The study was prepared under the project “Institutional Strengthening of NGO Associations” funded by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
In a rapidly changing modern world, civics acquires increasing value. The spread of fake news, the geopolitical situation around the world, the growth of consumerism, the development of the internet and social media result in flattening relationships–all these factors create new challenges that must be addressed consistently and systematically. Despite the existing opportunities and potential to reduce social exclusion and increase all citizens’ participation in social life, the exclusion will not decrease by itself. Persons with higher socio-economic status are generally better technologically savvy and have more capital (both financial and social) to deal with various challenges. If states don’t invest strategically to raise citizens’ awareness and promote their capabilities to get involved in decision-making, exclusion in active participation may only increase in the future.
Despite the existing programs and designated annual funding, civic education does not yield results–low civic engagement and almost unchanged results over the past decade (based on the Civic Power Index) calls into question the effectiveness of citizenship fundamentals’ education in schools. When asked what civic activities they know, students often do not find exact words and associate civic activities with political participation. And “teachers lack knowledge, skills and methodological guidelines for quality, interesting and motivating teaching of certain topics and student assessment, and the systems of teacher education and further training are not well-developed and consistent”. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, the state spends 15 million euros per year for any lesson taught once a week.
The aim of citizenship education in schools is “for students to acquire knowledge and skills, develop the values necessary for active and responsible participation in the life of Lithuania’s democratic state and civil society”. To this end goal, several areas of activity are integrated into education: social cognition and research; participation and fostering change in communities; creating and maintaining social connections.
Citizenship education in schools is carried out in different ways:
Schools may provide other forms and methods of citizenship education than those above.
As in society as a whole, young people’s civic empowerment is greatly enhanced by participation in extracurricular and non-formal education activities, both in and out of school: The more young people participate in various organisations, the greater their civic power is (see Table 1), especially involvement in civic activities. “Young people’s participation in voluntary activities has a significant impact on their civic power. […] The civic power index values of young people who have volunteered are more than ten points higher than those who do not have volunteering experience”.
|Number of organisations with participating young people||Civic power index|
|4 and more||49.7|
Table No. 1. Compiled by authors.
The results of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) showed that the understanding of civics by Lithuanian eighth-graders (505 points) is similar to that of other countries participating in the study (the average is 500) but is slightly lower than the European average–514. Lithuania is one of the four countries with the lowest share of teachers who stated that knowledge of social, political and civic institutions is one of civic and citizenship education aims. Although Lithuanian students’ theoretical knowledge is relatively high–even 70% of Lithuanian students answered the theoretical questions about the electoral system correctly (EU average 47%)–more than 70% of students do not believe that their voice can influence decision-making. Also, according to a Eurobarometer survey, 63% of young people in Lithuania are reluctant to get involved in social activities, while the European Union average is 44%.
The 2012 study by the Civil Society Institute revealed that both teachers and students underestimate civic education. This attitude is formed because there is no exam to evaluate the subject, and it is often assessed not by a grade but by a credit. Pupils lack relevance in the information obtained during the citizenship fundamentals’ classes. They are interested in the civic processes taking place around them, but teachers who teach the fundamentals of citizenship do not feel they have enough competences to discuss political and economic issues with students.
The presented research revealed that the teachers identified their lack of competencies, especially their ability to discuss politics with students and help them understand the country’s political life. The analysis of the current situation with the Action Plan for Civic and National Education 2016–2020 implementation also states that “teachers lack knowledge, skills and methodological guidelines for quality, interesting and motivating teaching of certain topics and student assessment, and the systems of teacher education and further training are not well-developed and consistent”.
Many of the problems discussed above are identified in the interinstitutional Action Plan for Civic and National Education 2016–2020. This plan sets an ambitious goal: “to enable Lithuanian citizens to take personal responsibility for Lithuania’s present and future through civic and national education”. Three large-scale tasks have been set to achieve this goal, but the possibilities for achieving the set objectives are questionable. The plan foresaw more than 30 activities in 2016–2018, and each was allocated an average of 30 thousand euros per year. The activities envisaged in the plan are very different, and there is no clear vision or priorities. Therefore, the scattering of funds in all areas does not help achieve the ambitious goals and objectives (especially since part of the activities is developing new plans or measures).
Lithuania is one of the twenty countries where civic education is a separate compulsory subject. In some countries, it is taught from primary school onwards, but mostly during secondary education. In all countries where citizenship is taught as separate subjects or its content is integrated into other lessons, “civic education is seen as an interdisciplinary dimension of the curriculum, and all teachers must contribute to civic education and related goals as set out in the national curriculum”.
In countries with higher ratings in international surveys on student performance, national curricula focus more on civic education aspects that promote student participation in school decision-making and community participation, monitoring and analysing change processes in school and the community, and assessing opportunities for involvement and commitment. Therefore, when shaping civic education content, some countries pay more attention to developing values and capacity building than concepts or knowledge transfer.
External actors, such as non-governmental organisations contributing to citizenship education, have a significant role in developing active citizenship. Therefore, the state’s approach and political priorities related to this sector’s activities are also very important. In Estonia, for example, a decision was made to abolish state institutions that worked in non-formal education. It was decided that the functions of non-formal education and related policy-making should remain the ministry’s responsibility, but implementation should not. As a result, the money saved by abolishing the existing institutions was channelled to private service providers.
Lithuanian students have a good theoretical civic education background but lag far behind their peers in Europe in terms of practical functioning and real participation in civic life. In this context, it is necessary to invest in developing practical citizenship skills, focusing on boys and students from low socio-economic backgrounds and regions.
Since many schools still do not have student self-governance bodies, it is necessary to pay more attention to the development of democracy in schools and students’ involvement in decision-making.
Civic activism, civic power and other attributes related to active citizenship are positively influenced by student volunteering, participation in non-governmental organisations and civic activities. Therefore, various social partners, especially non-governmental organisations, should be more included in citizenship education.
Civic activism or extracurricular student activities usually do not count or mean very little when enrolling in higher education (except for a few programs where additional points can be added to students). Thus, seeking to encourage young people to participate more actively in society, legal preconditions to evaluate and recognise such activities must be created.
More specific proposals for policy implementation: