Germany: New Declaration says civic education is key to strengthening democracy

published 30 June 2020 updated 2 July 2020

A German education union has cautioned against fake news and societal fragmentation and called for the inclusion of civic education in vocational training and further education.

The COVID-19 crisis and its consequences, as well as ongoing social upheavals, present society with challenges of unprecedented dimensions. That’s according to the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW), a German affiliate of Education International, in its latest statement, entitled “Strengthening democracy – more civic education in vocational training and further education!”.

In the Schwerin Declaration, the education union also highlighted how “conspiracy fantasies and fake news are on the rise, and our society is becoming increasingly fragmented”.

Evidence of threats to democracy

It noted other alarming developments as signs that “our democratic coexistence has become fragile”. These included:

  • The deepening of the division between rich and poor
  • The increase of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, and hostility to democracy
  • The lack of solidarity and the isolation of individual states
  • Changes in the media landscape and loss of critical media, undermining of the freedom of the press

Importance of civic education

According to the GEW, these challenges cannot be met by subject-specific education in vocational training and further education alone. Values such as peace, freedom, human rights, participation, co-determination, social justice, and diversity are increasingly being questioned, and must now more than ever be conveyed through civic education.

The latter must counter anti-democratic tendencies and ensure public dialogue about them. It must become a natural part of all educational processes in which young people acquire the skills needed to assess the consequences and interdependencies of political, technical, and social decisions, the GEW said. Basic democratic values and human rights must not only be incorporated, but also practised.

Global Citizenship Education

The union believes that the opportunities offered by education, as laid out in the UNESCO concept of Global Citizenship Education, have hardly been used in vocational schools or in adult and further education. Conveying knowledge and skills to understand global challenges and actively participate in shaping them should enable learners to develop a sense of belonging to the global community, said the union. This would lead to learners becoming involved and taking an active role in society, therefore contributing to a peaceful and equitable world in which ecological resources are preserved. “It is time to firmly incorporate civic education in the daily routine of the educational system – in all educational institutions,” the union said.

GEW activities

The GEW has already acted in relation to civic education. At its 2017 Congress, it adopted a resolution underlining that civic education must be an interdisciplinary focus in the curricula of all school types in all federal states.

In its Schwerin Declaration, it clearly recognises that civic education is a part of public education, as an independent, primary component of lifelong learning, and that it must be integrated into all areas of vocational education and training and adult and further education. Civic education must consolidate critical faculties and discourse capabilities in order to implement all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Civic education in initial vocational training

To fulfil the holistic educational mission of vocational schools, the GEW highlights that it is necessary, now more than ever, to:

  • Incorporate civic education systematically and equivalently with a corresponding teaching load in the curricula of the relevant fields of learning and in learning situations.
  • Consider vocational schools as being of quality within the vocational education and training system.
  • Expand university teacher training to include civic education at vocational schools to significantly reduce the high proportion of teachers not familiar with the subject.
  • Initiate measures to attract junior staff for civic education analogous to technical and scientific fields and call on vocational schools to recruit teachers with relevant qualifications for civic education.
  • Urgently expand offers for further and advanced training courses for teachers in civic education.
  • Establish research funding programmes for civic education and political socialisation in the vocational training sector.

Civic education in adult and further education

For the GEW, vocational education and training must also “leave the confined space of functional strengthening and, in a new integration of vocational and civic education and training, enable people to understand backgrounds and coherences and encourage them to shape the world of work and society in a humane and just manner”.

To cope with the challenges of the future, the education union identifies the following needs:

  • Qualified personnel, continuous training, and cooperation
  • Employment relationships covered by collective agreements
  • Reliable career progression
  • Up-to-date spatial and technical equipment
  • Support for the development of networks, especially in political, professional, and educational areas

Role of unions

The Schwerin Declaration concludes by acknowledging that “trade unions are important alliance partners in this respect because they can impart knowledge of contexts and support the necessary structures to develop civic education”.

The GEW’s Schwerin Declaration is available to read here.