Celebrating International Day of Education and the Role of Civic Education in Sustainable Democracy
by Daria Azarjew
The International Day of Education, commemorated on January 24th, celebrates education and its centrality to sustainable development. This year’s theme, “Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace,” highlights the transformative power of education and its ability to serve as humanity’s greatest resource. With a vital role in both personal and community development, education has the power to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, as well as enhance equality by empowering marginalized populations.
For more than 30 years, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), has conducted civic education programming across the globe to promote the equitable participation of all citizens in elections and in the broader democratic process. IFES strongly believes in the critical role that effective civic education plays in the flourishing and resilience of inclusive democracies. By instilling citizens with a sense of political responsibility and equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to become active and engaged members of society, IFES empowers all people to make their voices heard.
As part of an effort to enfranchise illiterate women residing in rural areas to hold their government accountable, IFES partnered with the United States Agency for International Development and the Tunisian Mediterranean Center to train and deploy women ambassadors in governorates with the highest illiteracy rates. These civic education ambassadors then encouraged women like Selma Sbissi to register and vote in the 2018 municipal elections. Selma was one of over 7,000 rural women whom IFES reached during the voter registration campaigns and 27,000 reached during the mobilization campaigns. Her inspirational story affirms that Tunisia’s democratic future lies in empowering its most marginalized citizens to exercise their political rights and contribute to the political life of their communities.
“I thought that every time we vote, there weren’t any tangible results. It’s only after Awatef’s visit that I started to reconsider voting. She convinced me that I should make my voice heard.” – Selma Sbissi
IFES developed the Democracy: From Theory to Practice course, which aims to inspire and prepare students to be active and responsible citizens capable of contributing to healthy democratic development. The course was piloted in eight Ukrainian universities in 2018, followed by 22 universities in the current academic year. On the occasion of International Day of Education, IFES asked five teachers who taught the university-level course last year to share tips on how to motivate student interest in the course and ensure that the process is truly interactive.
In the video below, several course alumni share their thoughts on why civic education is important and how Democracy: From Theory to Practice has inspired them to be active citizens in Ukraine.
IFES has been working with the Election Commission and National Committee on Women of Sri Lanka to conduct dozens of facilitators’ trainings that equip local women leaders with the skills needed to lead their own voter and civic education sessions. Through the facilitators’ trainings, hundreds of women gained the skills and confidence needed to educate their communities on the women’s quota, Sri Lanka’s voting process and citizens’ rights and responsibilities. Cumulatively, these trainings have engaged more than 460 women from Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities who, in the months following the training programs, initiated 232 awareness programs reaching approximately 10,000 women. Such outreach solidifies the important role women leaders can play as voter and civic educators in future election cycles.
IFES’ “She Leads” program in Cambodia provides training to rural and marginalized women who aspire to become more involved in their communities. The program targets young women with untapped leadership potential who have few opportunities to access leadership development programs but aspire to be more active in their communities.
Through the “Promoting Political Leadership of Youth with Disabilities” project, IFES’ signature political leadership course for youth with disabilities, Engaging a New Generation for Accessible Government and Elections (ENGAGE), increased students’ political knowledge and confidence. It also created professional opportunities for ENGAGE alumni within national and local government institutions and civil society organizations and facilitated advocacy meetings with political and civil society leaders.
IFES provided grants to youth-based organizations to foster more meaningful youth participation in Kenya’s electoral processes. The Universities and Colleges Students' Peace Association of Kenya (UCSPAK) was one of the awardees selected by IFES through a competitive process and given a grant to carry out civic education in universities to target first-time voters ahead of the 2017 general elections. In partnership with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IFES trained 300 campus representatives across Kenya, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they needed to mobilize other students to get out the vote. The campus representatives were excited to engage in this process for the first time to create awareness and motivate their peers to vote on Election Day. Through these activities, IFES reached more than 300,000 students who pledged to vote on Election Day.
“We either unite and fight together or die as fools.” – Joel Mwita, Secretary-General of UCSPAK
To learn more, head to @IFES1987 on Twitter for featured programming highlights and human interest stories from across IFES’ civic education programming. Follow updates using the hashtag #EducateAndEngage.
Daria Azarjew is a senior program officer for Europe and Eurasia at IFES.