Friday, 14 December 2012

Human Rights and Democracy in Action – Looking Ahead - Conference report

The impact of the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, Council of Europe, Strasbourg29-30/11/2012

Roughly 2 years after the adoption of the COE Charter on EDC/HRE the Council of Europe in cooperation with the European Commission and the European Wergeland Centre organized the first review conference on the implementation of the Charter, which was at the same time an entry point for the coming European Year of Citizens 2014.
The conference brought together roughly 200 experts from ministerial level, formal education, intergovernmental organizations, research as well as youth organizations and activists / experts from the field of non-formal EDC/HRE. Thus comprising the wide field of stakeholders involved in the implementation of the charter on all different stages and levels.

As DARE was part of the conference planning group a first impressive result for us was the conference in itself happening and bringing such a variety of different stakeholders together. Personally I have to admit that the mix and involvement of the stakeholders - especially those from the youth and NGO sector - was a huge effort in itself as it offered the opportunity to really exchange views and knowledge the different groups gained so far with the charter on level of their work, if...

Flipping through the different presentations and discussion groups it appeared  that using the term of innovation and best practice really depends on the internal view of the educational sectors. EDC/HRE settings that are new und promising in programs from the formal sector might be out of fashion in non-formal settings, there is also a huge difference between adult and youth education, higher education - and other sectors..  
It would be promising to really foster the cross-sectoral disccussions as they might produce the really interesting results.

Two important reports related to the Charter were presented at the conference: David Kerr´s (DARE member Citizenship Foundation) analyzis of the governmental survey on the Charter gave first impressions on the implementation as reported by governments and the NGO´s survey conducted by the COE Youth department, that explicitly dealt with the NGO´s and youth organizations perspective on the charter.
Wrapping up the governmental report there is two  things I want to highlight: There seems to be a considerable number of states party to the European Cultural Convention that are active at implementing the charter at different levels. AND the promotion of the Charter in certain EDC/HRE areas has been strongest in formal education (primary, lower, and upper secondary) and in vocational education and training - according to the reports from the governmental level.
The biggest concern is that the states suggest for a future review in 2017 to concentrate on the implementation of the charter in the areas where promotion is already strong. This results in the danger of undermining the scope and ambition of the Charter, which treats all fields of education at the same level.

The NGO questionnaire was a bit experimental, as it concentrated also on answering questions to all of the Charters articles which might be a challenge for the level of NGO´s and Youth organizations. Nonetheless the report underlined first of all  the imbalanced promotion of the Charter on the national level, while another – to some surprising – result was that the reception in the non-EU countries seems to be bigger among NGOs than in the EU-countries. For the future it should be discussed if a questionnaire which focuses more on the respective situation of youth and non-formal organisation would allow for a more in depth analysis.

Also it might be worth critically asking if a more independent approach for the national governmental surveys would have produced other quality results, as there seems to be the risk that the reports deliver the answers that are easy accessible for the respective sectors, and naturally the implementation in the formal sector is easier to report for governments. 
To me very interesting and necessary was the several times mentioned need to further much broader involve adult education in EDC/HRE policies and also to concentrate on adult education as highly relevant target in the implementation of the Charter.

Out of the NGO´s perspective the strong focus on formal education in these discussions is still worth a bigger dispute as in the meanwhile there is a lot of research evidence that the results of non formal EDC/HRE are more lasting and better than formal education produces. 
In this regard the presentation of the EURIDYCE survey from the EC was very interesting. In line with the conclusions from the governmental questionnaire it reported that EDC/HRE is all over Europe embedded in the curricula. Critically one could indicate at this point that an average of 2-15 minutes EDC/HRE in a week school is clearly nothing to be proud of… and might not be the lasting experience that gives people the idea that EDC/HRE can really make a difference.
Mr Pierre Mairesse from the European Commission as well underlined the importance of teachers and schools as key agents for EDC/HRE in one of his concluding remarks which was in so far interesting as he he did not mention the EP´s different concept of an future lifelong learning program but was arguing in view of the Commissions ERASMUS FOR ALL proposal for an integrated program , where he saw a lot of space and opportunities  for the purposes of citizenship education...
This two conclusions to me are indicator for danger we currently face in the field of EDC/HRE. There is a tendency to give easy accessible results and answers. But Citizenship Education and Human Rights Education is not a field where you can give easy answers, if your agenda is not just focusing on formal democracy (i.e. emphazising rules, values and responsiblities - which are one side of the coin).   

One of the main and important recommendations to non-formal NGO providers is to remain independent providers of EDC/HRE even if the current situation is difficult in a lot of countries. Non-formal education is able to make the difference in EDC/HRE, it is able to change the paradigms of learning and is the only field of education that has proven its capacity to successfully train and promote critical informed and active democratic citizenship. One  should not easily give up the standing independent and non-formal Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights has gained so far.

Taking into regard the rather strict focus on formal education the intergovernmental and state level currently has, there is a huge need to even stronger argue for non-formal EDC/HRE.

The DARE network was honoured to be a partner in the organising group of the conference and we hope we did contribute from our side relevant aspects. The cooperation with the COE bodies and their accepatnce of NGO´s as partners is in itself a practice and role model for good implementation of the Charter.

As always when it comes to reviewing there is more concentration on the critical issues, but it should be mentioned that this is the question of the perspective: is the cup half-full or half-empty after the  first two years of the Charter?

The conference report by Audray Asler, will be available end of January, there is a conference website with all presentations, reports, speeches on