"Democracy: from Theory to Practice” University Course Starts in Ukraine

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Photo by Volodymyr Kobryn
Publication Date: 
16 Oct 2018

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Throughout the first weeks of September 2018, over 800 students from across five universities in five cities of Ukraine started their fall semesters in an unusual way. Instead of taking their seats and settling in for a teacher-led lecture, students were offered the reins of their classrooms and encouraged to think outside the box by participating in a range of interactive, active-learning simulations.

These students are the first group in Ukraine to participate in the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' (IFES) semester-long civic education course “Democracy: from Theory to Practice.” The course curriculum, materials and methodology are designed to foster students’ democratic values and attitudes, while equipping them with the knowledge and skills that are essential to being mindful and effective citizens in a democratic, digital society.

Photo by Yuliya Pachos

“Before this lesson, I wasn’t interested in politics at all. Now, I am, and I will start reading programs of political party candidates very carefully before elections.” – University student, Ukraine

The knowledge-based components of the course cover democratic governance, human rights, civil society and citizen engagement. Cross-cutting themes include gender equality, elections, minority rights, inclusion of and accessibility for persons with disabilities, enfranchisement, good governance, rule of law, media literacy, digital participation, diversity, the role of money in politics, the role of youth, and corruption.

To strengthen students’ skills on critical thinking, active listening, consensus building, public speaking, group work and problem solving, IFES’ civic education initiative emphasizes an interactive teaching methodology contrary to a traditional lecture-style format. Course professors, selected by the university, receive training on interactive teaching methods through a series of IFES-led, continuous professional development sessions with national and international experts.

The capstone component of the course is a student action project. Through a step-by-step, guided process, students identify an issue in society that they recognize as problematic, which they then research and relate to course topics. Ultimately, students are challenged to devise an action plan to address the issue. Through first-hand experience, students will begin to hone the knowledge, dispositions and skills necessary for active, informed citizenship.

Photo by Vitalii Chornenkyi

To support these efforts, IFES, together with international and national experts, academics, and civil society representatives, developed and distributed course readers, student handbooks that guide students through the steps of a civic action project, and teachers’ manuals that offer teachers a range of interactive teaching simulations, to all of the partner universities. In addition to the civic education teaching methodology trainings and manuals for university-level educators, IFES developed training videos for teachers at IFES’ partner universities, to be used as refreshers on interactive teaching methodology and simulations throughout the semester.

This semester-long course will be offered to students of various faculties at eight Ukrainian universities in five cities during the 2018-19 academic year, with discussions for further expansion ongoing. This initiative was made possible through the support of the United States Agency for International Development, Global Affairs Canada and UK aid.

The “Democracy: from Theory to Practice” course is tailored for Ukraine and is based on IFES’ global university-level civic education methodology, Strengthening Engagement through Education for Democracy (SEED). Through SEED, IFES introduced an innovative, university-level civic education course in Georgia in 2011 that is currently offered at the majority of the country’s accredited universities.

IFES’ SEED methodology integrates democracy and gender equality into all areas of civic and political participation, minority rights, and other key aspects of democratic citizenship. The SEED methodology is designed to foster students’ democratic values and attitudes, while equipping them with the knowledge and skills that are essential to being mindful and effective citizens in a democratic, digital society. This is done through hands-on, student-centered active learning experiences, interactive teaching methodology, and student-led civic action projects that address problems, such as gender-based inequalities, in students’ communities and beyond.