Written by: Tomaž Deželan, PhD, and Nina Vombergar, University of Ljubljana
Civic education in Slovenia: Discourse, challenges and opportunities
Civic education in Slovenia has been developing since the country’s independence in 1991. In 1996, it entered the formal education system for the first time through a compulsory subject called Citizenship Education and Ethics at the level of primary school education. Since then, it has appeared at all levels of the formal education system under various names, either as a compulsory or an elective subject. It has also been included as a cross-curricular topic in other subjects such as history, Slovenian language and geography. One of the main challenges has always been the contradictory views and opinions by the political (ideological) authorities on what should be taught and learned in the formal education system under the name of civic education. This issue can be illustrated by the history of the symbolic changing of the name of the subject under which civic education was delivered to pupils in primary education in the past years: Citizenship Education and Ethics (until 2008), Citizenship and Patriotic Education and Ethics (2008–2013), Patriotic and Citizenship Culture and Ethics (since 2013). Another challenge is related to the competences of the educators who teach civic education. Since only one hour per week is currently dedicated to civic education in primary schools, teachers are not primarily focused on this subject. Moreover, no special qualifications in the field of civic education are currently needed to become a teacher of the subject.
A systemic solution would be needed in order to equip civic education teaching staff with relevant knowledge, methods and skills to facilitate classes in this field in an engaging way. Civic education in Slovenia should respond to the alarming national and international situation where false information and media illiteracy result in the spreading of conspiracy theories, prejudices, discrimination and populism. Thus, one of the main objectives of civic education should be to prepare (young) individuals to think critically and be empathetic and to equip them with the skills to recognize reliable information and relevant knowledge in order to empower them and promote an inclusive society. While the numerous and diverse non-formal and informal education programmes seem to be committed to this, the formal education system does not yet seem to be doing enough to promote such citizenship attitudes.
Formal civic education overview
Civic education is taught in primary schools as part of the formal curricula as mandatory content within a subject called Patriotic and Citizenship Culture and Ethics (two years, for a total of 70 hours, and the subject is graded). The general objectives are to develop political literacy and critical thinking and to promote the active participation of pupils in society. Civic education in primary schools is also present in the content of the elective subject Citizenship Culture (in the final year of primary school, for a total of 32 hours). It is based on knowledge and understanding of one’s own national and cultural traditions, while at the same time introducing pupils to other cultures, their perspectives and different social systems. In addition, civic education in primary schools is also taught as a cross-curricula topic within other subjects, such as history, geography and Slovenian language. A person who has successfully completed studies (in tertiary education) of philosophy, geography, sociology, political science, theology or history can become a teacher of Patriotic and Citizenship Culture and Ethics. Professional support for teachers is provided by the National Education Institute Slovenia, which collaborates with the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. The intertwining of civic and patriotic education is regarded as desirable by some (ideological) positions and as problematic by others. The general question of what should be taught under the name of citizenship education reflects the wider issue of the ambiguous definition of citizenship, which is also a topic of political (ideological) disagreements.
Since 2020, Active Citizenship has been compulsory in upper secondary school programmes in the category Other Forms of Educational Work. The key difference from subject-based lessons is that the Active Citizenship content is largely carried out as activities and tasks connected with the environment students live in. The fundamental objective of the content under this name is to promote active, informed and responsible democratic citizenship and participation. As in primary schools, the teachers of this subject can be graduates of sociology, philosophy, history, geography or political science. The subject was intended to be introduced into the curriculum as a compulsory subject in 2019, but this did not happen due to opposition from headmasters (who argued that an additional subject would overload high school students beyond the legally permissible number of
lessons per week).
Non-formal and informal civic education
Civic education in the context of non-formal and informal learning is conducted in various forms by diverse (public or private) non-governmental organizations, such as associations and institutes. Some of them address civic education in more direct ways, but it is mainly delivered in indirect ways through various topics (such as global learning, human rights, sustainability, culture, anti-discrimination, etc.) and methods. Non-formal and informal civic education is mainly financially supported through different calls for proposals at the national, municipal and European levels. At the national level, financing is mainly available through the ministries (such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities).
Associations, which are the main promoters of civic education activities in the non-formal and informal context, are popular forms of engagement in Slovenia. There are almost 24,000 associations in Slovenia (or 1 association per 90 residents). Uncertain and inconsistent project funding is one of the fundamental challenges for organizations offering non-formal and informal education in this field. It makes long-term planning difficult and forces organizations to adapt to each call’s conditions and focus, rather than following their own missions. Project funding also produces competitiveness between organizations for scarce resources at the national and local levels and thus creates less favourable conditions for collaboration and sharing of funds among organizations.