The future of civic education in Ukraine – the transition to the relevant European model | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

The future of civic education in Ukraine – the transition to the relevant European model

Ukraine has chosen the course for European integration, but unlike the Eastern European and Baltic states, Ukraine has not implemented a system of civic education aimed at the perceiving of the values ​​and senses of the European political culture, and development a democratic civil identity. Instead, we went through the formation of fragmentary social, political and legal knowledge, relying on the unchanged Soviet mentality. Perception of European values ​​is still carried out at the level of stamps. Their essence and deep meaning, the possibilities of application to the social practice remain beyond the understanding of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens. Therefore, we cannot observe a significant progress of Ukraine on the way to the formation of a culture of European-type citizenship.

Under the formed “facade democracy” the Soviet system of values ​​and subject culture, nostalgic attitude coexist with attractive, but not deliberate European values. The existence of such a peculiar “political-cultural hybrid” simplified substantially the solution of propaganda problems about the export of Russian Ukrainian-hatred ideology to the consciousness of the most of our citizens.

At one day Winston Churchill said: “If people do not want to take care of politics, politics would take care of them”. Our society has more than once been convinced by our own experience in the truth of this statement. Eastern European countries demonstrate examples of the successful transformation of the “culture of subordination” into a “culture of participation”, which was the result of the universal civic education. That experience is worth being explored and to adapted.

The relevant European model of civic education

Over the past decades in the EU countries the interpretation of civic education has evolved from the notion of “Civics education” (obtaining knowledge in the field of social science, political science, history, law) to the modern concept of “Citizenship education”. The emphasis in civic education has shifted from the systematic provision of information from the social sciences to the formation of personal civic competencies that allow a person to be an active subject of socio-political practices of democratic society.

Both the goals and the basic ideas of civic education have changed.

The key points of the modern concept of «Citizenship education» are:

  • Supranational content. Now the spectrum of civic education includes a wide variety of issues: from human rights and participation in politics to intercultural communication and environmental education. Restriction of the narrow topic of a single state’s political interests is in the past.
  • Civic activity and participation in governance. It presupposes a continuous process of civic education, the acquisition of new citizenship skills, their application to public activities throughout whole life. For children this means participating in school self-government. For adults studying citizenship this is the display of activity and initiatives in municipal, regional and state government. It is also the fostering the individual’s social responsibility, and overcoming the assumption that “Big Brother will decide everything for you”.
  • Training through practice. It means that the assimilation of theoretical knowledge occurs in practical situations, modeled and real. At the same time, initiative and involvement in the most diverse types of socio-political activities are cultivated. In the process of teaching citizenship discussions, trainings and discussions are widely used. It is encouraged the participation of schoolchildren and students in the activities of public organizations. It gives the entering student substantial “bonuses” even with admission to European universities.
  • Participatory democracy. The model of representative democracy is already considered outdated and does not meet the requirements of the times. The ideologists of the new system of civic education consider that citizens can independently exercise legislative, executive and supervisory functions, instead of transferring them to the state. Political decisions could be made through referendums, discussions, petitions, people’s initiative, and also through the statutory right to recall ineffective state managers which are deputies, judges, functionaries of executive power. But this requires a new quality of citizens and other components of a culture of citizenship. The concept of participatory democracy is aimed primarily at struggle with the main problems of the modern state and society that are corruption, lobbying of interests of big capital, manipulation of public opinion, violation of human rights, the dominance of consumer culture, environmental problems.

In general, the modern concept of civic education intended to enhance the activity and involvement of citizens in political and social processes. Since the main obstacles in this way are passivity and incompetence of citizens, a new strategy of civic education is directed at overcoming them. One of the ways to solve these problems is to significantly expand the range of subjects of civic education. In the EU countries, it is developed by the state, non-governmental and supranational organizations, educational institutions, the media, and the active public.

In the period from the late 90s to the present, the governing bodies of the Council of Europe adopted a number of documents in the field of civic education. First of all, these are practical recommendations for countries about education in the spheres of citizenship, human rights, and social responsibility. These recommendations are embodied in state concepts and programs, in educational plans and programs of educational institutions, in the activities of public organizations. Thus, the circle of subjects of civic education is maximally expanded.

