Education for democratic citizenship

Prepared by María José Díaz-Aguado, Augusto Santos Silva
DECS/EDU/CIT (99) 25
1. Introduction
1.1. The Lisbon Site
The Portuguese site is located in the region of Lisbon and it considers educational processes in contexts of great social and ethnic diversity and inequality. Following the basic concepts adopted by Sub-group B, it draws all the attention to the multiple forms of overcoming barriers, negotiating frontiers and building reciprocity-based relationships between different groups of citizens, their associations, and public institutions such as schools, health and social security services and municipalities.
1.2. Preparatory activities: the Programme for Intercultural Education
At the end of the 80’s, it becomes evident the historical turn of the Portuguese society: once a country of strong emigration, it is turning to be a country of increasing immigration. Thousands of people are coming, mainly from ancient African colonies, such as Cape Verde and Angola. As a response to the implications of this new situation for schools, it is launched, by the Ministry of Education, a special project, the Intercultural Education Project, held by the “Secretariado Entreculturas” (Intercultural Secretariat).
This Project took place between 1993 and 1997. In its first stage (1993-1995), 30 basic schools were comprehended, chosen according to the following criteria: (a) to have high rates of pupils from ethnic and cultural minorities, (b) to have high rates of failure, c) to wish to participate. In the second stage (1995-1997), the number of schools attained 52, 3 of them being secondary schools. (In Portugal, basic education corresponds to the first 9 years of curriculum, usually attended by children from 6 to 15 years), and secondary education to the 10-12 years of curriculum, usually attended by youngsters from 16 to 18 years).
The large majority of these schools belonged to disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where successive waves of immigrants settled, being some real ghettos. Most of them concentrated in the urban area of Lisbon.
Two aims were designed for this project. The first one was to develop conditions for overcoming failure, dropping-out and exclusion, in the schools involved; the second was to generalise tested experiences and methods.
Each school appointed a team of voluntary teachers, 3 or 4 acting as a steering group for the project implementation. One of the first tasks was to identify pupils’ needs. And there was, initially, a great consensus on the urgency to respond to material needs (food, hygiene), the most visible ones. So the Project began at such level. The teachers’ teams expressed their own needs for training, as they felt the need to incorporate educational innovations: they recognised the necessity of changing methods and strategies for dealing with pupils and their families, but they didn’t know how to change and in which direction. The implementation of a continuous training plan on intercultural education supported the development of the Project during the four years.
Schools developed periodic meetings, sometimes joining together teachers and parents – and, in many of them, this was a new fact. Some parents’ associations, which still last, were formed. Parents were invited to participate in school life: and many did, at first in non-curriculum activities, such as parties, folklore exhibitions or opening ceremonies. But, as the contact was going on and communication improved, some of the parents and other relatives (grandparents, uncles and aunts...) also went to classrooms, and participated in some core pedagogical activities, bringing cultural diversity and demonstrating the cultural value and pedagogical utility of their own ethnic culture. In that sense, teachers become aware that, to empower pupils and local communities and to fight exclusion, it is not enough to add cultural and ethnic activities to the traditional curriculum, leaving unaltered this one. Instead, it is really necessary to change deeply the structure of relationships inside classroom, in which the roles of teacher and learner are formed.
2. Actors, partners and local initiatives
2.1. Actors, motivations, capacities and competencies
The site of Lisbon can be described in the continuity of the Intercultural Education Project. Three of the schools (one secondary school, the others basic schools) that participate in the site have been partners before, in this Project. And the "Secretariado Entreculturas", itself, is fully a member of the steering committee of the Ministry of Education that supervises the site project.
There is a strong presence of children belonging to ethnic minorities, especially Gypsies and African families. The rate increases till 70%, in the case of the secondary school. Besides, it is common that non-African families avoid schools with a strong presence of Africans. The Ministry considers that these schools deserve special attention, due to their disadvantaged environment, and so there is an additional allocation of material and human resources.
The motivation of some of the technicians of the Ministry of Education that work in the supervision of the site can also be expressed in continuity with the general aims of the Intercultural Education Project. Let's quote a paper prepared by one of them, that intends to explicit the link between intercultural education and education for democratic citizenship:
The label of intercultural education connotes a dynamics of global reform of the school (…). It is, in fact, education for democracy because it aims at the participation of all stakeholders (…). The concept of intercultural education also implies a better equality of opportunity (…): to fight against inequalities and discrimination, to give an active voice to all those that have to do with a local educational community, to qualify schools as more participatory and democratic organisations. Then, we should define intercultural education as a road to empowerment and to inclusion, and so, as a way to understand and concretise education for democratic citizenship (Document from the "Secretariado Entreculturas", 19-03-1997, p. 3).
