Jana Feherpataky-Kuzmová, Institute for Active Citizenship
Juraj Varga, Centre for Education and Innovations
Civic education in Slovakia: Discourse, challenges and opportunities*
When discussing Slovakia, we need to keep in mind that the formal education system and especially primary education are currently being remodelled, and the former two levels of primary education are being transformed into three cycles. This process goes hand in hand with curricular reform. In 2018, all the major actors in civic education (formal and non-formal), 13 organizations altogether, started an initiative for civic education and organized their first national conference in June 2022, entitled ID Does Not Make a Citizen 2022. Important findings were presented by national and international experts and the need for a networking and advocacy platform was openly articulated.
Challenges discussed at the conference were, inter alia, working responsibly with online channels, strengthening debate skills and information sourcing, counteracting the trend of decreased volunteering and civic engagement, cultivating communities for young people and developing skills like leadership, problem solving, critical thinking and cooperation. A big challenge is the fact that formal civic education is undervalued and marginalized, and it doesn’t fit the needs of students and society; additionally, it is being taught by teachers without the proper qualification and training. Vladimír Šucha, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, described the situation in a nutshell: “Slovakia has an acute problem of mistrust among the citizens, and trust is one of the basic elements of society.” Potential solutions would require systemic change in the curriculum and methods of education, including addressing current social challenges, providing consistent support and further education for the teachers, school directors and youth workers, implementing extracurricular activities including volunteering into the education process, as well as highlighting to the general public the value of quality democratic civic education.
Formal civic education overview
Civic education is a separate subject, without cross-curricular interconnections and without integrated thematic learning and teaching. Within the curriculum (the current curriculum as well as the one in the process of being developed), it is one of the key subjects in the so-called Man and Society educational area, together with history, geography and potentially ethics and religious education. As discussed during the 2022 conference, civic education receives the least amount of attention in formal education and its reform. The subject is graded mostly with summative assessments focusing on pupils’ ability to memorize the required facts and information rather than on building crucial civic and life skills for life in the 21st century. The expertise of civic education teachers varies, but between 30% and 60% (https://www.cvtisr.sk/cvti-sr-vedecka-kniznica/informacie-o-skolstve/statistiky.html?page_id=9230) of teachers have not received relevant university education (which is of course only one of the relevant indicators), depending on the type of school. Quality teacher training is provided mostly by civil society
organizations (NGOs, civic associations), but along with the curricular reform, major organizations from the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport were merged and transformed into one National Institute for Education and Youth. Accredited teacher training was provided for civil society organizations and not just for public methodology and pedagogy centres that were dysfunctional in providing proper teacher training and support programmes and support for teachers. The least amount of attention is granted to civic education teachers at vocational schools, who are in fact the most vulnerable ones. The lack of modern, up-to-date and high-quality education materials, the low level of inclusion and low social appreciation are among the challenge for civic education in Slovakia.
Non-formal and informal civic education
As of summer 2022, civic society organizations, public organizations and the newly established National Institute for Education and Youth started to work closely together to discuss the form, content and support of formal, non-formal and informal civic education. The biggest need is for a platform for networking, sharing best practices and advocacy. National funding is being made available for all the actors and is becoming transparent. All the major actors in civic education collaborate and are running the Initiative for civic education. It is hard to estimate the extent of information impact on the general public. Information is openly available, but the information campaigns are not very big. Overall, it is a challenge for the organizations and institutions providing non-formal civic education to operate sustainably and in cooperation with the state and local government authorities.
* Before the COVID-19 pandemic: https://ipao.sk/vyskum/mladi-ludia-neveria-ze-na-ich-nazore-zalezi/ ; after the COVID-19 pandemic: https://zoziakaobcanom.sk/slovensko-pandemia-prehlbila-problemy-v-obcianskom-vzdelavani-musime-zacat-k