Written by: Maryja Šupa, PhD, Civil Society Institute
Ieva Petronytė–Urbonavičienė, PhD, Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and
Political Science, Civil Society Institute
Civic education in Lithuania: Discourse, challenges and opportunities
Professional and societal debates about civic education in Lithuania most often focus on seeking out the right balance between opposites, such as the promotion of ethnocentric national identity versus globally oriented citizenship; strictly political versus broader politically and socially oriented citizenship; theoretical, textbook-based teaching methods versus practical, problem-based ones. Many stakeholders act in this field, and at least some of them hold divergent and at times conflicting views of the content and long-term outcomes of civic education.
Key actors in civic education include:
● Schools carry out the formal civic education curriculum.
● Teachers act as civic educators and community leaders, with this role especially pronounced in small townships and rural areas.
● The Ministry of Education and its subordinate institutions manage the curricula and provide teachers with the necessary support in carrying out their work.
● CSOs, local communities, libraries, and museums promote non-formal civic education and enable ongoing informal education.
● Universities award BA and MA degrees in education, publish teaching materials, organize conferences, workshops and other events for teachers, and engage secondary school students in non-formal and informal activities.
● Individual researchers at universities and independent research institutes conduct research evaluating the current state of civic education and provide recommendations for other actors.
● Well-known individuals widely acknowledged for their civic values and public civic initiatives work as role models, especially for secondary school students and youth, and are often invited to take part in formal and informal civic education activities as well as projects organized by other actors.
● The Ministry of National Defence and the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union contribute to formal, non-formal and informal civic education, which in Lithuania is widely perceived as a precondition for civil resistance.
Among the most pressing challenges in civic education in Lithuania during recent years was the renewal of the formal civic education programme for schools, applying appropriate, novel and engaging teaching methods to civic education, empowering students to become active participants in the process rather than passive recipients of information and increasing both students’ and teachers’ motivation. The new programme was approved in September 2022. Meanwhile Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sparked more discussions on the introduction of mandatory national security and national defence training in the basic and secondary education curriculum. Beyond sometimes heated debates among ideologically opposed stakeholder groups, civic education is not a particularly controversial topic in Lithuania. Rather, civic education faces the same demographic, financial, social and technological challenges as the whole educational system.
Formal civic education overview
Civic education is taught as part of the formal curricula in schools. It is a separate subject in years 9 and 10 (out of 12), and in earlier years it is integrated into other subjects (e.g. language, history, geography and ethics, among others). Educators are free to independently choose textbooks and other teaching materials and offer additional opportunities for civic education via extracurricular activities and external projects. Civic education is mainly taught by teachers of social disciplines and humanities, e.g. history or geography. A 10-point scale or pass/fail assessment may be used for grading the subject. In addition, school students are required to participate in at least 10 hours per year of socially oriented civic activities outside the curriculum. In 2022/2023, a new “4K” (“I create, I change, I am with others and I am for others”) model is also being piloted in five municipalities.
Civic education is not taught as part of the formal curricula in universities. Student organizations and clubs, as well as volunteering opportunities, fill this gap for youth.
The Ministry of Education ensures the organization of teachers’ training events, conferences, presentations of research and dissemination of teaching materials. Other actors, e.g. universities and CSOs, among others, also contribute to this field.
Field research shows that formal civic education is generally perceived as being of medium quality. In a representative survey carried out in 2016 by the Civil Society Institute, the general public and secondary school students evaluated the effectiveness of civic education at schools with a mean score of 6 (out of 10). The main problems include: lack of students’ and teachers’ motivation, lack of relevant content and opportunities to actively engage in civic activities, overemphasis on factual information about political institutions in the curriculum and lack of meaningful political discussions, among others. Teachers are also concerned about limited opportunities to teach civics outside the classroom (including lack of human resources and funding) and to employ engaging teaching methods.
Non-formal and informal civic education
In schools, non-formal civic education is carried out during extracurricular activities, such as events, field trips and collaborative projects with partner schools, CSOs or municipal institutions. For the youth, there are also ample opportunities to volunteer in the non-profit sector or join political organizations.
Ongoing informal civic education may be associated with participation in civic activities, which include following local news, participating in local, leisure and religious communities, volunteering and attending relevant public events. However, according to representative surveys, the share of citizens participating in these activities is not very high, and the number of activities they engage in tends to be limited.
Some of the key challenges for organizations and individuals who work in civic education are securing funding for non-formal activities, lack of interest from the general public and lack of opportunities to support continuous activity.
At different times, national funding for non-formal and informal civic education may be included in nationally distributed international funds, EU funding initiatives and ministry programmes supporting CSOs and regional communities. There is also a general national funding programme for non-formal children’s education to which civic educators may apply. Non-formal activities may also receive funding from business organizations, and citizens may direct up to 1.2% of their personal income tax to CSOs of their choice. In general, national funding for civic education is often insufficient, intermittent and most of the time not allocated specifically to civic education.
Organizations with initiatives in non-formal civic education have the option to collaborate locally and nationally to improve education and civic engagement via CSO networks.
Ongoing information about initiatives and events is disseminated via organizational websites and social media, local and national media and public events for stakeholder groups. CSOs, including those active in civic education, are required to present annual financial and activity reports to the State Enterprise Centre of Registers, which makes them publicly available.