In what regards the motivation of teachers, we must consider two groups. The first one includes several teachers who participated in the Intercultural Education Project, since 1993, and are already engaged in new ways of seeing and practising their profession, in multicultural contexts. The second one, probably the majority, still presents low levels of commitment and would prefer to work in more affluent environments. But, within the first group, we could be more precise and suggest that different grounds can sustain engagement. There is a kind of religious or missionary attitude: one is deeply and sincerely concerned with the extremely bad conditions in which people live, and the strong barriers that limit access to basic goods such as education, housing or employment - but one does not express this concerns in terms of power, and does not explicitly envisage needs and strategies of empowerment. There is a professional commitment: one considers multicultural and disadvantaged communities as a challenge, and trusts his professional capacities to cope with it. There is a rather political, militant attitude, of those that conceptualise education as one particular level of the more general action for social change and empowerment of disfavoured citizens.
Besides schools and teachers, the Lisbon site also comprehends non-governmental organisations, developing non-formal learning practices. Two are especially relevant for our purposes: the community centre of the quartier called “Bairro do 6 de Maio”, one of the most depressed quartiers of the Lisbon area; and the association “Moinho da Juventude” (that is, Mill of the Youth).
The community centre was founded and is ruled by Catholic nuns, strongly committed to the work with poor and excluded people. They came from outside the neighbourhood and opted to live inside. The centre equipment is, in fact, located in the quartier. The activities include adult basic education, health care, kindergarten, cultural and leisure practices and the support to residents in what concern their relationship with public services of employment, social security or administration. Religious services are, of course, provided, including in “Creole”, the native tongue of the Cape Vertians, who constitute the majority of the residents. Professionals such as social workers, educators and mediators work in, or with, the centre. In general, these professionals are committed to principles of the education for democratic citizenship, and present one or several of the motivations referred to above.
The actors of the association “Mill of Youth” come from the neighbourhood, and this reinforces the local roots of the association. Many work as volunteers. Financial support was obtained from national and international sources: among the latter, we should emphasise the Youthstart Programme, from the European Union. One of the major activities of the association is to host a vocational course on mediation, aiming to form as mediators certain young members of the community with leadership activities or in a crossroad position. The course offered at the same time a formal curriculum, in correspondence with the requirement for formal education to deliver certificates. The 10 youngsters who achieved the course were subsequently integrated, in the context of a programme called, in Portugal, “The Social Market of Employment”, in the basic schools attended by children who live in the quartier. Their task is to facilitate the liaison between schools and families, and the assumption is that, coming from the community, they are in an excellent position to play such a role.
2.2. The formation of innovative partnerships
One of the most innovative practices implemented in the site of Lisbon is the co-operation between the volunteer activists of the association “Mill of Youth” and some of the schools that serve the neighbourhood. Part of the activities of each organisation takes place in the context of the other. Through the presence and the role of the young mediators, the association participates in the school activities; on the other side, part of the curriculum activities is developed in the physical and social framework of the association, itself, the teachers moving from school to association, in order to give some classes to their pupils.
Other innovation can be identified in the relationship that schools participating in the site of Lisbon do establish with pupils’ parents and relatives. Especially when the latter do in fact bring a real input to the design of the educational project of the school or even to classroom activities, because they inform teachers and students about their own experience and the main characteristics of their culture and heritage. We could signal here a route to the empowerment of parents proceeding from cultural milieus traditionally excluded from the cultural framework of public and formal education.
These schools want furthermore. They want to redefine curriculum in order to include patterns of relationship among teachers, between teachers and pupils, and between pupils, that induce the acquisition and development of competencies required for democratic participation. And they want to modify the procedures of internal organisation, in order to give larger influence to students and to make them more conscious of their role as partners of a (desirable) democratic school.
2.3. Participation of the local authorities
From the very beginning, one of the key objectives of the Portuguese site has been the engagement of local authorities, such as municipalities and parishes, of the urban area we deal with. Several representatives attended, in fact, the 4 workshops promoted until now, and they seem to wish to intensify their co-operation. Nevertheless, we noticed real difficulties to concretise this aim, perhaps because of some lack of definition of the respective roles of teachers, civil servants and politicians, in what matters basic and secondary education. This shortcoming should motivate an additional effort, from the leaders of the site, to overcome the barrier that separates local administration from local schools and NGO’s.
