Formation of civic competence: we should not lose one more generation | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Formation of civic competence: we should not lose one more generation

The adoption of the new Law of Ukraine “On Education” has given the start to the reform of the education system. The key idea of ​​the school reform is that the school should give the knowledge and form the competencies that are necessary for the life of the person of the 21st century. Taking into account that the modern school gives any knowledge, except the one that is necessary for life, changes must be crucial and extensive. This is how ideologists of the reform assess the future positive impact from the implementation of the concept of the “New Ukrainian School”. However, the planned pace of implementation of the reform gives little reason to hope that today’s students will have significant chances to feel positive changes and become carriers of the competencies that are necessary today. In particular, we are talking about civic competence, the formation of which is the most urgent need for the present. If other competences, in particular, linguistic, mathematical, information-digital, are formed to some extent in the modern Ukrainian school, then social and civic ones are not formed at all.

The quality of democracy is determined by the level of citizens’ competence. The more we are putting off the implementation of civic education and the development of civic skills, the more reliably we are preserving the existing quasi-democracy. Therefore, now all of us have to already realize the essence of the idea, which was justified by ancient Greek thinkers: the state should educate citizens in the spirit of its philosophy. After the realizing, the formation of civic competence should be started not only for those children who will enter first grade next academic year, but also for those who are currently studying at school, technical school and college, at university. Otherwise, we risk turning the several generations of young people into a socially and politically passive and incompetent mass.

The Law of Ukraine “On Education”: effective tools or imitation of changes?

The Law of Ukraine “On Education” defines “the formation of values ​​and the necessary competencies for successful self-realization, the education of responsible citizens capable of making a conscious public choice and directing their activities for the benefit of other people and society”, “raising the educational level of citizens to ensure sustainable development of Ukraine and its European choice” as one of the elements of the key goal of education. As we see, it directly concerns social and civic competence. Taking into account its importance, the law should lay the foundation for systematic civic education and determine the means and mechanisms for implementing the state strategy of European integration through the education system. Since the authorities make “ambitious plans” to accelerate the pace of European integration, it is obviously necessary to accelerate, first of all, our mental approach to a civilized Europe. It is better do not to postpone this prospect for another ten years. But this needs to make changes in the content of teaching and in the educational process now and very quickly, literally “on the move”. An analysis of the relevant articles of the current law will help to determine what real opportunities for this are laid within it, as well as how is it possible to accelerate the pace of changes and what impedes it.

Paragraph 5 of Article 5 of the Law, which defines the state policy in the sphere of education, provides: “The state creates conditions for obtaining a civic education, designed to form the competences related to realization of the individual’s rights and responsibilities as a member of society, to understanding of the values ​​of a civil (free democratic) society, the rule of law, rights and freedoms of man and citizen”.  As it is known, the policy assumes the availability of means for its implementation. Therefore, according to this paragraph, these conditions and the content of competences have to be clearly defined. The conditions for obtaining civic education depend on the principles of educational policy and the degree of their actual implementation in the activity of the educational institution. Competencies are formed as a result of the learning performance and the practical skills developed on the basis of them. European institutions have defined the basic content of civic competence and the knowledge necessary for its formation a long time ago. Moreover, they have developed a set of recommendations with a detailed description of civil and social knowledge and skills. It is enough to start to introduce civic education not as a pilot project, but in all schools, to improve its content now step by step. There are also enough intellectuals in Ukraine who could quickly develop a quality course. The problem is the presence/absence of will among the authorities and the desire to speed up the process.

The list of the state policy principles in Article 6 includes: the rule of law; democracy; the formation of respect for human rights and freedoms, intolerance to humiliate human’s honor and dignity, physical or mental violence; formation of civic culture and culture of democracy; non-interference of political parties in the educational process; public-private management; public-private partnerships and others. As you can see, all the necessary preconditions for the democratization of the school have been formally laid. The previous law also declared the rule of law, respect for rights and freedoms. However, the daily life of the modern Ukrainian school still has been demonstrating opposite principles. Therefore, the transition from declaration to implementation of principles requires civic education and education of civic culture among all participants in the educational process. To exclude the interference of political parties and ensure public-private management and partnership, first of all it is necessary to remove the school from the vertical of the administrative resource, and to ensure its openness to the public. However, the question is to what extent the “parties of power” at different levels are interested in this. After all, the school is a valuable electoral resource, a “klondike” of obedient performers.