The program of training in democratic citizenship and human rights – “Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education – EDC / HRE” is initiated by the Council of Europe and has already successfully implemented in 47 countries. It is based on the Charter of the Council of Europe about education in the field of democratic citizenship and human rights. The content of the program is based on the promotion of basic European values: democracy, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, cultural diversity. It is aimed at protecting the individual and society from violence, racism, extremism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance.

Special educational programs are also being implemented in various areas of civic education. The program “Education for Democracy 2018-2019” is aimed at shaping the personal culture of democracy, the assimilation of its ethical and communicative norms. The purpose of the other “Education Program of activities 2016-2017” is training the skills of civic activity in democratic society. The program “Developing a culture of co-operation when teaching and learning history” is aimed at the practice of communication and conflict resolution on the principles of tolerance and intercultural dialogue in history lessons. This is not a complete list of programs implemented in the European Union. Their strategic goal is to educate a man of the 21st century, a citizen of his/her state and united Europe.

Ukraine is still outside of the European civic educational space. Moreover, at the strategic level, there is no understanding of the meaning and purpose of civic education in modern society. There is no clear model. This shows that the problem of civic education and its development tendencies in European countries are not in the list of priorities for the Ukrainian authorities.

Experience of civic education in Poland

The experience of the development of civic education in Poland is indicative and useful for Ukraine. This country has gone from the Soviet past to the European present. It has become a full member of the European Union, not only formally, but also in the mental dimension. We still have a long way to go. It is obvious that at the time of the collapse of the Soviet system there were certain differences in the political and cultural conditions. They should be taken into consideration when we would develop a strategy and choose a model of civic education. However, the Polish experience clearly demonstrates milestones that we cannot bypass on the way to educate a citizen of a civilized state.

Civic education in Poland has begun to implement in the early 90s right after the collapse of the socialist camp. The initiative belonged to non-governmental organizations that directed efforts to democratize public consciousness and form a civil society. Educational institutions immediately became open for cooperation with public organizations. At the state level, conditions favorable for civic education were quickly created. In 1991, a law was passed that has regulated the reform of the education system according to the Western European model. It still works with some changes and additions. This indicates its high quality level.

Through the efforts of proactive citizens in Warsaw, the Center for Civic Education was established, which in the mid-1990s has already begun its work in the educational environment. Their specialists developed a course of civic education for schoolchildren, wrote textbooks and manuals for its maintenance. They also held public discussions and monitored school self-government. Later they organized special courses for teachers and trainers and started active work in Polish schools. This became possible due to the permission in the law on education for public organizations to work on the territory of educational institutions. The implementation of civic education took place with close cooperation between state bodies and public organizations.

Now educational materials on civic education in the country are created and produced by both state and non-governmental organizations. Priority is given to the civic education of teachers and trainers. Along with public organizations, this is the responsibility of official institutions, in particular, the Head Center for the Improvement of Teachers. The republican and municipal bodies support and encourage the conducting of various events initiated by public organizations. They allocate funds from budgets for conducting contests, discussions, trainings, round tables, and practices on civic education.

The Ministry of Public Education of Poland has adopted the “New School” program. It is aimed at reforming the school life, spread civic education, ensuring cooperation of state and public institutions in this field. Since the late 1990s, a ministerial project for global education in the field of civic education and human rights for schools of various types has been implemented. A system of courses and trainings for students, teachers and school supervisors (government officials who control school education) has been introduced. The process of teaching citizenship within the school subject “Social Science” is analyzed. The observance of the students’ rights in schools and school self-government is systematically monitored.

Patriotic education is presented as a separate direction. The program of the Polish government “Patriotism of Tomorrow” is aimed at the formation of Polish identity in both cultural and political aspects. It is based on the common European principles of preserving cultural diversity, respect for the national state, the political nation and its interests, on the priority of the interests of the citizen over the interests of the state.

At the initial phase of European integration in Poland, there were many discussions about the appropriateness and mechanisms for the transition to the Western European model of civic education. Among the key issues is the priority of civic or national education, concerns about the possible loss of national identity, the decline of national culture. They were also afraid of the development of cultural nihilism as a result of the assimilation of European values. Significant problems arose due to the weakness of democratic traditions, and the lack of experience in organizing the activities of educational institutions on democratic principles. In fact, these are problems that need to be addressed in our situation. However, experience has shown that many of them have been successfully overcome inside the country. But the search for an acceptable balance the optimal combination of national / pan-European educational principles continues.