2.4. From vertical co-ordination to horizontal co-ordination
The Ministry of Education has assumed, until now, a leading role in the development of the Portuguese site. This role can be adequately described as a vertical one, due to the nature of the institutional relations between centre and periphery, in a centralised country such as Portugal. It would be better, therefore, to develop a kind of horizontal co-ordination, strengthening the networking of the local agencies that participate in the site.
3. Conditions of access, strategies and synergies
Since the very first activities of the Lisbon site, almost everyone recognises that schools normally reproduce traditional schemes and forms of organisation that constitute an obstacle to disseminate and acquire the competencies and capacities demanded by democratic participation.
Let’s quote from a document prepared by the “Secretariado Entreculturas”:
It doesn’t seem that the paradigm of “traditional school”, as an institution, allows for democratic practices (participatory, autonomous and empowering). It implements a very strong hierarchy, with vertical communication and command, functioning as a pyramid. Instead, a democratic organisation presupposes “horizontal” fluxes of communication and decision, based on matrix that must be more flexible, and provoke interaction between different levels of decision and larger participation in decision taking (...).The proposals for education for democratic participation must, therefore, rethink the school – the structure, organisation and role of school in a society where complexity is the rule, not the exception (...). A school that would be a place and opportunity to learn how to be a democratic citizen. A school that would be a microcosm in which all the subjects, children and adults, could learn the value of liberty and how to respect difference, be it ethnic, cultural or religious-based, could learn how to participate in power and to co-operate in the space of freedom provided by democracy (“Secretariado Entreculturas”, 19-03-1997).
The first workshop promoted by the Lisbon site addressed the same issue:
Sometimes the mass media do not facilitate and even prevents the full exercise of citizenship. According to some participants, the same happens with formal educational system, where some autocratic and dogmatic values prevail. (...) One does not learn how to become a citizen, one learns it by doing and living it.It was also said that this kind of learning in schools is not just the matter of a discipline or even a cross/curricular area, it implies a more global and total approach which also involves the hidden curriculum.(...) Raising opportunities for the pupils to participate in the school, especially within the management system, are necessary requirements, that lead to learn to live in others groups respecting other people’s values and differences (I. Martins, L. P. Cardoso, report from the first workshop, Seixal, 26-11-1997).
As we can deduce from these quotations, there is still a strong hierarchical distribution of power, in the relationships between teachers and pupils. This tendency prevents real participation of pupils in a democratic school organisation, that is, to concretise what seems to constitute a wide theoretical consensus.
According to the Portuguese rules, pupils’ participation, at basic and secondary education, takes these forms:
1- Each classroom elects a deputy, who acts as a representative and is invited to attend the meetings where all the teachers of the class face, mainly, disciplinary issues. This applies for pupils aged 10 and more years.
2- Each school with pupils aged 13 years onwards has its own students’ association. The executive board of the association is appointed by general and periodic elections. They usually act as organisers of leisure and non-curricular activities.
3- At secondary schools, pupils (aged 16 to 18 years) elect representatives to the management boards. Teachers’ representatives form the majority of these boards; and there are also representatives from local authorities and parents.
When we consider the way that implements these rules in the practice, we can’t stop noticing several obstacles. The first one is the contradiction between the formal mandate of the class deputy and the real authority of teachers: it is not uncommon that the deputy is invested of role of assistance to the teacher, instead of being a representative responsible before his or her colleagues. The second obstacle is the tendency to trivialise the role of students’ associations, too much concentrated on leisure activities. The third one is, of course, a limitation of representative democracy itself: there is little room for participation of the great majority of youngsters who are not elected as class deputies, association leaders or members of the management boards.
4. The Learning/Training/Education Activities
4.1. The role of formal educational structures in EDC to facilitate knowledge bysharing the power
Schools that participate in the Lisbon site are committed to the objective of overcoming the obstacles referred to above, and promoting conditions for a more active participation of students. For instance, in the Basic School Almada Negreiros, there is an attempt to create formal contexts for periodic meetings of pupils and of pupils and teachers: class assemblies, class deputies’ assemblies and even general pupils’ assemblies. But, to what extent does this mean real influence on decision-taking processes?
4.2. The importance of shared definition of goals, objectives and strategies
The workshops are the main instruments to improve communication and networking within the site. Four were promoted, in 1997 and 1998. We could say that a sense of identity of the site is being constructed by means of these periodic and thematic meetings.