Article 12 defines the competencies of schoolchildren. Among them are “civic and social competencies related to the ideas of democracy, justice, equality, human rights, with the understanding of equal rights and opportunities”. Formation of competences provides the existence of compulsory disciplines designed to learn the theoretical knowledge, as well as creating an environment for its practical application. Taking into account the fact that these competencies are necessary for school graduates today, and their content is defined in the recommendations of European institutions, it is possible to start the introduction of civic education step by step. There have already been certain developments in this area in the public sector. They could be taken as a basis. The key problem is staffing. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce courses for working teachers and to start training specialists in civic education concurrently.

The academic disciplines provide the necessary theoretical knowledge. School practices, first of all, participation in the work of self-government bodies, contribute to the development of skills, provide useful experience. However, an effective model of school self-government is needed for this. So far it is not existed and new norms of the law have caused a number of comments. Article 27 defines a curriculum or a pedagogical council as the main collegial government body of an educational institution. Here we see the narrowing of the concept of a collegial government body. Previously, the conference, the board of the educational institution, the council under the director and his deputies in addition to the pedagogical or academic council also belonged to the collegial government bodies. Of course, in our realities the council of the school has been and remains to be the nominal body. However, from a formal point of view, it should include representatives of all interested parties and be a collegial body. In the Western model of a democratic school, it is the representative body, which includes both the participants of the educational process and members of the public, acts as the main collegial body. You can call it anything you like – council, parliament or something else in a different way, but it does not change the meaning.

Article 28 of the Law of Ukraine “On Education” fixes the right of the participants of the educational process directly and through the bodies of public self-government to solve the problems of organization and maintenance of the educational process. It is noted that self-government bodies of employees of the educational institution, self-government bodies of the applicants for education, bodies of parental self-government can function inside the educational institution. However, most of the problems of school life require the participation of teachers, parents and students for their decision. Communication of the different interested parts is an integral part of the civilized solution of problems in a democratic society. It is necessary to learn to it. Of course, the norm of law allows the existence of other bodies. But the absence of a representative body in the list, which is formed from representatives of the teaching staff, parents and students means that it is not necessary to create it. Since teachers and parents have a very little idea of ​​school self-government, it is very doubtful that such a body would be created on their initiative. And without it there would be a situation when each of the interested parties would undertake self-government separately from another. The principle “everything that is not forbidden by the law is allowed” may not work in this case.

Article 70 supposes the implementation of public-private government in the field of education. It is provided through the interaction of government bodies, local government and civil society institutions. It includes the formation of representative public associations and other institutions of civil society that represent participants of the educational process and other stakeholders. This is a positive innovation, which provides an opportunity for the active public to gain access to the solution of school problems and to put the school under public control. However, in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the article there is an illustrative contradiction. Paragraph 6 states: “Representative public associations and other institutions of civil society can be formed in order to ensure public-private government in the sphere of education …”. In paragraph 7 it is stated that “the bodies of public-private government in the sphere of education are formed by the decision of the central executive body in the sphere of education and science, other state bodies, local self-government bodies in the form of working groups, advisory, public, expert and other bodies”. It turns out that representative public associations and other institutions of civil society are formed by decision of the authorities. In addition, in the list of forms, respectively, and functions, we see consultative, expert and others, but we do not find the functions of control. However, government cannot be realized without control. Therefore, the need of logical harmonization and modification of the article’s paragraphs seems to be obvious.

