issue 5, year 3

Where are we so far

The Role of School Education in Promoting Active Citizenship and European Identity

(Work Package 6, CATCH-EyoU)

The school, as a context in which young people spend most of their lives, is necessarily a place for learning and practicing democratic citizenship. This potential for constructing the active citizenship of young people encompasses the school curriculum, and also the classroom environment, the extracurricular activities, the relationships among diverse school actors and the school projects with the community. Assuming a broad definition of the school curricula, the Work Package 6 of the CATCH-EyoU Project sought to investigate the role of schools in promoting active (European) citizenship. This Work Package, led by a team of researchers from the Centre for Research and Intervention in Education (CIIE) of the University of Porto (Portugal), came to an end in February 2018. The six EU participating countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Sweden) conducted textbooks’ analysis, interviews with teachers and focus group discussions with students.

In total, 34 textbooks were analysed and 24 schools from diverse socioeconomic settings collaborated in the data collection: 101 interviews were carried out with teachers and 51 focus groups with 387 young students from academic and vocational tracks. Some moments of the data collection were videotaped, and some of the participating students volunteered to record images of their schools and their communities. From this video material, a Documentary was produced, accounting for both the process and the results of the research.

The results of this research show that the textbooks’ approach to the EU is mostly based on an informative and uncritical perspective, and that they often present curricular contents with a limited articulation with the daily lives of young people. Also, the textbooks’ analysis reveals an excessive focus on in-class activities and little diversity of pedagogical methods. The idea that schools are fundamental contexts for civic/political learning is unanimously expressed by the interviewed teachers and the students who participated in the focus groups.

However, even if teachers display availability to listen to the youngsters’ opinions and to foster their political involvement through a range of activities, the students often highlight that their viewpoints are not really taken into consideration. The pressure associated with grades and national exams regulates school life to a great extent, hindering curricular flexibility and the room for stimulating meaningful learning about civic and political issues and the EU.

Although these youngsters are European-born citizens, the EU is often regarded as being distant from them. At the same time, they revealed attentive and critical stances towards the EU which relate, for instance, to the lack of institutional transparency, the humanitarian crisis linked to refugees, and the power imbalances between countries. In fact, while pointing out the gap between institutional politics and young people, the students asked for real opportunities for political debate, including with politicians, in schools.

Based on these results, a set of political recommendations was drawn. Some of these recommendations encompass the systematic inclusion of citizenship and political education in the school curricula across Europe, the creation of more real, hands-on experiences linked with national and European politics, the use of innovative pedagogical methods supporting critical reflection, the creation of structured co-curricular spaces for political debate, and the provision of opportunities for students to self-manage and co-organize activities in and out-of-school.

These results were presented in a Seminar and a Conference, held in the University of Porto, in which several stakeholders participated and discussed the political and practical implications of the results. More than one hundred people participated in both the events, which were covered and highlighted by local and national media, including widely-read Portuguese journals and online channels.

CATCH-EyoU has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement n. 649538