Active citizenship, democracy and participation

By promoting intercultural dialogue and active participation in the society, adult education contributes to active citizenship and democracy.

The EAEA and its members stand for a strong commitment to Europe and European values. We believe that intercultural exchange and cooperation are key to a Europe of respect, participation and cohesion.

Many adult education organisations were established as the result of emancipatory movements (workers, women, or religious organisations, etc.), and adult education still provides the knowledge and know-how as well as the space to develop democracy and citizenship. Additionally, adult education can strengthen and regenerate civil society.

Increasing radicalisation in Europe has shown that democratic attitudes, tolerance and respect need to be reinforced. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue can play a big role in this. But adult education can also bring more democracy and participation to the national and regional levels, and enable transparency and the development of a lively civil society as well as contribute to critical thinking and empowerment.

Adult education can strengthen and regenerate civil society.

The PIAAC study has shown a clear correlation between ‘trust’ and ‘political efficacy’ with skills levels. The lower one’s basic skills, the lower one’s trust is in institutions and the lower one’s belief is in one’s ability to have an impact. People who participate in adult education also volunteer more often.

Good practice

The Citizens First project in Romania has made a sustainable, nation-wide difference in small communities, in particular in the rural area. The project implements active citizenship to give people the voice to decide what is a priority for their community, and provides them with the tools to create solutions they themselves can implement. Together they identify communal problems, vote on issues that will be addressed first, and collaboratively develop action plans.

The Citizens First project went beyond the sheer implementation of the action plans. It produced a mindset shift from perceiving the public authorities as decision-makers to relating to them as partners for development. The question becomes: “what is to be done and what can we do ourselves for us and for our community?”

Good practice

The Swedish Muslim study association Ibn Rushd ran a peace project: Att främja islamisk fredskultur (The promotion of Islamic Peace Culture) Young Muslims across the country were to be Peace Agents. They have been given the knowledge and tools needed to work with peace issues, anti-violence and human rights.

The long term aim is to combat Islamophobia – fear and animosity towards Islam, mainly by people in the West – and Westphobia – fear and animosity towards the West, mainly by Muslims. The foundation for a Muslim peace movement, Svenska muslimer för fred och rättvisa (Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice) has been laid.

Research proof

Regarding societal cohesion, the main contributions of education are greater trust, more civic co-operation and lower levels of violent crime. Additionally, the individual engagement in education is a predictor of engagement in public life because “the more students are engaged in their education, the more willing they are, on average, to play a positive role in public life” (p. 20). Adult education leads moreover to an increase in racial tolerance and a greater likelihood of voting.

Preston (2004) analysed the impact of adult education on participants’ civic lives and on the formation of values, particularly tolerance. He found that learning can have an impact on informal and formal civic participation.

Concerning informal civic participation, it has helped individuals to build, maintain, dismantle, reconstruct and enrich their social networks. Additionally, the formation of values can be influenced by learning. For example changes in tolerance, understanding and respect were reported by respondents. Civic and social engagement (CSE) as learning outcome has been analysed by the OECD (2007).

Read more: PIAAC analysis