Local Solutions for Sustainable Civic Education at Georgian Universities
April 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of the formation of the Civic Education Lecturers Association (CELA) – a formal network of over 50 university-level civic educators who teach the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)-developed, semester-long and fully accredited civic education course, Democracy and Citizenship. This milestone represents the culmination of five years of close cooperation between IFES and CELA members, under U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) support, toward the common goal of establishing Georgian universities as hubs for civic innovation, scholarship, and action.
In Georgia, where long-standing traditions of civic participation may not be as entrenched as in other countries, raising the civic awareness of its young citizens and ensuring their participation in community life is vital. IFES’ Democracy and Citizenship course, which began being piloted at six Tbilisi universities in the 2011-2012 academic year and expanded to 22 universities and seven cities by 2014, introduces Georgian students to fundamental concepts of democratic citizenship, good governance, civil society, civic participation and human rights. Students enact these concepts into practice through civic action projects where they are challenged to think critically about the needs of their communities, and research, develop and implement plans for civic action that address social problems they themselves identify. A comprehensive evaluation process – including pre- and post- tests, interviews, teacher and student focus groups, among other activities – demonstrates that alumni leave the course prepared to make a positive difference in their communities.
Through the course’s inception and implementation, local leadership and sustainability were identified as key factors for its continued success. These factors are now embodied by CELA, which was established with IFES support by a network of civic educators who have received regular and extensive IFES training on interactive civic education methodology. CELA members represent the majority of accredited universities in the country. Today, IFES works in close partnership with CELA to maximize its effectiveness and ability to build upon the significant strides that have already been achieved through USAID-supported IFES programming with regard to civic education at Georgian universities.
From a group of civic educators teaching at 22 universities, to a formally registered association, CELA now provides consultation and expertise to the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Georgia on civics-related topics on a national level; initiates and facilitates strategic meetings with stakeholders working on civic education in Georgia; provides professional development opportunities for their members and other university-level civic educators through trainings and academic conferences and journals; organizes civics-themed discussions and trainings for university students; and is well positioned to ensure the quality and sustainability of civic education at Georgia’s tertiary institutions for years to come.