What is Education for Democratic Citizenship?

The Council of Europe defines Education for democratic citizenship as “education, training, dissemination, information, practices and activities which aim to empower learners:

to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society;
to value diversity;
to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law.” 

Active citizenship and intercultural learning are fundamental for democracy to thrive in culturally diverse societies, therefore as AFSers, we have an important role to play in educating ourselves and others on how to be a democratic citizen. 

The aim of the Volunteer Summer Summit 2023 is to strengthen AFS organisational and volunteer capacity to use the AFS know-how on intercultural and citizenship education to promote democratic values

Why a focus on democracy? 

“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

AFS organisations share a common mission: provide intercultural learning opportunities to help young people develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world. Peace and justice develop in a culture of democracy, when people hold democratic values and attitudes. But democratic citizenship, just like intercultural dialogue, is a skill that needs to be learned and practised.

The new AFS Active Global Citizenship framework puts a focus on democracy, as one of its 4 dimensions is take action toward collective well-being. According to AFS active global citizens take action, recognizing challenges and inequities, and working with others to propose informed, ethical, and reflective interventions with courage toward a more just, equitable, peaceful and sustainable world.

At the VSS we want to show participants how many of the tools and resources we already use in AFS can be used for the development of democratic citizenship. We will provide knowledge and tools for volunteers to be effective members of democratic society and share this with their peers, with exchange students and with their communities at national and local level. 

Why is this important now? 

“Democracy comes from the Greek meaning “of the people”. Yet studies show that most people throughout Europe are becoming disenfranchised from their political systems. They do not trust politicians, they are confused about political institutions and they are skeptical about the value of voting, the Council of Europe shows. Moreover, recent developments in the world show ever-increasing geopolitical turmoil, resulting in armed conflicts, the rise of populist and nationalist movements weakening social and civic bonds, and the fragility of democracy. Such times can be disheartening for citizens: it is instinctive to question one’s role and importance in society, and our ability to change it, when the change seems hopeless.

It is therefore more important than ever to fight people’s feelings of helplessness, disillusion, isolation and apathy. Not only is it important that people and youth’s voices and perspectives are heard by decision-makers but each individual can and should play a part in supporting the recovery process: everyone needs to feel responsible and empowered to be an active citizen.

“Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us.” The Dalai Lama

What topics will we cover? 

To help us tackle this broad subject, we have selected specific thematic tracks to help us narrow it down and connect it to the work and mission of AFS. We have divided the programme into:

  • Democracy through participation – possible topics: advocacy, political participation, activism, etc. 
  • Democracy through education – possible topics: basic or advanced ICL, human rights education, non-formal vs formal education, etc.
  • Volunteering for democracy – possible topics: History of AFS, supporting exchange students, youth work and leadership, etc.
  • GLOBAL citizenship, going beyond Europe – possible topics: climate change, war and conflict resolution, human rights, etc. 
  • Jolly (a.k.a. anything goes) – possible topics: project management 101, digitalisation and gamification, podcasting, etc.

Each of the five tracks addresses the topic in its own way and each of this year’s workshops is linked to at least one track. Our trainers have created workshops covering many different topics – there will be a variety of options for new and unexpected, but also in-demand and established content.

Read more about the different tracks and the Workshops here, as of 5 June.