Written by: Association of Non-Formal Education (ANEV, z.s.)
Civic education in Czechia: Discourse, challenges and opportunities Czechia has been an independent democratic republic since 1 January 1993. It became a republic after 42 years of totalitarian communist regime, including 23 years during which the country was occupied by the troops of the Soviet Union. Civil society is actively developing, mostly through NGOs, individual initiative and growing communities around cultural and educational entities. Today, Czech society is moved by the issues of the war in Ukraine, the influence of Russia in post-Soviet countries, misinformation on controversial issues, the division of civil society by the rhetoric of some politicians and the influence of populist slogans, poverty, the radicalization of society and the growing level of xenophobia. Discussions about the impact of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic on young people and the growing uncertainty about the future impact of the war in Ukraine on the citizens of Czechia and the climate crisis are also coming to the fore. In recent years, Czech society has shown a great deal of solidarity (helping others during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping residents of communities destroyed by the 2021 tornado, helping refugees from Ukraine). This demonstrates the ability of citizens to react to problems faster than the state apparatus. Currently, Czech education is moving towards the implementation of Strategy 2030+, in which it also addresses the shortcomings in civic education by implementing two strategic goals: 1) to focus education more on the acquisition of competences needed for active civic, professional and personal life; 2) to reduce inequalities in access to quality education and to enable the maximum development of the potential of children, pupils and students. Strategy 2030+ (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Strategy for the Education Policy of the Czech Republic up to 2030. Prague: 2020. ISBN 978-80-87601-50-1.) also responds to the needs of society that are currently not being met: “to equip citizens with the competences needed for responsible living in a democratic society, i.e. the skills and knowledge to uphold and promote democratic values and attitudes, protect human rights and develop civic cohesion.”
Formal civic education overview Civic education is part of the educational curriculum in primary and secondary schools. The subject is graded on the basis of different criteria. It is usually taught as a thematic component of other subjects. Some primary schools also include civic education as a cross-curricular topic in several subjects or as part of school projects. In secondary schools, civic education is often taught in the form of a single subject that includes all the content or is integrated into several different subjects as a cross-curricular theme. The thematic focus is most often on preparing pupils for responsible civic life in a democratic society, in particular on the acquisition of social skills (e.g. the ability to clarify attitudes and values), but mostly on broadening of their knowledge in this area. At both educational levels, the greatest emphasis is placed on the themes of a responsible approach to the environment, the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and the prevention of bullying. Less frequently, the key topics focus on the successful involvement of pupils in democratic society – the promotion of democratic values, the prevention of extremism and respect for cultural differences, the development of civic competences, etc. (Česká školní inspekce. Tematická zpráva. Občanské vzdělávání v základních a středních školách. Čj.: ČŠIG-4129/16-G2. Prague: Listopad, 2016.)
Teacher training is provided at the faculties of education as part of their studies and subsequently in the form of methodological materials available on the websites of initiatives focusing on civic education or through training courses offered by NGOs. Civic education is mostly perceived in such a way that it does not need to be addressed specifically as a separate subject; it is considered part of almost every subject. This attitude unfortunately misses the opportunity not only to target topics that are relevant to Czech society, but also, for example, to teach necessary skills and to change attitudes among pupils. “There is a fundamental contradiction in the education system where, on the one hand, high expectations are created for civic education and, at the same time, very little space is actually devoted to it in the curriculum.” (Doporučení v oblasti občanského vzdělávání Expertnímu panelu pro revize RVP ZV; předkladatelé: iniciativa Občanská trojčlenka, Centrum občanského vzdělávání (Ondřej Horák, ředitel). Prague: 20 April 2022.)
Non-formal and informal civic education The main challenge for organizations and individuals in non-formal and informal civic education is now to give targeted attention and space to the development of competences in this area and to open up controversial topics that do not receive space in formal education. The activities mostly focus on skills, values and attitudes; thus, in a way, non-formal and informal education is supplementing the formal education system, in which these areas do not receive sufficient space in practice. Funding is made possible mainly from foreign sources, EU funds, international or national foundations, and in recent years there has also been a growing interest among corporate foundations in supporting civil society. At a smaller scale, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport also supports these activities; nevertheless, there is a lack of youth strategy and quality monitoring on a national level. Professional organizations at different levels cooperate with each other and this is also due to the fact that many professionals work with multiple organizations. Citizens are informed about the activities of these organizations if they actively follow information through online networks, subscribe to the newsletter of the organization, participate in events or want to get actively involved (e.g. by volunteering).