4.2.1. Establishing common goals and strategies
The first meeting took place in Seixal, a town close to Lisbon, the 26th November 1997. 34 individuals were present, representing schools and non-formal educational services, public administration and local authorities. A consensus was achieved, on the main issues the Project should address: basic concepts related to the education for democratic citizenship; the role of school and non-formal education, of local authorities and non-governmental organisations; the curricular approaches; the role of media and other instances of formation of public opinion. Among the conclusions drawn up, we would remark the following ones:
Citizenship has to do with the rights and duties of the individual, and his liberty to express them and defend them. Citizenship fights against and opposes to any kind of obscurantism, or ideological dogmatism. The exercise of citizenship particularly counters any kind of indoctrination of minorities or unprivileged groups who experience difficulties of integration or participation.(...) Fighting for citizenship rights is more urgent for those who are deprived of work or family, and for the unschooled. In these cases, very particular strategies of training may be required (for example mediators).(...) Communication is the key issue in citizenship. At the functional level it means the process of interaction, where the language plays the role of establishing “bridges” in between the different identities. (...) Building partnerships between schools and parents, focusing on the strategies to reach the aimed co-operation is an important issue in the EDC. This may also change the way the parents think about the school, allowing the necessary participation of both partners and the emerging of joint initiatives in school.(...) Other activities and initiatives led by associations, municipalities and different community agents propose exceptional opportunities of participating, experiencing and sharing citizenship rights and rules in different settings than those of school. This type of framework is complementary to the experience on EDC, which may be gained in school (I. Martins, L. P. Cardoso, report from the first workshop, Seixal, 26-11-1997).
4.2.2. The training and role of social mediators
The second workshop took place, at the Ministry of Education, the 27th March 1998, with the presence of 37 individuals. The issue was “The training and role of social mediators”. Eventually, the conclusions of the debate were summarised in a report to the Council of Europe. Let’s quote some of them:
Mediation proved to be one of the capital dimensions of democratic commitment in such environments as the Lisbon surroundings. (…) We can’t expect people who feel so abandoned and out-of-place in a society that in several aspects is hostile to them, to participate in a voluntary and individual basis, as the liberal foundations of democratic ideology would preview and encourage. We must intervene directly and actively in the framework of education in, and for, community, in order to qualify young and adult people, expressing their right and facilitating their wish and ability to civic and political participation.
(…) Mediation means, then, both the principles and strategies to “open” to each other, two different and virtually conflicting worlds - the “world of the ghetto” and “the world of the State”, “the world of the ethnic minorities” and “the world of the autochthonous”, the “outsiders” and the “establishment” – and to assure the possibility of interaction between them, founded in respect of oneself and respect of the Other, respect for one’s identity and respect for difference.
(…) Mediation is also a core of principles and techniques for conflict management and resolution, committed to the values of reciprocal tolerance and understanding, negotiation and compromise. In which case, the mediator can be presented as a sort of third party, offering its services to facilitate communication between two contending parties. Is it necessary or advisable, to perform this kind of mediation, to be neutral, in what matters the motives of conflict and the interests of the contenders? Perhaps. But in a sense broader than the one which is admitted in international organisations for familiar or juridical mediation (for instance). Because, in the cases we are discussing now, mediation is only possible if grounded in a deep commitment to democratic values and rules, and then, implies a basic option for them, and for people in a position of disadvantage regarding the power of the other part.
We should, then, consider that the mediator’s role must be to equilibrate the balance of power. This apparently runs against the neutral and equidistant attitude, supposed inherent to that role, in other fields. But in circumstances of such a strong inequality between parties, how could he or she perform his or her role without this commitment to the more horizontal power relations of democracy?
The report of the workshop on mediation refers to the existence of three different ways of exercising mediation, among the activists that participate in the Lisbon site:
1- The Community Centre “Bairro 6 de Maio” concentrates in networking, establishing links both between the several public departments and between these and local community. The main goal is to pressure for territorially embedding of public agencies and policies.
2- The “animators-mediators” of the Project “Youthstart”, in the neighbourhood of Chelas, Lisbon, act as facilitators of the integration process in which are engaged the youngsters at risk of social exclusion, who attend a course of vocational training. They provide a daily mentoring: performing not a role of teachers or trainers, but a transversal guidance, centred in the emotional and relational aspects of the training, trying to identify and solve problems and promote self-esteem and capacities of problem-resolution. The proximity and globalism of this mediation does contrast with the partial and fragmented nature of the courses in formal education, in which they had resented successive failures. Mediators serve, here, as a kind of rock, a guarantee of help in training as well as in affects and communication.
