Dimension III - Participation in Democratic Society

In modern societies, democracy is a system of governance in which citizens exercise their influential role and address their rights either directly, or by electing representatives from civil societies or politics, to form a governing body, such as a parliament. A parliament consists of four key elements: a political system responsible for choosing and replacing another government through free and fair elections; an active participation of people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of human rights for all citizens, and an establishment of the rule of law, in which laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. Accordingly democracy ends not with a system of governance but applies to a society itself.

Consequently, education for democratic citizenship should focus primarily on democratic rights and responsibilities, and active participation of citizens in terms of civic, political, social, economic, legal and cultural spheres of society, while human rights education should focus on the broader spectrum of human rights and fundamental freedoms in every aspect of people’s lives.

Human Rights

The underlying principle of human rights is to “secure dignity for every human being everywhere in the world – regardless of a person’s origin, religion, gender, culture etc.” Learning about human rights not only provides knowledge about human rights and fundamental freedoms, but also fosters skills and shapes personal attitudes towards putting human rights into practice, such as acquiring conflict resolution skills, critical abilities, and cooperation skills.

Human rights education in schools is aimed at empowering children and youth to acquire knowledge, become responsible, and be committed to defending their own rights and those of others. Depending on the children’s age, they will learn to develop an understanding of the possibilities and ways to actively participate and contribute in promoting and fostering human rights. One important objective of human rights education is also to develop a culture of human rights based on their accountability. An important factor is that school itself – principals, teachers, parents and others – take the responsibility to respect and protect children’s rights, and provide a learning environment which is in line with human rights principles.

With regards to the topic Human Rights, the material provides methods which illustrate that human rights are part of everyday life and daily routines, and help children recognise when human rights are violated or defended.

Democracy

Democracy is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.” Democracy is defined on Wikipedia as “the notion that ‘the people’ should have control of the government ruling over them.”

Education for democratic citizenship means equipping citizens with knowledge, skills and understanding, in order for them to apply and defend their democratic rights, to define their responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life. Providing a civic education to children is not only a mean of acquiring theoretical knowledge, but also a way to actively master citizenship skills by having the opportunity to actively participate in the democratic decision-making process (for example, by participating in school governance, electing class representatives and forming school councils; using a forum for discussion and being allowed to voice opinions on matters which affect one).

With regards to the topic Democracy, it is best to recall the popular exercise of “Compass”, which helps children to understand the relationship between rights and responsibilities, and to identify them in their daily life. In addition, it encourages children to participate in the promotion and protection of their rights, and agree to the rules and responsibilities within a social group. Thus, it provides children with opportunities to participate in learning about democracy and citizenship via discussions, building consensus and strengthening and setting up rules for the group to pursue.

Participation

Participation means creating spaces for social group meetings and discussions to strengthen ideas and joint decision-making. It is acknowledged that participation makes people active agents and critical thinkers, engaged on the local and global level. Participation also enhances people to contribute towards a more just world.

Ways of participation in a society are varied, but not limited to: exercising the right to vote in elections, attending a demonstration, being part of an assembly, using public spaces, participating in a debate in school.

To exercise participation in school and in the classroom, it is recommended to use methods that strengthen participation at all levels. This means generating and enabling real spaces of participation where children learn about participation using both practical and theoretical methods. In this logic, it is beneficial to develop participative mechanisms in school as well as in the classroom, where children are able to be effective active agents of the institution.

Activities presented in the Participation topic are good examples of, for example: how to change a traditional organisation of a classroom into “an agora for the construction of knowledge”, which favours contributions from everybody (and those we invite to it), and where everybody feels free to express their opinions equally. In addition, it helps provide children with a variety of participation strategies, such as developing empathy for collective needs, strengthening the sense of community, promoting social involvement with an analysis of facts, and facilitating awareness and civic responsibility.

You find the materials for download in different languages here...

 
 

 

                                         
   
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The project ENGAGE has been funded with support from the EU-ERASMUS+ programme |2014-1-FR01-KA200-008747|. This publication reflects the views of the authors only and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.