In this episode we discuss a radical approach to citizenship education, how it should be understood and implemented by young people and youth sector.

Show Notes

Citizenship education remains a contested term, lacking a universally accepted definition. Both, the understanding and practice of citizenship education have been discussed by educational institutions, the youth sector, political parties, ideologies, cultures and society as a whole. While citizenship education is often understood in relation to democracy, human rights and young people's participation in decision-making processes, some researchers and practitioners argue that we need to go beyond the current practice and consider a radical reform in the way citizenship education is taught.

Guests: Nika Bakhsoliani and Sérgio Xavier
Hosts: Ismael Páez Civico and Lana Pasic

Link to the research paper: Radical Education - A pathway for new utopias and reimagining European democracies

What is UNDER 30'?

Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast series by the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership that brings research results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

The EU-CoE youth partnership is a co-operation programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, created in 1998, connecting youth research, policy and practice.

Citizenship Education


[00:00:00] Sergio: If we want to go get out of this end of this street, we really need to think radically. So it's very difficult to make citizenship education , the citizenship education, if we don't stop calling it citizenship education, because if we are being educated in the certain citizenship, We are accepting that we are, uh, there is a kind of indoctrination in order to be a citizen and to be a citizen is to be a person.

[00:00:38] Ismael: Hello everyone and welcome Under 30, a podcast brought to you by the youth partnership between the European commission and the Council of Europe. I'm Ismael Paez Civico and together with Lana Pasic , we'll be hosting this episode. We hope you enjoy.

[00:00:55] Lana: You're listening to under 30, the podcast of the EU - Council of Europe youth [00:01:00] partnership. And today we are talking about citizenship education. What is citizenship education? What type of things does it need to teach? Is it values? Is it competencies? Is it skills? Usually citizenship education is connected to the topics of democracy, human rights, participation.

Today, we are speaking with Sergio Xavier. Researcher and member of the pool of European youth researchers and Nika Bakhsoliani member of the advisory council on youth and also a human rights trainer and activist. Welcome. Uh, Sergio, would you like to introduce yourself?

[00:01:38] Sergio: Yes. Good morning. Thank you for having me.

It's a pleasure to be here with you. So, my youth work background starts 15 years ago, um, with, uh, the local youth organization, dynamo in Sintra. Um, well Dynamo was a small youth [00:02:00] organization, um, with the ambition to wake up the dorm. Um, the dorm is a nickname given to the suburbs where not much really happened.

Uh, except slipping and prepare the next working day, somewhere away. Thanks to Dynamo , I had my first contact with non-formal education, uh, and I liked it so much that I started to work voluntarily, um, as a trainer and as a facilitator, some few years later, I became more professional. When I joined different pools, uh, of trainers.

At local and international level. And, um, and yes, I've been involved in dozens of educational processes since then. Um, mostly under the topics of human rights education , education for democratic citizenship, youth participation. Um, and then I worked also as a [00:03:00] policy advisor to the social rights deputy mayor in Lisbon.

And I privileged to develop and coordinate the policies on youth participation and human rights education. Um, I'm currently working on my sociology of education PhD thesis and studying democratic education and whatever that means in the 21st century. And, uh, yeah. Meanwhile, I tried to write about related topics such as in the case of the review, we plan to discuss the days as well.

And, uh, well, that river was , was only possible thanks to the pool of European youth researchers. And that's it.

[00:03:46] Lana: Thank you, Sergio. And, uh, I asked the same question to Nika. Uh, I give a brief introduction, but it's best if people introduce themselves. So,

[00:03:57] Nika: uh, thank you very much. Uh, I know, um, [00:04:00] I mostly identify this fear of citizenship education in my case as human rights education.

Uh, but you know, I call it a many faced God because it has many names and, uh, many, um, faces. In my experience with human rights, education started in 2013 and that's something that I would never imagine in 2012, uh, when I was a second year medical student, I was studying medicine and in 2013, um, there was a very brutal, violent attack on LGBTQ activists in Tbilisi.

And that was kind of like turning moment for me. Um, and I, I said to myself that I, I want to do something as a citizen as a, well, I had to study a lot in medicine, but still I wanted to use whatever free time I had with, uh, to fight, uh, and prevent [00:05:00] this kind of, uh, violent outburst. Um, so that's why I tried to

search for a good solutions, how I could contribute. And, uh, as a big supporter of education, I, um, found myself in human rights education. And I started with a local youth organization called Trone, uh, which was organizing human libraries or living libraries. I'm pretty sure, you know, this concept is very nice.

