Citizenship education still without any improvement

15. May 2019.

A new intersubject programme of citizenship education does not bring any improvements. Civil society has been replaced by community, nationalism has been inserted in places where it does not even fit the context and with everything we are seeing, the young are still being raised to be subjects, not citizens.

The decision on adopting the new intersubject topic of Croatian Citizenship Education Curriculum for primary and secondary schools in the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the Curriculum) was published in the Official Gazette on January 25, 2019 (NN 10/2019) and will be implemented in the school year 2019/2020. The final document included some suggestion from the public hearing. However, the Curriculum still, as it did up until now, specifies citizenship education (hereinafter: the CE) as an intersubject topic for which there will be, as it was up until now, very little time during the classes.

Moreover, through the curricular reform and now active “School for life”, alongside the CE, there is a plan to introduce 6 more intersubject topics that should all somehow be crammed into the existing schedule. At the same time, from the example of the curriculum for History and the Croatian language, we see that the elimination of excessive factographical details and content is very hard to agree on. Besides that, the correlation of the CE with the subjects is not adequately arranged. Therefore, expert discussions and experiences of teachers and students confirm that we cannot expect any improvements.

What does the new curriculum for the intersubject topic of Citizenship Education entail?

The curriculum of intersubject topic of Citizenship Education was only slightly changed after the discussion, but enough for the interest influences to be recognised. The changes between the phase of consultation and the final version were analysed. It was concluded that the domain of “Civil society” does not have to be a separate domain and was separated from democracy. Its name was changed to “Social community”, which is conceptually very unclear. In the outcomes, under C.4.1., it is stated: “It explains the meaning, the role and the achievements of the community in problem-solving”, or “It is included in the promotion and the community activities” and “Advocated investment in the development of the community.” However, in the general domain description, there are still descriptions of the civil society as “an instrument of promoting democracy and protecting the human rights” and the description on how the students learn to promote the common interests by “supporting and participating in the activities of the society (for example, organisations and NGOs).” Democratisation is deleted from the educational outcomes for the 1st and the 2nd year of primary school.

Vedrana Spajić Vrkaš pointed out, as a critique of this conceptual framework, the fact that it does not start with citizens as subjects and with citizens’ rights and responsibilities.

In the part of the text on promoting the equality of genders, in which the expectation of promoting “the equality of genders in everyday situations” is set out, an unclear part of a sentence was added, saying “in family, marital and every other union”, for unknown reasons. In the domain of human rights for the last two grades of secondary schools, the content of “National and international instruments for protection of human rights” was eliminated, and “The system of protecting the family and marital union in the Republic of Croatia” was added.

The expected educational outcomes and results should be the key part of the curriculum and the thing being taught should directly benefit the students. However, this is not true, because in the curriculum the outcomes and the content are, in places, unrelated. The concept of “nationalism” was, after an e-consultation, added in the document in 10 places, nine of them being in the key content. At the same time, it is not mentioned once in the outcomes. This type of rushed and ill-thought-out insertion of nationalism created somewhat inapt formulations. For example, “Social participation (discussions, actions)” was turned into “The connection of nationalism and social participation.”

Students with special education needs (talented students and students with difficulties) are, again, included in the curriculum. Under the goals of teaching and educating, under number 4, a goal was set: “to develop basic values in the democratic school environment and the wider democratic community, especially ethics, moral, family and marital values.” More people commented on the validity of listing these values, because it was unclear why those particular values were highlighted. The basis for highlighting some of the suggested values, in terms of regulations or acts, was not clear, so the organisations of the GOOD initiative suggested the explicit citing of the values of the Croatian Constitution.

In the final version, in accordance with the comments from the organisations of the GOOD initiative, in the educational goals of teaching and educating, constitutional values are highlighted, but alongside other goals on the list, which do not have a clear source or theoretical background. Alongside constitutional values, values listed are: ethics, moral, family values, marital values. The European and global context is included in places, but not enough throughout the document. In promoting the rights of national minorities, alongside integration, the importance of equal treatment was added. Moreover, the document states it is important to participate in the citizens’ panels that foster democratic society values set out in the goals of this document.

Finally, the ability to implement these intersubject topics was questioned, seeing that the subject curriculums are also set out and that they do not correlate with citizenship education. It is interesting to note that, in the final version, the citizenship education correlates mostly to History, Croatian language, Ethics and Religious Education, and less to Politics and Economy, Sociology and Nature and Society. Some suggestions and comments link this area exclusively to the kindness or courtesy and completely ignore the potential of an active citizen to make positive changes in the community.

Education for subjects, not citizens

The changes to the current version of the curriculum and the version on the consultation can briefly be described as minor adjustments of the concepts, in order to achieve a compromise with the critics, mainly right-winged, that criticised the lack of mentioning of the nationalism and family values in the curriculum. At the same time, the theoretical background and the type of citizenship that this curriculum nurtures remain unclear.

The comment of the GOOD initiative members referred to the ability to implement the curriculum as one of seven intersubject topics, whose correlation with the curriculum subjects are insufficient and unclear. The lack of defining the evaluation of achievements in the Citizenship education was mentioned as an objection. That is why it will be hard to determine to what degree the implementation of an intersubject topic contributes to citizens’ competencies of the students.

The Curriculum on Citizenship education as one of seven intersubject topics, without a separate subject in primary and secondary school or without an adequate education of the professors stays unenforceable. That also shows the continuity of the lack of political will to educate active and responsible citizens. The government continuously shows that it wants subjects, not citizens.

Finally, for describing the curriculum we can use the words of Bert Šalaj, a member of Gong. “This curriculum is like holy water. It does not harm, but it does not do any good.”

The GOOD initiative, thanks to the Open Society Foundations Education Support Program for supporting this project. The contents of the document are the sole responsibility of the author and the GOOD Initiative and do not necessarily reflect the views of the donor.

Gong is a Centre of Knowledge in the area of Civil Activism and the Building of Democratic Institutions within the framework of Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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