Youth and Active Citizenship in Schools and Beyond
In today’s Hungary, 23 years after the transformation of the regime, antidemocratic ideas are increasing. The social situation in several areas of the country jeopardizes daily existence as social tensions are increasing. Violence, based on openly expressed racism, is beginning to occur almost daily. The pillars of the democratic state and social cooperation have been weakened, while education is about to undergo a complete restructuring characterized by strong central governance and ideological promulgation. Society’s trust in participatory democracy is low and decreasing.
In such an environment, the education and socialization of young people with regards to democratic values, knowledge and skills, as well as learning democratic participation and active citizenship is even more appreciable. True democracy can only be realized with active citizens, active citizenship can be taught and it is necessary to learn and teach it.
The Kurt Lewin Foundation conducted a one and a half year long research and development program in four schools located in eastern Hungary. We examined the relationship between the schools and active citizenship. Our research showed that in all of the schools involved, the students lack opportunities to discuss social and political questions and that most of the teachers and the students are disillusioned with regards to politics and political parties. The one party the students sympathize with the most is the far-right Jobbik party. Based on the research the related educational programs and the recommendations of local and national educational experts and decision-makers, we developed an overarching policy recommendation concerning education for democratic citizenship.
Via the research program components, we examined 17-19 year-old (11th-12th grade) students, their teachers and schools regarding active citizenship and democratic values. The schools were different regarding their organizational culture, beliefs and the students’ social background. Despite these factors, we found that even in the most democratic school, the students’ expectations with regards to democracy and participation are present only during the school day and within the confines of the school building and are not transferred to nor reflected upon social and political issues.
Even though many of the students are open to active participation in social issues – half of them have already participated in volunteer work, for example – when it comes to political issues they, like their teachers, are disillusioned. Judging from the teachers’ responses during our research, they seems to be more democratic than the students are but they fail to develop the students’ attention to current social questions. Instead they tend to avoid discussing social or political issues with their students. During our education programs both the teachers and the students had the opportunity to engage with and discuss such questions as they relate to their daily practice.
As a result of the program we developed a policy recommendation which offers suggestions that apply to all levels of decision-makers in the field of education for democratic citizenship. In our recommendation, practical, step-by-step suggestions can be found that can make the education for democratic citizenship more effective. The recommendations can facilitate discussion of democratic citizenship among young people in schools. Discussion of these questions is essential for them to become responsible votes and active citizens. Beside the policy recommendation, two best practices (one from the Kurt Lewin Foundation and one from the Southern Poverty Law Center (US)) are included.
The policy recommendation and the additional materials (such as the research report) are available in Hungarian and in English.
The program was supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Foundations and by the Commissioner for Educational Rights, Lajos Aáry-Tamás.