Um, and, uh, like. Starts the dialogue between the two groups of people. Um, so I started with that and then I got introduced to human rights education, and I, you know, started, um, trying it out, uh, as well as, as a junior trainer. And then in the end, I ended up in a human rights education youth network, which is a network of high.

Well, it has a very. Explanatory name, it's a network of human rights, education, advocates, and practitioners. And I recently have, [00:06:00] um, uh, established a new organization in Tbilisi in Georgia, where I came from, uh, it's called Praxis for change, which aims to advocate for, um, human rights, educational, critical, uh, education, critical citizenship education, and also support the community of practitioners.

And currently we are, um, very small organization. We are only 8. But, uh, we hope that we can make some kind of, uh, waves in the Georgian education system or in, or also youth work community. Yeah, that's me.

[00:06:36] Ismael: Perfect. Well, thank you very much, both of you for that short introduction. And I'm quite happy to hear also that we have both backgrounds let's say even though Sergio .

You do have the youth work background. You have been working a lot on, on, um, on, on policy space, essentially. And also on the theoretical side, more, you said working on your PhD and Nika, of course, a lot of grassroot work, how I've been hearing now from that short introduction. So let's dive now into the general [00:07:00] conversation and why we're here today to speak about, um, What exactly.

Well, why do we need citizenship education, which I'm guessing with whom and why? So why exactly do we need that kind of education to be specifically focused? Maybe not on young people, but on the general population maybe Sergio if you would like to start with this question and then we can give the word onto, onto Nika.

[00:07:20] Sergio: Yes. Um, well, um, in the times of Dynamo I, I really used to be much more sure in how to answer this question. Um, that is not the case. Um, well, I, I presently do have some doubts, uh, not necessarily with the pink floyd question, uh, regarding if we need education or not. I think we do, but, uh, the way which we are doing it, um, it, it raises some problems.

Um, and of course the word citizenship. Um, is a jargon that we use and it deserves its [00:08:00] own podcast as well. I think we do need the citizenship education at the extent that we need liberal democracy, um, or Western democracy or deliberative democracy, whatever we want to call it. Um, for many people, uh, it goes just like democracy and, uh, but that might be problematic.

As well as we might address later on. So we need liberal democracy. That's a sort of conditions to reach what we might call for the moment, real democracy. This is the way that I see or need for liberal democracy. And yes, because, um, people are not entirely happy with the democracies that we have. Um, there is racism, patriarchy, social inequality, war.

So while we are not entirely happy with our democracies, we need them as a condition [00:09:00] to go further because we also don't want to go back. We don't want to go to a time of, dictatorship and totalitarianism this is something that we don't want. So in a way, liberal democracies, um, are the path to do something better and the gatekeeping

for something worse. And so what in Europe we call citizenship education is a process of consolidating the, the, the liberal democratic values and the ambitions um, that's why a project of, um, liberal democracy needs citizenship education. Uh, it makes people liberal democratic citizen. Now there are at least two quite significant problems with this.

Firstly, I think we tend to forget that liberal democracies are just the condition to reach an end. We tend to forget that they are not the end. Um, and we [00:10:00] do have very good reasons for that since the fall of the Berlin wall, there is, uh, a grand narrative of the end of history deployed by Francis Fukuyama, but incorporated by a whole hegemony.

Um, liberal democracies were set to, to be the final step in historical development, the ultimate, uh, and superior version of, uh, human, uh, government and social organization. I don't remember Fukuyama's words. Exactly. But this is kind of the idea. Well, and I know it sounds crazy. But, uh, many, many people really think this is true.

So the first problem is that our citizenship education is not about educating people on extending and making history. It is rather about educating people to leave the grand narrative of the liberal democracy as the end of history. [00:11:00] This is the first problem. The second problem is that the young people, perhaps the most creative, um, synergy, um, in worlds human pool, um, is being pulled out to be citizen ending up, uh, reproducing the models of citizenship, uh, envisaged by the liberal democratic project.

And I think young people would be happier, if they were invited to think critically about liberal democratic project and to imagine different democracies and to bring into practice different forms of citizenship. I think the world would be better with that educational approach. So in conclusion, we might need citizenship education, but what we really need is to pass beyond the end of history.

We need to be able [00:12:00] to make history as Paolo Ferreia argued.