The problem of organizing the effective self-government in an educational institution is one of the most difficult to solve as a result of two main reasons: the lack of knowledge among participants in the educational process and adequate ideas about the essence of self-government in an educational institution; the existence of stable traditions of subordination to the will and regulations of authority’s institutions. Therefore, today the orientation to regulations, to model provisions and instructions that will “come from above” is apparent inside schools. The understanding that the issue of creating an effective system of self-government should be solved by an educational institution with participation of all participants of the educational process and interested parties is missing. Moreover, there is even no understanding of whom and for what purpose this self-government is needed.

Article 31 regulates the relationship between educational institutions and political parties (associations), religious organizations. It is prohibited to involve educational applicants to participate in events organized by religious organizations or political parties. However, religious organizations do not have access to educational institutions. The situation is different with political parties. In fact, we have a monopoly of “parties of power” to access educational institutions. Traditionally they are built into the administrative vertical of these parties. Many school directors have very similar “party biography”: party affiliation changed synchronously with the change of the “party of power”. The representatives of the central and/or local “party of power” only come to school celebrations. Teachers in commissions also represent a “party of power” at polling stations that work in schools. Educational institutions provide turnout for the polling stations of workers and applicants for education exclusively on the order of local authorities, where the same party has the majority. Does this article really make it possible to release educational institutions from the influence of an administrative resource? Taking into account the stable traditions and the differences between the formal and the real, the prospects can still be assessed as doubtful. It is unlikely that the “parties of power” willingly reject such a “tasty resource”. Moreover, the article does not directly address to this issue. After all, here is the situation with the administrative resource: since it is not formalized, there is nothing to forbid by the law. And the fact that it really exists on a large scale and is a secret for no one, it seems, in general, this is another side of the problem. Therefore, the chances for its solution are more dependent on the resistance of applicants for education and parents.

It is worth drawing attention to one more important aspect that is not reflected in the article. In democratic countries an educational institution is an institution of civil society that cooperates with both government authorities and civil society institutions, with non-governmental organizations. The latter ones are important subjects of civic education. Our educational institutions are closed to non-governmental organizations. The only exception is those organizations that are actually created by the authorities. For example, such “non-governmental organizations” were created to promote presidential initiatives on changes to the Constitution. They get access easily to educational institutions. And for human rights organizations that come with the initiative of conducting trainings on the problems of protecting the rights of children it is quite hard to get to school. The law does not solve this problem.

Section IV of the Law is devoted to education standards, educational programs and qualifications. According to Article 32, the education standard specifies the requirements for compulsory competencies and the results of training the applicant for education at the appropriate level. It is also noted that education standards are developed in accordance with the National Qualifications Framework. This document was approved by the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 1341 on 23th of November in 2011. The general part makes definition: The National Qualifications Framework is a system and structured competency description of qualification levels. In the document, competence/competences is/are defined as “a person’s ability to perform a certain type of activity, expressed through knowledge, understanding, skills, values, other personal qualities”. However, these components of competence are not specified.

According to Article 10, which determines the levels of education, the basic secondary education corresponds to the second level of the National Qualifications Framework, and the specialized secondary education corresponds to the third. This is the period of school education, during which civil competence has to be actively formed. The description of the second and third qualification levels shows that civil competencies, like the others defined in article 12, are not displayed in the inventory. The description of qualification levels is given irrespective of specific competencies. In fact, it is said about competencies just in the general part, where the definition of the content of concepts is given. The values ​​in the inventory of qualification levels are not mentioned at all. It is completely illogical that the National Qualifications Framework had been developed before the list of competences was defined, is determined as the basic document. In this form it looks unusable for developing new standards of education on its basis. Obviously, significant changes are needed for this document.

The National Qualifications Framework is a basic document for the development of educational standards either, including requirements for compulsory competencies. The article 32 provides this. Once again there is the question of how the requirements for competencies that are absent in the inventory would be defined on the basis of the outdated National Qualifications Framework.

