“Civic education, like all education, is a continuing enterprise and conversation… Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it… We have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside.”
Those words—expressing the continued value of civic education for new generations of citizens, along with the need to regularly evolve—are surprisingly not those of a civil society activist. Rather, they are the words of one of the greatest legal minds in the United States, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, John G. Roberts, Jr. Focusing on the theme of civic education in the Court’s annual judicial review, the Chief Justice cited the success of an online civic education platform designed to pique the interest of young students with civics-themed games, and provide free resources to civics education teachers.
And the words are as timely as ever. Across the world, as students return to school during the COVID pandemic, teaching civic education provides both a challenge and opportunity. Learning about how youth citizens can take action to improve the global health in their community is an opportunity. But with it comes the challenge of quickly adapting methodologies to forge a hybrid learning platform for a remote and in-classroom environment, and for teachers to identify an inspiring nexus between civic participation and the quarantine.
Civic education is evolving in Ukraine as well, where the state of civic education is equally important. And during the quarantine and the challenges of COVID, the government of Ukraine has turned to civil society for solutions. After years of civil society driven efforts to establish civic education, the government’s acceptance of the importance of civics education is a crucial step for future citizens’ understanding of freedom, government processes, equality, justice, economics, and democracy.
Ukraine’s civil society is now communicating value of civic education reform alongside the government, leading to new civic education courses, new online platforms, and increases in the recognition of civic education teachers.
The Growth and Value of Ukrainian Civic Education… and its Virtual Expansion
As civic education is burgeoning in Ukraine thanks to advocacy from civil society and new government policies, new reforms are focusing on the importance of courses’ ability to engage students in their community and the value and importance of new civics teachers in secondary schools.
Starting in 2017, the Ukrainian government has formulated a state policy on civic education, and for the first time, it is now providing civic education courses to public school students. With support from USAID/ENGAGE and its partners, civics is now on its way to becoming a mandatory course alongside math, physics, and history for secondary students in the Ukrainian curriculum.
To address the challenges of remote learning and to engage young Ukrainians with civics in an interactive and entertaining method, the 3D Democracy course on citizen.in.ua now serves as Ukraine’s flagship civic education platform. The platform is being further developed into an online course so that students who may be learning remotely as a result of COVID-19 precautions in fall of 2020 will still have civics courses available.
Hence, while the status of in-classroom education remains unknown, the new course developed by USAID/ENGAGE, per the request of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, provides students with the opportunity to study remotely. The online platform will also be available to students who are homeschooled or have other non-traditional forms of education. The accessibility of this valuable resource is paramount.
Integrating civic education in the national curriculum is an important change in Ukraine’s education system. Through civic education courses, new generations of Ukrainians are forming social and civic competences. Indeed, those civic competences are particularly important during a COVID-19 era wherein societal problems such as job loss, economic recession, decentralization, vulnerable populations, and civil liberties provide real-world examples to learn about how government institutions and policies function and the role of the public’s in participating in national and local level government.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to reflect on and analyze the effectiveness of civic education and its impact on youth. Civic education need not be limited to merely lessons on equality, democracy, or human rights—it can be used to bridge realities students confront during the pandemics with civic ideals and action through a “Lived Civics” approach. A Learned Civics approach “signals to students that their personal and community-based knowledge is valuable” to larger items such as effective methods of social change and democracy, and with it greater civic participation. In short, students develop the skills to feel that they can influence and invest in their community.
Another characteristic of civic education’s evolution in Ukraine is new integration and organization within the educational process. School educational standards define social and civic competencies as all forms of behavior that are necessary for effective and constructive participation in public life, at work, and in the family; cooperation with others and being results-oriented; prevention and resolution of conflicts; and reaching compromises. That value for civic competences fits into a larger global movement of focusing on helping young people develop not just in an academic sense, but as good people, and later good citizens trained in collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and confidence.
Civics Teachers – The Next Partner of Civil Society
Of course, even with new civic education platforms, online tools, and a promising curriculum, an effective high-quality civics education requires another key element—capable, inspired, high-quality civics teachers. As a new profession in the country, those teachers need assistance and recognition.
Without a new force of educated, inspired, and driven civic education teachers, the ability of civic education to instill civic competences is jeopardized. Civic education studies indicate that students who received a high quality civic education are more likely to “understand public issues, view political engagement as a means of addressing communal challenges, and participate in civic activities.” Hence, civics education teachers will be key element in creating new generations of engaged and active Ukrainian citizens.
While civic education reform continues in Ukraine, so do efforts to improve and develop the quality of teachers. To further crystallize the priorities and goals of civic education among new teachers, and to ensure that Ukrainian students are met with competent and motivated teachers, USAID/ENGAGE and its partners have created a new course at pedagogical universities that will train teachers in civic education methodologies.
To recognize and reward the important efforts of gifted and dedicated civic education teachers, USAID/ENGAGE recently joined with Osvitoria and the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine initiative to create a new award—The Best Teacher of Civic Education. With increased focus on teachers’, including their lessons learned and best practices, and with continued efforts to support and recognize exemplar teachers, Ukraine’s civic education curriculum can continue to nurture new generations of citizens.
Looking Ahead: A New Semester, a New Course for Civic Education
The future of civic education in Ukraine will require sustained efforts from civil society, recognition of the value of civic education on behalf of the government, and continued support of a new network of Ukrainian civic education teachers.
As reforms take place and policies further crystallize a national vision and the value for civic education, delivering high-quality civic education courses will be a critical issue moving forward. But through USAID/ENGAGE and its partners efforts, schools will be better situated to advance high quality civic education and a culture that values it. Doing so means fostering an environment that ensures teachers are prepared to deliver it effectively, and that they have the tools they need to succeed, whether it be in-person or via socially distanced, remote online platforms.