Education around citizenship values across the EU is a “common political responsibility”, Education and Culture Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said in an interview with EURACTIV, adding that teachers can serve as “true role models” for European students.
“School education is not limited to assimilating information. It is also about cultivate a particular attitude and promote certain values,” she said.
According to her, these values allow citizens to be more active and to feel responsible towards their communities, their country and the European Union.
“To convey that sense of community, I believe it’s a common political responsibility that we have at all levels,” Gabriel said.
However, citizenship education remains a fragmented practice in the EU, with each Member State taking a different approach.
According to a 2020 study by the French Ministry of Education, teaching citizenship is a compulsory subject in 16 of the 27 EU countries, but with different teaching hours devoted to the subject.
At the end of secondary education, students benefit from 20 hours of citizenship education in Cyprus, 150 hours in French-speaking Belgium and 310 hours in France, reports the study.
Moreover, according to a 2016 survey, only one in two pupils said they had the opportunity to learn more about Europe at school.
According to Gabriel, knowing “what is really going on in Brussels” can stimulate active citizen participation, thereby increasing the proportion of people voting in elections.
Jan Eichhorn, lecturer in social policy at the University of Edinburgh, said the research has clearly shown that civic education “really matters”.
“We see that civic education can have incredibly positive outcomes for both youth electoral engagement and non-electoral engagement with politics as well,” Eichhorn said.
Teachers as role models
According to Gabriel, teachers play a key role as “real role models” in promoting active citizenship and European values.
“We must ensure that this important attitude – and I can even call it a virtue – is part of the comprehensive education that European pupils receive, and that it begins at the earliest stages of education”, said said Gabriel.
Meanwhile, experts stress the importance of separating European values from pro-European positions.
“There is a difference between pro-European as pro-EU and sharing some of these core values like democracy, democracy, tolerance,” Eichhorn said, adding that having a civic education would be counterproductive. trying to encourage students to “say they love the European Union.”
“No, you don’t necessarily need to have a teacher who, you know, has a glorious view of certain institutions or processes, but they should share certain kinds of values that are probably also values enshrined in the constitutions of their country. ,” he said.
In order to promote new EU teaching methods in the classroom, the EU has recently launched the “EU Learning Initiatives” which should provide funding to schools and other training institutions.
However, Commissioner Gabriel acknowledged that teachers still need more support, especially in multilingual and multicultural environments.
Teacher mobility could partially solve this problem, thanks to Erasmus+ programs and other tools promoting cross-border cooperation, such as the eTwinning platform, she said.
“We want all teachers and trainers to be able to benefit from learning mobility,” she said, adding that exposure to different pedagogies would also benefit students.
However, teachers often face time constraints, sometimes doing swaps in their free time, according to Patrick Tardy, a high school teacher at the Lycée des Métiers Roland Garros in Toulouse.
Teacher mobility across the bloc remains low, with less than half of teachers in Europe having experienced transnational mobility, according to pre-COVID data.
As mobility is slowly starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, Gabriel said the Commission’s aim is to “see even more done to make it an integral part of teacher training and teaching careers”.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]