plan of measures for its implementation. As we see, the presentation of the draft Strategy, which was to occur, according to the Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine at the end of May 2018, was actually postponed for a year. In the optimistic scenario, it should appear at the end of April 2019. Two circumstances immediately attract attention in this regard. The strategy, which at the design stage is focused on 2.5 years, does not look “strategic” enough. Considering the active phase of the electoral process, which will unfold during this period and the probable active direct or indirect inclusion of political actors, including “interested central bodies of executive power” in the election campaign, the transition period from the Draft to the Strategy will increase. Further changes in the power system will also result in, at a minimum, delaying the process over time. Accordingly, the “strategic” direction has a chance to be reduced to zero.

The analysis of the Concept’s content indicates a rather superficial reflection of the modern civic education essence and its directions. The second paragraph of the Introduction gives a very limited understanding of civic education: “Civic education in this Concept is understood as education and civic upbringing on the basis of national and universal human values”. Thus, democratic values and principles are not mentioned. While in European countries modern civic education is increasingly directed to the value foundations of democracy, for Ukrainian society’s case democratic values generally remain far from the life’s realities. The education of the competent and responsible voter, as one of the areas of civic education and one of its key tasks, is not mentioned either in the regulations listed in the Introduction, or in the Concept itself. The formulation of the civic education’s strategic directions requires significant specification. In particular, elections are mentioned only in the context of ensuring free elections to the authorities. The clarification that this requires “the competence of citizens allowing them to use the provided opportunities for participation and decision-making” does not give an idea of the groups of competencies that must be formed for effective participation in decision-making. And it is exactly the part where those competences must be determined, in particular, where the electoral competence should be designated. Accordingly, the following sections should detail the strategic goals and objectives, identify ways to implement them.

The list of civic education tasks does not include such a task as the formation of electoral competence and the formation of a responsible voter. Perhaps, the authors of the Concept “disguised” this task under the “formation of civic responsibility for sociopolitical processes, the acquisition of skills to exercise democratic governance at the local level, and the skills of citizen participation in the conduct of public affairs”. However, further analysis of the Concept’s content does not indicate this. Among certain civic competencies, the ability to take a constructive part in elections is also absent. Accordingly, electoral competence remains outside the civic education system. Formal education, which according to the Concept should reflect the content of civic education in education standards, also completely ignores the electoral component of civic education. The content of the school course “Civic Education” program provides a clear evidence for that.

School graduate – a voter with zero competence

The analysis of the integrated course “Civic education” program for the 10th form of secondary schools, which is introduced from this academic year, taking into account the peculiarities of its teaching in Ukrainian schools, gives weighty reasons to predict virtually zero electoral competence of future graduates. None of the Program’s section contains separate provisions concerning the competence of the future citizen-voter and the knowledge which it should be based on. A number of principles and definitions, at a minimum, raise questions about the relation of their content to civic education as such. In particular, in the part “Relevance and fundamental principles of the course” the list of practical skills looks rather surprising. No doubts, empathy, flexibility and adaptation, listening skills, linguistic abilities are important. However, apparently, this is not the main and direct results of civic education. It is logical to assume that the sociopolitical realities of the Ukrainian society, which determine the relevance of civic education the Program developers focus on, require the formation, first of all, of quite different skills. Especially if to take into account the content of social and civic competence, which is defined in the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union “On key competencies for lifelong learning”.

Six points are formulated in the Program, revealing the goal of a school course in civic education. None of them mention electoral literacy and electoral culture. However, economic literacy is included. In some European countries, civic education is indeed widely understood today and contains certain aspects of economic literacy. Yet this does not mean the absence or leveling of the basic components of civic education and its main tasks. Especially when it comes to the competence of voters.

As noted in the Program, “The basis of the civic education course is the competence approach, which correlates with the key competencies defined by the basic principles of the New Ukrainian School standard”. The content of the table “Competence potential of the course” raises many questions. But we will focus only on the analysis of social and civic competence. The skills in this approach include the abilities of active listening and observing, taking responsibility (for which, it is not specified). At the same time, a significant part of the skills defined in the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union “On key competencies for lifelong learning”, in particular, and the ability to take a constructive part in elections remains omitted again. Responsible attitude to participation in elections, as expected, is also absent. Accordingly, certain six directions of the course do not include electoral one, aimed at fostering electoral culture and the formation of electoral competence. The political and legal direction, within the framework of which it is possible to single out an electoral one, also does not contain it.