3- The Association “Moinho da Juventude” promotes a programme of training for mediation. But the main task is conceived in terms of a linkage between the local African community – to which these young trainees belong – and the public schools that serve it, but are so far from its cultural and social backgrounds. The existence and work of such young trained leaders are assumed to improve a more direct and reciprocal communication between families and pupils’ parents, on the one hand, and teachers and school managers, on the other hand.
22 participants attended the third workshop, the 28th April 1998. The theme proposed was “Citizenship as a framework for pedagogical practices with children”. Two experiences were presented and discussed, one developed in a kindergarten, the other in a basic school, attended by 6-10 years old children. It was a training workshop, rather then a reflexive debate.
4.2.3. The liaison school-families
The fourth workshop discussed the issue of the communication and partnership between schools and families. It took place in the Regional Directorate of Education for Lisbon, with 23 participants. Two colleagues from the basic schools that privilege this issue, within the Lisbon site, introduced their methods and achievements. Some conclusions were drawn from the general debate that followed their presentation, in a report prepared by D. Carrapiço and L. Fonseca:
1- The intervention of the parents in school life is an important practice of citizenship. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to reinforce it, through strategies that enable schools to get closer to families and local communities. Enabling strategies are, among others, greater availability of teachers, openness of the school to its physical and social environment, identification of problems that concern pupils and their families, and co-operative procedures to enunciate and solve them.
2- It is urgent to think about the new roles teachers have to perform – roles that demand globalisation and intervention. Teachers cannot limit themselves to the role of transmitting knowledge; they must actively facilitate the global process of development – cognitive, emotional, and social – of their students. There is a hand full of consequences for teacher training, both initial and in-service training.
3- Several obstacles prevent further expansion and consolidation of pedagogical projects in schools: isolation and lack of resources, instability and discontinuity of teachers’ teams along the years, little or non-existent support from educational authorities.
4- The educational project of the school is the driving-force of its functioning. It is necessary to choose clearly common goals, to identify barriers and resources, to mobilise people, to articulate logic sequences of activities and procedures of evaluation and training, in order to get things changed and to improve the quality and social utility of education. But the educational project must be elaborated in a participatory process, motivating the co-operation of the entire “educational community” (that is, teachers, parents, pupils, staff people, psychologists and other stakeholders), in order to respond adequately to the specific needs of whom is prepared for.
5- Parents’ participation in school life and management must be conceptualised within a scheme of equality and co-operation. Communication may be disturbed by the influence of certain stereotypes and prejudices: the paternalism of teachers; the fear that professional domains may be invaded by intrusive parents’ associations; and reciprocal misunderstandings and arrogant manners. It is crucial, then, to separate clearly what is not but information transmission and accountability and what is really partnership and participatory, democratic project-building strategy.
5. Final remarks
The Portuguese site of citizenship was designed at an intermediate level, as an attempt to link some local experiences to improve democratic values and participation, both in formal and non-formal education. The characteristic they all share was the location in the same region, Lisbon and its neighbourhoods, deeply marked by cultural and ethnic diversity and social inequality. At the present stage of its development, the main interlocutors are 3 basic schools, 2 secondary schools, 1 public health centre, 1 community and religious centre, 1 local association, 1 private institute of action-research, and several departments and programmes of the Ministry of Education. Therefore, we have good expectations in what concerns the influence the development of EDC Project may have in the general policy of the Ministry, and in the functioning of several of its departments. But, on the other hand, the site is still too vertical a networking, depending too much on the initiative and leadership of the Government offices. The efforts to reinforce the presence of local authorities and adult education services did not result, till now, and so there is a lack of relevant partners as well as a bias towards childhood and youth.
In terms of achievements, the Portuguese site may indeed reach a good level of theoretical and professional reflection on the issue of education for citizenship. The periodic workshops proved to be a useful method, and the reports prepared for each one and circulated among all the participants contain rich materials, in what regards both ideas and good practices. How can this be translated into training materials and activities, directed towards multipliers such as teachers, teachers trainers, journalists, managers or opinion makers is one of the major challenges the Site must face, this year. A second point is that the participation in the EDC Project already concretised the possibility of visiting other countries’ experiences and contact other activists for some of the actors and professionals engaged in the Site. It is still difficult to constitute a network of local initiatives that may function in partnership logic and survive the end of this particular experience. And we have no precise ideas on implementation and dissemination strategies.