New global network for research in citizenship education

An International Network for Research in Citizenship Education has been launched at a conference held in Marrakech, Morocco, earlier this month. The network’s aim is to advance the contributions of higher education to democracy on campuses and in wider society.

The second International Conference on Education for Democratic Citizenship took place from 4-8 February and was hosted by the Moroccan Center for Civic Education in partnership with Canada’s University of Ottawa and Bishop’s University, and America’s Merryville University in Saint Louis and the Center for Civic Education.

There were more than 120 educators and experts, media, and civil society and youth representatives from 20 countries, according to Morocco World News. The conference theme was “The Role of Youth in Promoting Global Citizenship: Opportunities and challenges”.

The aim was to advance research and evaluation of citizenship and democracy education among higher education institutions around the world.

The network, to be based in Morocco, was set up as a commission comprising representatives from Morocco, Spain, Canada and Saudi Arabia, who will develop the group’s mission, goals and structure. The network’s coordinator is Elarbi Imad, president of the Moroccan Center for Civic Education.

Boosting citizenship & democracy education

University World News asked Mohammed Melouk, an education professor at Morocco’s Mohammed V University and keynote speaker at the conference, about the significance of the new network for North Africa, amid the waves of socio-political transformation that have followed Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

He said the network would help promote “understanding and monitoring changes in citizenship values, perceptions and attitudes, especially among the young, along with providing policy-makers and NGOs with research data and suggestions for the promotion of citizenship values and democracy, both formally and informally”.

He pointed to the role of universities in integrating citizenship values and democracy concepts in classroom practices through a cross-curricular approach and “encouraging and engaging in extra-curricular activities in relation to community needs”.

The network, said Melouk, would search for common research themes and projects, and would set up multidisciplinary research and resourcing teams. Factors affecting changing value systems would be identified, and the impact of local socio-economic and cultural as well as external factors on citizenship values and democracy would be measured.

John Portelli, co-director of the Centre for Leadership and Diversity at the University of Toronto in Canada and a member of the network commission, told University World News: “Such a network will also offer an excellent opportunity for scholars from every part of the world to work with each other to develop both the research and practical agenda of citizenship education.”

The network would bring work being done in North Africa to scholars worldwide, he said.

“Other people from other parts of the world have a lot to learn from the histories and identities and values and experiences of North African scholars, educators and citizens. It would also bring North Africa to the international picture of citizenship education.

“A university does not deserve such a name if it does not integrate democratic values and citizenship education by encouraging the reflection on such values in classrooms and participatory activities with communities,” Portelli pointed out.

“Universities also need to develop and offer continuous professional development for professors and instructors consistent with such values.”

Context is crucial

Promoting citizenship and democracy education in North African states that have experienced Arab Spring revolutions needed to “happen in different stages and gradations”, Portelli continued.

“The students, the professors and the administration need to be prepared. Also, structures and expectations need to change one step at a time. If not, it may be a big shock for the system and the whole citizenship education project will collapse.

“This does not mean that I do not have high hopes for these countries. Indeed I do. But we also have to be sensitive to the contexts,” said Portelli.

“It is crucial that African universities do NOT reproduce blindly colonial and imperialistic values, some of which hide under the umbrella of democracy and citizenship education. African countries have a history of honouring spirituality and ubuntu – crucial values for genuine and meaningful citizenship education and democracy.

“Citizenship and democracy do not just mean voting. They mean a way of life that is consistent with honouring spiritualities of a variety of kinds, languages of a variety of kinds, respect, meaningful encounters among human beings even (and especially) when they disagree,” Portelli concluded.