Article 33 provides the possibility of developing educational programs by educational institutions or the use of standard or other programs that are developed and approved in accordance with the laws. Thus, today schools could already start to work on improving educational programs based on the necessary competencies for students who have already studied. It could be relied on the definition of competence content, which is given in the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union “On the main competencies for lifelong learning”. The essence of civic competence is defined quite clearly within it. It is already possible now to compile programs of civic education disciplines and implement them into the educational process relying on the above-mentioned knowledge and skills.

However, it is not possible to add new disciplines simply because of the students are already overloaded with classes. Therefore, there is a need to revise the content of the educational material of all school disciplines in terms of the usefulness of knowledge and skills for a man of the 21st century. Definitely, the result of such revision should be a cutting the time of teaching certain disciplines, replacing entire blocks of teaching material. It is doubtful that a man of the 21st century needs to be able to keep a weather calendar, writing off indicators from weather websites or cross-stitching. In fact teachers still manage to prove the need of these skills for the students: in ancient times seafarers kept records about the weather, so we also need to learn; girls who do not know how to sew are less likely to get married.

Certainly, the school is not interested in such a revision due to several reasons: it is a large amount of work; many teachers will lose their usual amount of working hours; there are personnel problems concerning the introduction of new disciplines, for example for teaching “civics”. Therefore, the school will make every effort to leave everything as it is for students who are already studying. Moreover, orders from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on the need to apply the norm of law are not being received now. At the same time, it is now possible to actually reduce the studying hours by removing the ballast for the brain. And instead of it to add the knowledge necessary for life. To achieve this it is necessary: ​​to significantly reduce and adjust the number of topics and tasks within the available disciplines; part of the disciplines to transform into sections, which will be visited by those who are interested in cross-stitching and making shelves; to introduce “Civics” and instead of “Basics of Law” to teach “Human Rights”.

Articles 53-55 of the Law regulate the rights and obligations of participants of the educational process. They contain no cardinal innovations, however, it is worth paying attention to some points. Article 53 establishes the constitutional right for applicants for education to respect human dignity, protection during the educational process from humiliation of honor and dignity, from all forms of violence and exploitation, from discrimination on any grounds. Disrespect for human dignity, humiliation of students – typical violations in the Ukrainian school. Violators are often teachers. Only from formal consolidation of rights, in the absence of real mechanisms for their protection, violations will not cease. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce these mechanisms and effective sanctions. Article 54 obliges teachers to respect the dignity, rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of all participants of the educational process; to assert respect for public morals and social values by precepts and personal example. However, it is also necessary to add knowledge to the obligations – to introduce compulsory civil and legal education for teachers.

Also an important provision is the one that prohibits the involvement of applicants for education during the educational process to perform work or to participate in activities not related to the implementation of the educational program, except the cases stipulated by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. This means that all the activities that are traditionally held during the lessons – paid “cinemas in 3D” and performances of illusionists, rehearsals for the holidays, meetings with deputies and others are a violation of the current law. Apparently, there are two interested parts who perceive the facts of violations positively – the administration and teachers, students. Therefore, attention and efforts of parents are needed here, since the corresponding part of the educational material will be missed or set for independent studying. And article 54 obliges teachers to fulfill the educational program for the achievement by the applicants for education of the learning outcomes provided by it. Therefore, such things are a fact of violation of this norm.

Article 55 establishes the right of parents to protect, in accordance with the law, the rights and legitimate interests of applicants for education and the obligation to educate children to respect the dignity, rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the individual, the laws. Defending the rights of the child, parents not only realize the right and fulfill the duty. By fulfilling that they, therefore, teach children to protect their rights. If parents ignore the facts of violations, then they teach children to take it as a norm of life. This makes them a disservice. So this rule of law should attract the parents’ close attention not only because of the short-term result – protection of the violated right. A more important strategic goal is to teach children not to tolerate violation of their rights and to force others to respect these rights.

