Panel Discussion on Education for Democratic Citizenship at George Washington University
Where, when and how do citizens become informed and engaged in civic life? What knowledge, values and skills do citizens need for democracy to thrive in the digital age? What is the role of formal education systems in equipping the next generation of effective democratic citizens in the digital age? What can countries, even those with dissimilar educational establishments, learn from one another’s civic education practices? How do traditional civic education programs need to adapt to the challenges faced by today’s and tomorrow’s democracies?
These questions were discussed at a May 8 panel discussion at George Washington University titled, “In Defense of Democracy: The Evolution of Civic Education in the Digital Age,” organized by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Speakers and contributors included IFES President and CEO Anthony Banbury, IFES Board Member Daniel F. Runde, IFES Deputy Country Director for Ukraine Gio Kobakhidze, Pact’s Deputy Technical Director for Results and Measurement Lauren Serpe, IREX Global Lead for Media and Information Literacy Initiatives Katya Vogt, IFES Senior Civic Education Expert Dr. Greer Burroughs and Street Law Executive Director Lee Arbetman.
The gathering opened with a presentation on how civic education has evolved, and in some cases devolved, bringing us to the current digital era. This was followed by a panel discussion that offered comparative overviews and snapshots of ongoing case studies in Ukraine and the United States, with a special focus on formal civic education. The panel discussion was followed by a facilitated dialogue that yielded recommendations for IFES’ ongoing programming on elements that civic education programs will need to consider as they evolve to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s digital age democracies, such as:
- Emphasizing state- and local-level civic education;
- Incorporating topics that are trending in local communities;
- Tailoring the language to the target audience – often times youth;
- Offering a methodology that strengthens skills around digital literacy and the mindful consumption of information;
- Promoting multiple perspectives and sources;
- Ensuring continuous adaptation of educational tools and content;
- Focusing on engaging diverse, underprivileged, and underrepresented groups; and
- Engaging with policymakers and civil society to secure resources and space for this critical area of education.
The goal of education for democratic citizenship in liberal democracies is to provide students with opportunities to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to participate as active and engaged citizens. In today’s digital age – where the breadth and scope of disinformation are unprecedented and play on real grievances in society – it is critical to build strong skills of media literacy and logical deduction, alongside the traditional skills needed to create informed, reasoned and responsible citizens. The ultimate goal of civic education is for individuals to recognize the honor and responsibility of being a citizen in a democracy and be ready to take on that role. When citizens are not empowered to exercise and defend their or others’ democratic rights and responsibilities, the opportunity for disinformation, corruption and electoral fraud increases. This thereby amplifies the potential for leaders to take undemocratic actions that threaten human rights, stability and prosperity.
Through its civic education programming, IFES works worldwide to ensure that the next generation of leaders – and today’s voters – are equipped to effectively manage the new age of (dis)information, and thus, to contribute to their nations’ democratic progress and prosperity. In Ukraine, these efforts are supported by the United States Agency for International Development, Global Affairs Canada and UK aid.