[00:12:03] Ismael: I see. There's a lot to take in there exactly the way I've understood it. More or less that for you, even though we do have the liberal democracy, do you need that stepping stone of citizenship education for it to be a fully fledged liberal democracy?

Is that more or less what you're saying that you want liberal , that citizenship education is needed for liberal democracy to actually work in essence?

[00:12:22] Sergio: Yes. Um, I think we need citizen education. In order to, to reach, to fully, uh, maintain a condition, uh, to go forward. Um, I think we need everything.

Actually. We have such a, uh, quite a, a big challenges that we need, everything that we can take. But still, we shall not forget that citizen, citizenship education is a, is also a form of making us less creative in the way that we look to democracy, because we are being, [00:13:00] we are being what we are being prescribed to be.

So we, we need, we have to, to, to keep this in our minds, but yes, we need, we need many forms of education, including citizenship.

[00:13:13] Ismael: Okay, maybe Nika, you have something to say regarding that, or if you want to start, first of all, what do you think and why do we need a citizenship education or whatever other name you would like to you would like to call it?

[00:13:26] Nika: Um, that, thank you very much for this question. I think it's very interesting question and it would make a very nice vox populi um, question, uh, I really wonder what different people from various political spectrums sides would say about what kind of. Uh, form citizenship education should take. And, um, I, I wonder what kind of hopes and aspirations they have for this, um, subject?

Uh, citizenship education is a subject to, uh, you know, when you ask the Georgia, um, [00:14:00] educational policy makers, like where do you teach civil rights education? They will refer to you to civic education, which is equal, equal to citizenship education. And if you dive deep to understand whether there is human rights education or not, there is a bit, but not, not really fully.

Uh, if you ask whether there, there are some kind of, um, elements of radical citizenship education there a bit, but not fully. So I think the first time. Question is to, to ask, like why, uh, the education system, what kind of expectations do educational systems have, uh, with this subject? Uh, what should, what should they reach?

Is it manufacturing, labor Walters or patriotic army, or is it, uh, um, a citizen which can make a change? Uh, practicing democracy is, uh, uh, for me, I think it's impossible. If the citizens do not have agency [00:15:00] and the ability to change and for me, so if you ask a question to me, Nika will say, well, you takes one side on the political spectrum for me.

This, this should be the task of the citizenship education. Um, but whether it is, um, the same in the practice or not, I think it's, uh, uh, I think most likely not, uh, But what, like these aspirations and expectations, of course, it's translated into very different, uh, scenarios, since I can imagine it, it really depends on the educator itself, how they bring this subject, um, or this dialogue, um, to, to the learners.

So I also really much depends on the community of practitioners as well. As I said in the beginning, this, uh, citizenship education or human rights education has many faces. It's, uh, it is understood quite differently. It is understood very differently from the practitioners of [00:16:00] youth workers. Um, in, in Europe, in human rights education, youth network, we have our own understanding and we recently discovered that

it slightly differs from the understanding of, for example, council of Europe, which has a very clear mandate on like understanding what human rights and democracy means. And for example, are less tolerant towards criticizing human rights education itself, which actually has like criticism from also the left leaning academia.

Um, which says that it's like, Um, not accessible enough or not, uh, not very much linked to the context, which is an essential element, uh, for critical education that it should be like linked to the context of the learners. So, but yeah, for me as well, it's a, it's a bit of a bit ambiguous. What is citizenship education?

And it looks like it's also ambiguous for the policy makers. Um, and I had had this feeling when [00:17:00] I was writing my master's thesis about human rights education in Georgia that, um, this, this subject has a bit of identity crisis. Uh, it does not really understand, like it's okay. It's flirting with radical education a bit, but then also it has some patriotic and conservative content in the textbooks.

So yeah, I think, uh, Yeah, let's uh, uh, w where do we start? Um, do we start from human rights? Do we start, uh, for our aspiration of what we want to achieve with liberal democracy or, um,

[00:17:40] Lana: Thank you Nika for that. And also for bringing up this question of understanding the concept. Uh, every time we work on citizenship education, when we start the research, when you want to do a seminar, there is always a question, but what is citizenship education?

And there are actually several resources of the partnership that have looked at different [00:18:00] definitions and different understandings of citizenship education. And one thing they must admit is that there is no consensus in what it means. Uh, but, uh, going back to Sergio's point on, uh, kind of ever involved, ever evolving human condition and also ever evolving nature

of our political systems and the democracy itself, going back to this understanding of citizenship, education is maybe being an instrument or a motivation, uh, to teaching young people how to think about, uh, progressive democracies and, uh, human rights and different values. What is it that the citizenship education then should be teaching?

