© Dear Photograph project

© Dear Photograph project

Snapshots at European level: what supports human rights education and education for democratic citizenship nowadays today

by Mara Georgescu



This article is called “snapshots” for a reason. Different European programmes, policies and opportunities exist today, and in this field new ones appear regularly. It is possible then to speak about “snapshots” as a picture of some of these programmes, policies and opportunities without aiming to be comprehensive or up to date in the long run. These snapshots focus on the Council of Europe and the European Commission, while there are also other international institutions doing work in Europe (UNESCO, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or the OSCE1, just to name some).


The main question is: if you are active or interested in promoting human rights and democratic citizenship through education, what could support your work?

Firstly, both the Council of Europe and the European Commission provide a political and policy framework for your work. This framework is based on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as reflected for example in the European Convention on Human Rights. As educators for change, one of the biggest fears is to be left alone while everyone else is doing something else, different than or even contrary to human rights and democracy. Knowing that at least these two European institutions promote human rights and democratic citizenship education creates a space for work with young people at the local level.

Basic things to know: at policy level, the Council of Europe has adopted a Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education. At the level of the European Union, the adopted in 2015 by the EU education ministers reaffirms the role of acquiring social, civic and intercultural competences, by promoting democratic values and fundamental rights, social inclusion and non-discrimination, as well as active citizenship.

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The work at European level is orientated towards progress and development in the education for democratic citizenship and human rights education (EDC/HRE) area. Through different projects, this leads to the creation of new concepts, tools, policy areas, etc. While this may seem abstract, it is thanks to this kind of work that certain funding programmes were developed, or that curricula follow certain guidelines or that the role of youth organisations can be recognised as a space for young people to learn about, for and through human rights.

For example, through seminars and consultations with educators and youth organisations, a first manual on the Roma genocide for youth workers and youth educators was produced by the Youth Department of the Council of Europe.
A project on Teaching Controversial Issues implemented in 2014 by Cyprus, Ireland, Montenegro, Spain and the United Kingdom with the support of Albania, Austria, France and Sweden, produced a toolkit for teachers to tackle controversial issues available in 5 languages with 12 more translations soon to come.

European institutions often work with governments, for example with the education and youth ministries. This work is also a very important tool for proposing and supporting change at national level through constructive dialogue. Through co-operation with national governments, the Council of Europe for example can support the introduction in youth policy programmes or in the school curriculum of EDC/HRE elements. In many ways, what the European institutions propose currently is not so far from what educators would like to see: more and always improving promotion of human rights and democracy through formal and non-formal education.

The joint European Union/Council of Europe programmes support individual countries to put into practice the Charter on EDC/HRE. For example, the programme Generation Democracy implemented in Turkey (2011-15) developed a new elective curriculum on democracy and human rights for the upper-secondary level and also promoted democratic school culture.
Furthermore, the Council of Europe started a project on the development of a reference framework of Competences for Democratic Culture in 2016.

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Besides this policy framework and co-operation, European institutions have capacity-building programmes and tools. Take the two European Youth Centres of the Council of Europe. These are residential facilities in Strasbourg and Budapest where thousands of youth leaders, youth workers, educators and people working in public institutions on youth issues can participate in trainings every year, and several of these trainings are on EDC/HRE matters. Not only, these youth centres are also safe spaces for civil society to have a “home” and develop strategies against human rights violations and for promoting democratic developments.

Learn more about the HRE Youth Programme and the HRE educational resources for youth educators developed by the Youth Department of the Council of Europe!
If you are interested in global education, then the North-South Centre offers capacity-building and education resources.
The HELP programme offers online course on a variety of human rights topics.
SALTO-YOUTH is a network of eight Resource Centres working on European priority areas within the youth field, part of the European Commission’s training strategy.
The partnership between the Council of Europe and the European Commission in the field of youth has developed several T-Kits on different aspects linked with EDC (one also on European citizenship) and elaborates also the magazine you are now reading!

Another tool for offering support to EDC/HRE is through funding initiatives, either from the governmental or non-governmental sectors. The Erasmus+ programme of the European Commission allows youth organisations and public institutions to promote active citizenship of young people through a variety of funding opportunities, from the individual level (through the European Voluntary Service), to the organisational level. The European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe also prioritises projects proposed by youth organisations on a variety of topics relevant for the local community, and in line with the mission of the Council of Europe. Another example is Human Rights and Democracy in Action, which has a unique set-up which promotes partnerships between EU member states and non-EU countries, and between government institutions and civil society organisations by offering grants for co-operation projects to promote the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Charter on EDC/HRE and Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture. Most of these programmes concern very concrete issues, such as how to fight bullying, how to deal with discrimination, how to use the internet for human rights, how to build stronger youth organisations, and so on.

Bridging the European and the local levels is always a question when it comes to EDC/HRE. Beyond the opportunities mentioned, there are some other support systems for bringing EDC/HRE closer to where young people are. For example, the Council of Europe runs a programme of national training courses on human rights education, which facilitates bringing HRE closer to national needs or realities, and also the creation of informal networks of educators and youth organisations. Similarly, several educational resources are translated into different languages. Different networks of educators and experts also make the link between the national level and the European level.

The Eurydice network supports and facilitates European co-operation in the field of lifelong learning by providing information on education systems and policies in 38 countries and by producing studies on issues common to European education systems, including citizenship education.
The Pestalozzi network brings together education practitioners to learn from each other on specific themes related to human rights and democracy.

© Andrew Sutherland (Flickr)

These snapshots were put together to illustrate what support is available at European level for EDC/HRE. At the same time, it is important to remember that educators and young people themselves have a role in bridging local needs and European level discussions and debates. For this reason, in both the Council of Europe and the European Union, mechanisms exist for involving youth organisations and young people in decision-making processes, such as the co-management system or the structured dialogue. Without claiming to represent all young people, these mechanisms are an illustration nevertheless that advocacy for EDC/HRE is essential for influencing the activities, programmes and plans of different institutions and organisations. This is also why it is important to participate in meetings, consultations and participatory processes, so that the agenda for EDC/HRE can progress through the involvement of practitioners and young people themselves.

1. UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, http://en.unesco.org/, and OSCE is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, http://www.osce.org/ .

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Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth
c/o Council of Europe / Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation Youth Department / F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France
c/o Council of Europe / Brussels office / Avenue des Nerviens 85 / B-1040 Brussels / Belgium