Written by: Emiljano Kaziaj, PhD, IREX Albania
Civic education in Albania: Discourse, challenges and opportunities
Civic education is a relatively new term for Albanian society. Until 1990, Albania was a communist country and one of the most isolated dictatorships in Europe. After 1990, when the country opened, the first attempts at civic education also began. Terms such as “civil society,” “non-governmental organizations” and “not-for-profit organizations” were used interchangeably in Albania to define initiatives of formal and non-formal groups aiming to bring change to society on some pressing issues that are key to a democratic country. There is a misconception in Albania about the blurred lines between civil society and politics. This has been an increasing trend in the past decades and has had an impact on the trust in civil society organizations and their actions.
Projects focused on civic education as a broad field can be divided into three main categories:
1. Integration of civic education as a topic in the education curricula;
2. Implementation of projects funded by international donors focused primarily on building the capacities of teachers and youth in civic education;
3. Implementation of projects funded by international donors and implemented by national and local civil society organizations focused primarily on raising awareness of topics such as human rights, women’s rights, environment, gender, the LGBTQ+ community, youth, children’s rights, etc.
Based on a report published in 2010, civic engagement scored very low in Albania: only 47.6%. This was also the lowest score amongst the five dimensions analyzed for the civil society index which included: civic engagement, level of organization, the practice of values, perceptions of impact and the environment.
The main actors involved in civic education in Albania comprise:
- Intergovernmental entities and organizations such as The European Union (EU), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (CoE), United Nations (UN) agencies, etc.;
- Foreign development agencies and their representatives (embassies);
- International development organizations;
- State agencies (such as the Agency for the Development of Civil Society);
- Local and national civil society organizations;
Non-formal groups, including youth and community groups usually established with external support and funding.
Formal civic education overview
Civic education is a topic taught in Albanian schools. It is part of the learning competences in the subject called Society and Environment, which focuses on teaching students how to become active citizens and be informed and responsible for themselves and society at large. Through these competences, students build skills such as how to play their role as members of a society in an increasingly interdependent world. This education process starts early on in children’s educational path by focusing on different elements at different stages. In stages 1 and 2, from pre-school until the second grade, pupils get knowledge and skills on decision-making, knowing themselves and the world around them. In stages 3 and 4, corresponding to grades 3–8, students are equipped with knowledge, skills and attitudes through courses in history, geography and civic education. In stages 5 and 6, which correspond to grades 9–12, the focus is on cultivating a personal, social and national identity. Most of the knowledge and skills related to civic education are delivered through courses on citizenship, which are taught under different names in the pre-university curricula: Citizenship or Civic Education.
The state agency for quality assurance in pre-university education (ASCAP) and the Institute for Development in Education (IZHA) are the institutions responsible for teachers’ capacity building in Albania as well as for curricula development. Recently, on 20 May 2022, the Ministry of Education and Sports announced the list of modules for teachers’ capacity building that have been accredited for the period 2022–2026 (list here). In this exhaustive list, there is an ample number of training courses in the broad field of civic education, such as inclusion, democratic culture in schools and communities, protecting the environment, human rights, antibullying, media literacy, soft skills, community participation, etc.
Civic education is perceived as a topic of low interest among pupils, and it is one of the courses which students consider entertaining rather than informative or skills building. The subject is graded in the pre-university school years, but it is not part of the core subjects for which students are tested in their maturity exam and which serve as the main component for their admissions to universities.
Non-formal and informal civic education
There are many national and local organizations in Albania (a list of the non-governmental organizations registered in the Agency for the Support of Civil Society can be found here. The number of NGOs could be much higher, as this list does not include international NGOs present in Albania). Most of these organizations conduct capacity building in the field of civic education. Due to the large number of organizations and lack of available funds and human resources to sustain them, most of these organizations have a meagre presence in the field of development in Albania. The main challenge all these organizations face is sustainability as they mostly depend on foreign support for funds. Usually, they receive support from international donors but this support is short-lived and only for specific short-term projects and activities.
Lack of funds and human resources also affects their public presence. Most non-governmental organizations share information only at specific events and through social media channels. Due to the media context in Albania, media coverage is often granted to big international organizations and political affairs and actors. The same approach applies to local media outlets, which also focus on national issues and politics rather than issues of interest for their local communities. National funding is available through the National Agency for the Support of the Civil Society, but access to these funds is difficult for small organizations and is usually accompanied by lots of criticism about transparency and nepotism. As mentioned above and as evidenced by different reports on civil society in Albania, there is a general scepticism towards the work that civil society organizations do in the country. This distrust can partly be attributed to the widespread phenomenon of individuals transitioning from civil society work into politics and taking over roles in the government or at important state agencies.