Thus, civic education in Poland is part of the state educational policy. State institutions are initiators and organizers of this process. They closely cooperate with public organizations. Civic education is carried out both in the process of schooling and outside the school. An important direction is the informal enlightenment of adults. The modern concept of civic education in Poland fully corresponds to the European “Citizenship education”.

Civic Education in Ukraine: challenges and paradoxes

During the period of independence, the Ukrainian authorities declare with varying intensity the need for “democratization”, “entry into the European cultural and educational space”, “de-communization”. It would be logical to assume that after the Revolution of Dignity with the appearance of a “democratic, Europe-oriented” government, civic education in Ukraine would start to develop in the mainstream of the European model. After all, it meets the requirements of the time, and has shown its effectiveness in European countries. However, this does not happen. The problems solving have not progressed so far beyond discussions, mainly at the expert level.

Civic education, as in the 90s, in Ukraine is mainly involved in public organizations with the support of Western funds. They develop the directions of civic education, programs, courses and trainings in accordance with the European concept. The state does not participate in this process, which indicates a lack of understanding of the significance and severity of the problem. In this situation, civic education is not widely spread among the most mass target audience – schoolchildren, students, teachers and trainers. Consciousness of new generations is actually formed in the environment of the “civic educational vacuum”.

On the website of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine we do not find any audible mention of civic education or about projects related to it. Some points are in the section of “Non-school education” are: “School self-government”, and “Socially educational work and protection of the child’s rights”. In the first section we find the only topic: “Project activity on patriotic education” in the regions of Ukraine. “Socially educational work and protection of the child’s rights” contains 6 more narrow areas. Among them, two are the closest to the topic of civic education: “Personal dignity. Life safety. Civic position” and “National and patriotic education”. In the first there are programs of clubs and electives on the topic. The subsection of national and patriotic education contains an annotation explaining its essence.

The term “civic education” is not used in the annotation, but several characteristic of civic education are mentioned among the goals and tasks. They are: “the ability to determine the forms and ways of their participation in the life of civil society”, “participation in the activities of the state”, “the ability to protect human rights”. In general, both the definition and tasks are prescribed by the ministry from the standpoint of the priority of state and national interests, and the requirement to protect them.

Thus, this concept is based on a narrow interpretation of civic education. It is a kind of chaotic set of ideas about the courses of education with the leading principle of the supremacy of the state interests over the individual interests and rights. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine does not consider civic education of the European type (Citizenship education) as a priority. The paradox is that the situation with civic education in Ukraine today is more likely to duplicate the Soviet rather than the European model. This contradicts with the European choice that Ukraine has declared.

The military aggression of the Russian Federation has raised another huge layer of problems. In fact, we have faced: first, with the annexation and occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine; secondly, with the established imperial-Soviet-Russian model of education of loyal soldiers of the empire. In modern Russia, civic education is present exclusively at the level of publications and individual developments. Most of them are from the late 1990s to the first decade of the 2000s. The model of military and patriotic education has been embodied in its pure form since the beginning of the second decade in the Russian Federation. It completely copies the Soviet model according to the structure and principles of the organization. The substantive part is based on several principles: neo-imperialism; social and cultural conservatism and isolationism; priority of state interests over personal interests; military superiority of Russia over other countries; imperial state patriotism; isolation on internal interests. Education in this spirit has become a key tool for propaganda of the “Russian world” ideology in all educational institutions. Within four years aggressive “educational” practices have taken root in the occupied Ukrainian territories.

In this context, many questions have arisen. Can we defend ourselves effectively while we are still in the Soviet system of education? What should we leave and what do we need to overcome in ourselves in order to defend our independence? What model of civic education should we choose and implement in order to form our own civic identity and, in the future, will become citizens of united Europe?

The answer to each of the questions posed, assumes, among other things, the necessity to identify the characteristics of our society. After all, it is our society’s culture features that have a significant counteraction to the development of civic education. Formally, the Ukrainians still have not got rid of the subject culture even they had been free from the nets of the former metropolis. The role and authority of public organizations in Ukrainian society is still not sufficient for a breakthrough towards the implementation of universal civic education. Their initiatives in this area have not found any significant implementation in educational institutions yet. The main reason is that both representatives of the authorities and subjects of the educational process are still holders of the subject mentality.

Subject culture is a key factor preventing Ukrainians from accepting and assimilating European values, and translating democratic principles into social reality. This culture could be changed only with the help of universal civic education. However, European-type civic education in Ukraine does not develop because of the subject culture domination. Thus, a vicious circle is obtained. We cannot develop a European civic education, because we have a subject culture. We cannot overcome this culture, because we do not have a civic education. An urgent task for Ukraine is to break this circle and finally move on to the European model of civic education. In the light of Russian aggression and the events of recent years, this is no longer the subject of discussions, but the survival of the Ukrainian state.


In the modern world, there are two fundamentally different models of civic education: Western/ European and Soviet/Post-Soviet. The first one is based on a broad interpretation of civic education and its tasks, on the recognition of the priority of the formation of civic qualities for the purpose of fostering social responsibility in each sphere of human activity. The model is characterized by high dynamism, ability to respond to changes in the society and new problems. In recent years, in the countries of the European Union, it has evolved from “Civics education” to “Citizenship education”. It is also being implemented by the Eastern European states. It allows them to quickly solve the problems of forming a democratic culture of citizenship.

The Soviet/Post-Soviet model is different not only in its narrow interpretation of civic education, but also in its complete formalization and imitation, in submission to the goal of educating the “defender of the Fatherland”. It is based on the supremacy of the state’s interests over human rights, ideology, and isolationism. This model functions in most Post-Soviet countries, in fact, in an unchanged form. A certain variety gives only a specific ideological content, which is being transformed depending on the external and internal political goals of the state for the next period.

In Ukraine, a paradoxical situation has developed: the government is declaring continuously democratic and European integration intentions, while is not concerned about the issue of implementing a system of civic education and choosing its model that is corresponding with the declared strategic goals. Today there is no strategy and concept of civic education. Discussions about the goals and objectives of civic education are held at the level of public organizations, in fact, without the involvement of institutions of power. In the interpretation of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine civic education is a chaotic mixture of principles, ideas and values of European and Soviet models. Civic education is considered extremely narrow that is contrary to European practice.

One of the main reasons for ignoring the problem of civic education in Ukraine is in the subject culture. Declaratively, Ukraine has chosen the European path and democratic values, but mentally, both the authorities and the society are still in the Soviet past. At the same time, the request for cultural transformation and the adoption of European values in Ukrainian society exists and grows.


The situation of the domination of the subject political culture, worsen by Russian military and information aggression, requires the immediate implementation of the European model of civic education in Ukraine.

It is necessary to develop and adopt a law on civic education with a conceptual support for the relevant European model of “Citizenship Education”.

It is also necessary to achieve conceptual integrity, to avoid chaos and blending outdated and relevant approaches of civic education in the developing legislative provision and the state program of civic education. We should proceed to a broad interpretation of civic education, since it is civil competence that forms the basis for the development of social qualities necessary for a modern person and a civilized society. The goals of legal and political education, the formation of a political nation and civic identity should be addressed within the framework of the system of civic education that is adequate to the changing conditions and strategic goals.

A key role in the justification and development of an acceptable model of civic education, based on the European experience, should be committed by intellectuals, experts, and public organizations. Another of their most important mission is enlightenment activity with the aim of forming a public request for civic education and pressure on the authorities to implement this request.

Ukraine should be oriented towards a multi-subject model of civic education. The main subjects and partners in the educational process, within the framework of this model should be: the state, public organizations, educational institutions and their self-government bodies, local communities. The realization by each subject of their roles should contribute to the formation of the main components of civil competence on which the European concept of “Citizenship education” is based.

Based on the achievements of intellectuals and public organizations the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should launch the process of civic education in all educational institutions of Ukraine: in schools, colleges and technical schools, in higher educational institutions. It is also advisable to create a Coordination Center for Civic Education at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine with the involvement of representatives of public organizations working in the field of civic education and enlightenment.

It is important to consider the Polish experience in creating a working model of civic education in Ukraine. It is worth to think about the possibility of implementing joint Ukrainian-Polish projects in the field of civic education.

Political parties that declare their commitment to the principles of democracy and the strategy of European integration have to include in the educational sections of their political programs the goals about the implementation of universal civic education and its transition to the relevant European model.

Svitlana Topalova, Tetiana Chystilina

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”.