Schools that Spend the Least Time on Civic Ed Demonstrate the Weakest Results

In late 2016 BiH received the “questionnaire” consisting of 3,432 questions that must be answered to become a formal EU member candidate. Question #374 states: “Please provide information on measures to prevent ethnicity-based forms of discrimination and segregation in the education system. Are there any relevant court judgments and are they implemented?” Based on two decades of political resistance to providing a genuine education accessible to all students, we expect that the response will include words like “devolved,” “federal,” “unique histories,” and other such turns of phrase that preclude any honest response or reflection, wrote Valery Perry and Brian Lanahan in a DPC blog post.

However, serious reflection by the EU when reviewing the answer to this question could help to provide a foundation for long-needed systematic reform in the future.

“Neither BiH’s political nor educational problems can be addressed unless comprehensive education reform that deals with both the content that children learn (curricula and learning outcomes), and how they learn it, is undertaken. We both have documented dozens of recommendations from teachers, students, and parents alike; the following are just a few related to the critical issue of citizenship education.

First, pedagogy – teaching methods – needs to be more student-centered and inter-active to promote critical thinking and open minds. Our own research indicates that many teachers and students want such an approach, as they realize the old techniques are not preparing young people for an increasingly complex world. We’ve often heard a frustrated resignation among teachers who at times even believe that policymakers want a school system that discourages critical thought, as such citizens are less likely to seek to engage, to challenge, or to better the status quo. All teachers should have civic education and the skills required to effectively teach it as part of their university education. In turn, university teacher training faculties will require more support (financial and professional) to produce the next generation of teachers with these skills.

Second, BiH needs more organic civic education materials produced by BiH citizens – teachers, experts, and even student leaders – that address the particularities of the BiH government and opportunities for a real discussion about the relationship between the government and the governed. In-class policy discussions and debates need to focus on issues that students see in their everyday lives (lack of sufficient school facilities, air pollution, youth emigration, nepotism, etc.).

Finally, more time than currently allocated must be specifically marked for instruction on democratic principles. Initiatives to cut the time spent on civics education – or to integrate such modules into other courses (“if you want to lose it, diffuse it”) – will result in an even weaker sense of civic belonging and agency. While student-centered teaching techniques can be applied to all subjects, our research suggests that those schools that spend the least time on civic education do in fact demonstrate the weakest results.

Students will become voters and thus need civic education to learn how to question what they see around them – what they read in the news, what they hear from a political leader and what they hear second-hand on the bus. Rumor, bombast and outright lies all played a part in laying the groundwork for the war that tore Yugoslavia apart over 20 years ago. This kind of (dis)information campaign was necessary to ensure the military campaign could follow. Citizens everywhere need to be prepared and be able to counter such manipulation. The experiences of those countries that suffered from the illiberal practices at the end of the 20th century should serve as a lesson to the West of the wisdom of taking preemptive action to resist these dangerous trends.”

Read Cultivating the Demand Side of Liberal Democracy: In Support of Increased and Enhanced Civic Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Globally

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