Article 73 lays the foundations for the functioning of the institution of the educational ombudsman, which is entrusted with the task of protecting the rights in the sphere of education. There are no references to the provision on the educational ombudsman, on the order and conditions of applying approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. However, the introduction of this institution is a necessary step towards solving the problem of school violence. Therefore, the development of effective protection mechanisms becomes a priority. They should be laid down in the above-mentioned documents. Considering that in fact half of the applicants for education claim oppression, the problem of accessibility of the human rights ombudsman’s mission for all those whose rights are violated is extremely important.

Opportunities are available. What hampers them?

No one doubts the need for cardinal reform of the education system, including the need for providing conditions for fulfilling the tasks of educating a citizen. The norms of the already existing Law of Ukraine “On Education” provide some real opportunities for the realization of this mission of the educational institution. The content of civil competence is defined in the documents of the European Union. Within the civil society there are some materials on the organization of civic education and upbringing. Many public activists are ready to cooperate with educational institutions. However, there is uncertainty about how and to what extent the reform of school education concerns those students who are already studying. On the one hand, all the reform norms of the Law are based on the concept of implementing the state policy in the field of reforming general secondary education “The New Ukrainian School”. Certain stages of its implementation, prescribed competences are oriented to a full-scale educational reform, which will begin to be introduced in the 2018 school year. On the other hand, since the Law is already in force, the reform should also concern current students. However, the absence of transitional provisions, explanations of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine regarding the application of a competence approach in the educational process that is already underway lead to a tacit agreement to postpone the reform for the future.

Brief description of the civic competence of the modern Ukrainian school graduate – social, civil and legal ignorance. Therefore, the following questions arise: is it worthwhile to “preserve” this situation for another 10 years? Who is interested in this? In the time that has passed since the adoption of the new Law of Ukraine “On Education”, there have been no positive developments in the direction of applying its norms to ensure the necessary changes in the educational process. Moreover, at the school level there is a lack of even intentions regarding changes in educational programs, the introduction of civic education. The formal reason is known – the absence of explanations, instructions from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine regarding these issues. However, there is another – disinterest in the rapid implementation of changes among the existing institutions of power and the majority of teachers, the lack of pressure from the parental community.

Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine sent to local governments, local state administrations, heads of educational institutions Letter No. 1 / 9-554 of October 13, 2017 “On topical issues of the implementation of the Law of Ukraine “On Education”. The list of urgent issues indicates technological changes, re-registration of documents, licensing and certification of educational institutions and others. Among the 10 points only 2 directly concern educational process: the system of ensuring the quality of education and providing access to education for children with special needs. The beginning of the formation of competencies, which the graduate already needs now, as we see, does not belong to urgent issues. Bureaucratic issues are more important. In the end of the letter it is noted that “if necessary, the Ministry will provide explanations on other issues of the implementation of the Law of Ukraine “On Education”. Obviously, it is the issue of introducing a competence approach and the formation of competencies necessary for life in the 21st century, which now requires the greatest attention and detailed explanations. Immediate implementation of civic education for students and teachers, creation of effective bodies of school self-government are important not only to prevent civil and social illiteracy among graduates of the next 10 years, but also to develop the tradition of forming civic competence in the “New Ukrainian School”.

The main stimulating factors for the speedy introduction of civic education can be:

  • actualization of the problem in the expert environment;
  • the increased attention to it among various public organizations, because the effectiveness of their activities directly depends on the level of civic competence;
  • activation of the parental community interested in the upbringing of children as civilized citizens and the creation of a civilized society as a living environment for them.


The problem of the formation of civic and social competence in the Ukrainian school is not yet at the forefront of attention of politicians, government officials and ideologists of educational reform. There is also no awareness of the key role in this process of the state, which declares building of democracy. Therefore, we do not observe active pressure on the state authorities to speed up the reform.

The new Law of Ukraine “On Education” provides some formal opportunities for the democratization of the Ukrainian school and the formation of the civic competence among students at the present time. However, a lack of understanding of the essence of democratic reforms, traditional passivity and the orientation of teachers solely to execute orders, significantly hamper the reform process. Therefore, the main mission in promoting educational reform is assigned to the institutions of civil society. However, more or less rapid progress requires also active participation and support of the main stakeholders – parents and applicants for educational services.