Uh, we discussed a bit about. The competencies or skills or how to be a citizen, but then there's also a big question of the values that the citizenship education instills. And you touched upon this a [00:19:00] little bit Nika, uh, when talking about the values of the council of Europe, citizenship education, uh, so what are these, what, what should be taught, uh, within the citizenship education that aims to help young people to become, uh, active

citizens within a democratic system, which is evolving hopefully towards better

[00:19:23] Sergio: Let's suppose that we do ever like a common understanding of what citizenship education is because if we don't, uh, it may mean that we might need to go a little bit back, uh, and to really understand what we, as Nika was saying, what we really want to achieve with citizenship education. Especially when a, uh, such a, uh, concept is promoted by many intergovernmental organizations. So if we don't know where we are adding [00:20:00] to what we are doing, but let's suppose that we have these, these very, uh, um, clear in our mind. I think that when we talk about progressive democracies, I think we have to at least two ways to look at it.

Either we, uh, look to liberal democracies in a way that yes we are in the end, we don't, we cannot escape the end of history and we need to keep doing what we have been doing since 300 years. For example, we, if we look to the development that the SDGs from the United nations. This is clearly more of what the liberal democracy the liberal democratic model would want to, to, to achieve and the way that, uh, uh, the liberal democratic model want to achieve, we don't see, I don't know any, uh, [00:21:00] anticapitalist, uh, SDG.

We don't see the end of patriarchy there. We don't see. Um, yes, there is social inclusion. Yes. Um, ways to tackle poverty. Yes, but not looking forward to end that because in order to end that we know that this means a huge impact for the liberal democratic model, but now having this introduction when we talk about progressive democracies, I think we also need to understand that if we don't put the radical dimension in this progression

we are not getting out the end of history. Okay. And because we are not, if we want to get out of this end of history, we really need to think critically. So it's very difficult to make citizenship education, the citizenship education. [00:22:00] If we don't stop calling it citizenship education, because, uh, if we are being educated in the certain citizenship We are accepting that we are, uh, there is a kind of indoctrination in order to be a citizen and to be a citizen is to be a person.

So in order for us to, to, to have the kind of education that, uh, that we need to de-alienate from reality, I think. We also need to call it a different name.

[00:22:29] Ismael: I thought so I jumped in with a quick question before I give the before giving the word to Nika. And again, I mean, you have been speaking a lot about radically changing, uh, the education system or citizenship education and so on.

And I do know from most people the word radical, they may be quite wary of that word they think there'll be a sudden change in the, in the general process right now that won't be enough time touch. Condensate everything there is to know. Uh, so what exactly do you mean by radical? Because I do know a lot of people will be put off.

If you tell them we're going to radically change the way we, uh, we're [00:23:00] rethinking education or the way, we're rethinking citizenship, or liberal democracies.

[00:23:04] Sergio: Let me start by saying what, what I don't mean by radical. Okay. Uh, and this, I think it makes it easier to understand what I mean by radical. Um, I do think that there, there is a social prejudice against the radical, um, mainly for two or three reasons.

The first reason is that we are connecting the radical word with violence and extremism, uh, mostly, but not only, but mostly because the European narrative, since 2005, I think that's the year where, uh, the European strategy on violent radicalization has started through this narrative. Uh, we learn that the radical is something to be prevented, [00:24:00] not stimulated.

Obviously I disagree . Reason two uh, the rise of the far right in Europe and beyond which indeed, um, uh, Intend to radically change the system in their own way. We tend to put everything radical in the same bag, the bag of the far-right project. Obviously I also disagree and this certainly deserves its own podcast as well.

Um, the third reason is that many of us, um, are unaware of the history behind what we call democracy. Nowadays, we are unaware that, uh, for these democracies to weapon, for example, the French revolution is a place of a huge, uh, [00:25:00] violence took place during putting the French revolution, but also radicalism.

And it was, uh, I would say, uh, uh, um, uh, fundamental step for what we call a democracy nowadays. So I think that we have the word is very complex, but we really need to go back in history to really understand the word and to really understand what how radical are the democracies. Uh, um, other democracies from today, come from this, uh, uh, radicalization of the ideas of thinking and so on.

