Executive Summary

Democrat aims to strengthen liberal democracy in the European Union (EU) by supporting its embedding and sustainability through participatory redesign and implementation of innovative and context-sensitive Education for Responsible Democratic Citizenship (EfD) curricula and learning methods in compulsory school, including formal and informal learning, as well as learning for teachers and social educators.

The EU is currently facing a major challenge (the Anthropocene crisis) and needs to find solutions for related complex problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics and increasing poverty and social inequalities. These complex problems present high degrees of potential damage and require urgent yet equitable solutions. Future prospects are also shaped by the rapid pace of digital innovation and its increasing pervasiveness in all social spheres, the socio-economic crisis started in 2008 and deepened since 2019 by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Ukraine war and its uncertain and broader impacts at all levels – political, social and economic, including the possibility of nuclear conflict and global war. This scenario puts at increasing risk the EU model of pluralistic and liberal democracy, which has been eroded over the two last decades, as shown by the emergence of non-democratic and political far-right movements, increased mistrust in democratic institutions and scientific research, conspiracy beliefs and political disengagement. The question now, for some social groups, is whether liberal democracy is actually the best model to affront current societal challenges.

Education in general, and in particular Education for Responsible Democratic Citizenship (EfD) should contribute to defend, strengthen and deepen liberal democracy in the EU. Liberal democracy is at the core of EU values and principles – which are aligned with those established by the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) states that education should promote sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality,
promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity. In a similar vein, the principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2012) and the Treaty on European Union (2016) refer to respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights and justice. These values and principles form the core of European identity. The European Commission is committed to promote participatory and deliberative democracy, building on the new European Consensus on Development (2017), the European Green Deal (2019) and related citizen’s initiatives such as the European Climate Pact. Liberal democracy is the backbone of the European model of environmental and social sustainability and a precondition for a just transition to sustainable development.

Democracy is the only political model which must be learned (Negt 2004), as the citizens are the main change agents for consolidating, reinforcing and improving liberal democracies. EfD does not only refer to knowledge of the formal rules of the democratic political systems. It rather adopts a holistic and humanistic approach, based on the core values of democracy and the centrality of citizens’ agency. Both elaborate design and authenticity is needed to support the development of citizens as democratic agents who could act in a meaningful and constructive way and with integrity, despite turbulence. This is why EfD focuses on competences (which encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes) to build Responsible Democratic Citizenship (RDC). Activating such holistic EfD is a key strategy to boost sustainable democracy in the EU. Democrat will develop an EU multidisciplinary RDC competence framework, as a basis for establishing curricula for life-long learning (and related learning approaches), to develop and assess knowledge, skills and attitudes for active and responsible democratic citizenship, whilst maintaining openness and flexibility for context-sensitive implementation in different national formal education systems and informal learning environments.

The project will test curricula and learning approaches through a series of real, open, local innovative learning projects and propose a toolbox to enhance EfD in the EU member states and beyond. This ambitious research and innovation (R&I) programme is based on a participatory and co-creation approach. Cooperating with a wide range of actors is at the core of the project – public authorities responsible for education, municipalities, schools, students, parents, teachers, social educators, their associations, and other relevant NGOs among others. It will set up a national living lab in each country (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Poland) as well as one transnational living lab, to foster exchange of experiences, mutual learning and codevelopment of practice within and across the national education networks.

In order to make Democrat’s vision of EfD as a pivotal mean to defend, strengthen and deepen democracy in the EU, the project organises its three-year work programme along three workstreams and specific objectives (SO), aligned with the call’s outcomes (CO):

CO1. Build robust evidence base for redesigning curricula in support of democracy, with an emphasis on students’ active participation and engagement in this process.

SO1. Build a shared conceptual framework about democracy, political participation, RDC and EfD, based on the analysis of different concepts, strategies, curricula, learning approaches and pedagogical material concerning education for democracy and adjacent fields, and taking as reference the values and principles of European identity.

SO2. Identify common EU trends and divergent country patterns for the relation between education inequalities, socio-economic background and political participation through statistical analysis of four major EU/transnational sources, combined with additional analysis of primary data on fake news and socio-economic bias in digital learning.

SO3. Elaborate a RDC competence framework based on a holistic approach of democratic behaviour as a backbone of the European model of democracy and sustainable development, taking into account digitalization as one of the main societal structuring factors.

SO4. Develop a general EfD curricula based on the RDC competence framework and innovative learner-centred approaches such as transformative education, action learning, challenge/project-based learning. The target groups will be: 1) pupils (age groups 8-12 and 12-16 years); 2) teachers and social educators. The general curricula will be flexible and open for adaptation to concrete learning environments and diverse formal national/regional curricula.

CO2. Toolkits for enhancing the humanistic and civic aspects of education with aview to promoting active democratic citizenship and empowerment, including through experimental approaches.

SO5. Adapt the designed curricula for the design and implementation of local pilot projects (LPP) in each country (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Poland) to test and finetune the outlined competence framework and curricula based on innovative learning approaches. LLP will take concrete democratic experiences as reference points, using approaches inspired in creative activities e.g. theatre of the oppressed, game-based learning among other. LPPs will be embedded in the local environment so that learners experience the relevance of their actions for the quality of democracy in situ to promote their positive democratic engagement.

SO6. Adapt the designed curricula for the creation and implementation of a learning unit (content and pedagogical material) in a specific knowledge field (Human Geography).

SO7. Development of a conceptual framework and tools for the assessment of RDC competences through LLP. The assessment of learning outcomes will be implemented in two rounds (at the beginning of LPP and once LPP is finished).
SO8. Development of a guide for the implementation of transformative local LPPs, and the use of the open transformative approaches inspired in creative activities. This activity will be based on the reflection and comparison of the LPPs and their effectiveness to achieve the envisaged learning outcomes based on the RDC competence framework.

SO9. Assembling a toolbox including the fine-tuned final outcomes of the project, revised after evaluation and piloting with practitioners at the national and international levels: RDC competence framework, general EfD curricula, EfD guide, the Human Geography learning unit, the framework and assessment tools, as well as policy recommendations. The toolbox will be publicly available in English and all the national languages of the countries covered by the study.

CO3. Strengthened democratic processes in education through the involvement of citizens.

SO10. Promote a participatory approach for the active participation of the education community in the content development of RDC competence framework, EfD curricula and LPPs: 6 national living labs (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Poland) and 1 transnational living lab, based on series of workshops combined with the setting up an online platform (Agora).

Labs will involve: public authorities responsible for education, municipalities, schools, students, parents, teachers, social educators, their associations, and other relevant ONGs among others. LPPs will not be circumscribed to formal education systems, but take the local environment and democratic initiatives towards sustainability as reference. This implies to include local citizens as pupils, parents, teachers, social educators, representatives of NGOs and public institutions in the process of design, implementation and assessment of LPPs, strengthening democratic processes in education. In total, DEMOCRAT will engage 120+ schools, 600+ pupils and families, 180+ teachers and social educators, 60+ NGOs, 24+ creative sector entities and 24+ local and regional/national public authorities.