In the issues of reforming school education, the attention of officials, educators and the public is emphasized on the future benefits of implementing the measures stipulated in the Concept of implementing state policy in the field of reforming general secondary education “New Ukrainian School”. The stages of implementing the educational reform are too long in time. In fact, the problem of introducing the main components of the reform, including the formation of the necessary competencies among modern schoolchildren, is not raised. A conclusion is drawn about the tacit agreement of all the parts that for the next 10 years the schoolchildren will study due to the old-fashioned program, that they do not need competences. Then it is worth realizing that during this time graduates of the Ukrainian school will be deprived of civil, social, legal knowledge and skills, that is, as for these competences they will remain illiterate.

In solving the problem of the formation of civic competence, adherence to the principle of “slow but sure” means only one thing: you will be further from the point you are going to achieve. That is, further from a civilized European society and a democratic state. Therefore, from the next academic year, it is necessary to introduce in the educational institutions teaching of disciplines that provide knowledge for the formation of social and civic competence. Alongside with this, it is necessary to change the school environment in a broad sense – from the style of communication to the ways of management and the nature of relations with the outside world.

The National Qualifications Framework, developed in 2011, looks inapplicable as a basic document for the formation of new education standards.


Effective implementation of the competence approach requires thorough preparation. Necessary conditions are: the introduction in the educational process starting from the next year of “Civics” and civic education blocks in other disciplines; intensification of work towards the creation of an effective system of school self-government. Without this, it is impossible not only to form at least some of the features of civic culture among modern schoolchildren, but also to carry out effective preparation for the formation of civic competence among schoolchildren who will study in the “new Ukrainian school”.

Without the participation of the state as one of the main subjects of civic education, the process of its implementation will be more time-consuming and less effective. Therefore, the main task of experts, humanitarians, active minority is to establish effective working communication with government institutions and lobby for the introduction of systemic civic education right now.

The state being an interested part should direct educational institutions to the need to give civic knowledge and to form civic and social competence. The choice of an educational institution can concern only the forms and methods of education and upbringing, rather than its content and civic values.

Compulsory civic education should be introduced from the academic year 2018/19, at least for the secondary and the high school.

The final control of knowledge on civics is needed. Therefore, the central body of executive power in the field of education and science should introduce civics in the list of subjects for which state final certification is conducted.

The introduction of a competence approach requires the development of a radically new evaluation system. After all, the level of competence cannot be assessed by using traditional methods or testing technologies.

For the transition period, while the school will introduce a systemic civic education, it is necessary to strengthen the civic education component in professional and higher educational institutions.

Since school administrations and teachers are not interested in the rapid implementation of the changes in the ongoing educational process stipulated by the Law of Ukraine “On Education”, referring to the absence of official explanations about the possibility of changes, obviously such explanations are indeed necessary. Preparation of the official explanations by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on the application of the articles of the Law of Ukraine “On Education”, in particular 27, 28, 31, 33, 70 and others is considered to be relevant.

The introduction of the institution of the educational ombudsman is a positive step, but not sufficient enough. Since violations of the rights of applicants for education are of a total nature, it seems necessary to create regional offices of the educational ombudsman.

Particular attention should be paid to the introduction of real self-governance mechanisms in educational institutions. The self-government body, by definition, is a collegial body in which all interested parties are represented. Therefore, the Law of Ukraine “On Education” should clearly define the status of the highest representative body of self-government, which includes all participants of the educational process and representatives of the public.

It seems appropriate to adopt a separate law on civic education and upbringing with a clear definition of subjects, the level of civic knowledge for a graduate of school, vocational school, university.

It is necessary to make significant changes to the National Qualifications Framework, taking into account the list of competencies.

Svetlana Topalova

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”

The paper was prepared with the support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the EED and is the sole responsibility of Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”