The course program includes 7 modules. There is no separate module dedicated to the formation of electoral literacy and culture. Therefore, it is advisable to analyze the content of program sections from the point of view of the single topics or issues presence, at least indirectly aimed at solving this problem. Module 6 “The interaction of citizens and the state in achieving public welfare” should be immediately excluded. That is not due to a reason there can be no place for the formation of electoral competence. There is such a place, because elections are one of the ways of such interaction. By supporting the programs of political actors, citizens agree to the implementation of an appropriate strategy to ensure public welfare and give appropriate powers to specific subjects of the election process. However, part of the topics in this module these are topics from the course of economic theory that are in fact not at all related to civic education. Other topics, only under the condition of substantial revision and presentation of the material in a civic context, can be included in a course on civic education.

An analysis of the other six modules’ content shows the only occasional mention of the elections institution is contained in Module 4 “Democratic society and its values”. The first topic includes 2 questions: “Principles of electoral law”, “Stages of the election process”. At the same time in the requirements for knowledge “elections” are mentioned only in the list of concepts. One of the approximate themes of practical training is “Elections to local governments”. However, the Program does not provide obtaining the theoretical knowledge that ensures the effectiveness of this practical lesson. Considering the determining role of media in electoral manipulations, in topics 3 and 4 of Module 5 “The World of Information and the Media”, at least, there should be one specific issue devoted to this problem. But it is again absent. And in Module 7 “Ukraine, Europe, the World”, the is an obvious need to include at least a comparison of the elections’ role and the characteristics of the electoral process in democratic and non-democratic countries, with an emphasis on the problems of voters competence.

Thus, the program of the course “Civic Education” is not even in the slightest degree oriented towards the formation of electoral competence of future graduates, who, in fact, together with the certificate will have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. Although formally teachers have the opportunity to adjust and supplement the program, this does not solve the problem as a result of at least two reasons:

  1. The adjustment of this program can only be made by its substantial fixing;
  2. Ukrainian schools do not have appropriate staff for teaching civic education, respectively, the chances for effective program adjustment are virtually very low.

Conclusions and recommendations

Western ideologists of educational reforms and governments have realized the extent of the main democracy problem aggravation – the incompetence of voters and thus the transformation of the sharpest instrument of democracy, elections, into the least acute one. This led to an increase in the share of the electoral component in the civic education systems of Western countries. In Ukraine, where elections are still too far from the role of a real institution of democracy, including the reason of voters’ incompetence, the electoral vector of civic education is totally ignored at all levels, from normative acts that form the normative base of civic education to specific educational curriculum programs.

The absolute absence of the electoral vector of civic education in the Concept of civic education development in Ukraine and in the Program of the integrated course “Civic Education” for the 10th form of secondary schools raises the question of the reasons for such. Or there are no elections in Ukraine, so the problems of competent and responsible electoral participation are irrelevant for us? Or do we, unlike the Western democracies, do everything in order to develop electoral culture and competence of society, so these problems, again, are not relevant for us? Or are the authorities and ideologists of educational reforms so incompetent in matters of civic education, and perhaps not interested in the fact that the Ukrainian voter becomes competent, even in the long run, that they simply ignore the relevant component of civic education?

The results of the conducted analysis indicate the need for substantial revision of the regulatory framework of civic education in Ukraine. When developing the Strategy for civic education and its implementation plan, it is necessary to include the implementation of the electoral vector of civic education as a key and ubiquitous, encompassing school, secondary vocational and higher education with the definition of competencies at each level.

Since the “Civic education” course program for the 10th grade of secondary schools does not allow not only the formation of electoral competence of future graduates, but also to get at least minimal knowledge about elections and the electoral process in democratic countries, it should be drastically improved in three directions:

  1. expansion of the formulation of goals and objectives, knowledge and skills via the inclusion of the electoral component;
  2. addition of a separate section of the program content;
  3. inclusion in the topics of other sections of issues aimed at expanding knowledge about the elections and the electoral process, developing skills for constructive and responsible participation in elections.

Svetlana Topalova

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

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