[00:25:43] Lana: Thank you Sergio. And, uh, in your, uh, upcoming paper, uh, you discuss this concept quite a bit about, uh, radical education, radical citizenship education. Um, you touched upon this need for, uh, the education [00:26:00] to be radical in the sense of thinking out of the box, uh, pushing boundaries, uh, as well as kind of, uh, having a crucial role in transforming.

Our society and our democracies, uh, Nika. Uh, I come back to you now with, uh, with the same question, should the, uh, citizens, what should citizenship education teach and should it be political? And should it be radical.

[00:26:27] Nika:

For me absolutely. Yes, it should be political and should be radical. But, um, as I said before, this question may be answered quite differently from. And by the person from different political sides. Um, but for me, I think I kind of bring it down to particularism that, uh, citizenship education should be, uh, understood as a particular context of the learner.

Uh, it should be enabling them [00:27:00] to really see through the power systems, uh, that they are in now, is this a social economic or cultural contexts that they live in. So in this way, I absolutely agree with Sergio that it should enable the learners to critically understand and analyze the, the power structures. Um, but I also think.

Well, I don't mean that Sergio

didn't say it, but I would also focus also on the big giving them agency, uh, giving them, uh, the ability to make choice and giving them, uh, enough creativity, uh, to change, uh, this political system. Um, it's also important that young people, the learner, or seek out new ways, new and innovative ways to tackle the issues, which.

Basically make us live in the vicious circles or make us live in a liberal plateaus. Uh, Sergio was just saying, um, [00:28:00] so this like new, innovative ways to break out of this vicious cycle.

[00:28:05] Ismael: I think right now, we're going to go more towards the kind of ending question and see how young people can actually respond to the need.

We have spoken a lot about the theory of, uh, citizenship, education and democracy, and whether getting political or not and all that. And I, the main question, maybe it is for young people, how can youth work or how can non-formal education, for instance, respond to that specific need that we have, maybe Sergio, if you would like to start with this question and then we can give directly the word to Nika.

[00:28:30] Sergio: So. Let's say we, we, we agree with the citizenship education name. And from that we can, uh, we can agree in a, a plan, a project, uh, that can be, uh, meaningful. I think the educators need to, to, to deepen their understanding about their own incoherencies. This is of course a never ending process, which takes time.

Um, but, [00:29:00] um, but, uh, and it takes a lots of reading perhaps, and unfortunately we cannot get there by reading, uh, publications such as compass, um, which is very, a very precious publication, but it doesn't give, uh, this angle, uh, the radical angle on human rights education as Nika was mentioning earlier. Um, so, uh, I think we need to search for the so-called radical thinkers, such as the ones that are addressed in the paper. , young people.

Well, young people, um, I would say that young people might find useful to question the delightment of political positions in the liberal democratic apparatus.

[00:29:46] Lana: So a follow up question to you Nika is both of you have expressed some concerns regarding. The ability of institutions to really be radical and political in changing the [00:30:00] current, uh, democratic order.

Um, so what can youth organizations do in this regard?

[00:30:06] Nika: So we need to criticize the youth sector itself. For example, these kinds of, um, youth movements, auditorium, just like I set out to, I already told him, luckily they are not the only ones which have existed in Georgia. They have really hard times for example, to enter youth councils, uh, which would be one of the ways for them to express their, um, uh, participation opportunities.

Uh, so, uh, youth, youth councils, for example, in, in, in our student councils have been increasingly politicized in Georgia and, uh, they, they basically, this are also kind of the organizations which basically reproduce the adult power, uh, or what, uh, the elites dictate. Um, but this is because it's only youth organizations, right?

I the same, same kind of criticism, skulls to any kind of actors in the field, including for example, higher educational [00:31:00] institutions, which basically are owned, uh, mostly by, uh, elites and businesses. And they basically reproduce and do whatever the elites, uh, and. Asks them, or it gives them, uh, as a task to reproduce or dictates them in a way that it kind of like a plutocracy there as well as educational system have been becoming more and more commercialized, which, uh, ensures that this neo liberal, uh, values are reproduced in every kind of sector.

So, uh, that that's coming back to where I started. If we post this task to the youth organization, then they will have a very big and difficult task to resolve.

[00:31:45] Ismael: And with this critical ending notes, we have reached an end to our episode. Thank you very much Nika and Sergio for participating in this podcast and to all the listeners, remember that you can find this publication on radical education in the bio and many others on our website. .

Also, don't forget to [00:32:00] follow us on Instagram at eucoeyouth to stay up to date with all our future content. Thank you very much and see you next time.