ADULT LEARNING AND ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP
LIFELONG LEARNING AND ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP
Key note speech
By Michela Cecchini
Cyprus, 15 November 2003
This presentation has a double aim and therefore two main parts :
1. to discuss what is meant by active citizenship
2. to highlight challenges of active citizenship and adult education / lifelong learning
It will also draw a number of conclusions and propose several actions which could be taken.
The presentation refers particularly to statements, studies and discussions in the framework of
international and European cooperation and by European organisations. It is therefore
complementary to the participants’ direct expertise and practice of adult education and active
citizenship in their countries, and thus wishes to place these practices into a wider political
Adult education, lifelong learning and active citizenship are closely related.
The synthesis report of the CONFINTEA Midterm Review Meeting (Bangkok, September
2003) states democracy and active citizenship as the first out of five priorities of adult
education (followed by literacy and adult basic education, decent work environment, media
and ICT and the needs of special groups).
According to the OECD’s thematic review of adult education in nine countries published
earlier on this year, “the development of democratic values and the improvement of skills to
participate in the labour market are all stated as vital reasons for government participation in
adult learning”. Furthermore, when attempting to identify the different forms of adult
learning, “the background reports and country notes […] reveal that non vocational aspects,
including learning related to citizenship, democracy and general well-being are much in
The European Commission’s definition of lifelong learning is : all learning activities
undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences
within a personal, civic, social and / or employment related perspective”
Communication of the European Commission – Making a European area of lifelong learning
For the Council of Europe, education for democratic citizenship is understood in a lifelong
learning perspective : it should be seen as “embracing any formal, non-formal or informal
educational activity, including that of the family, enabling an individual to act throughout his
or her life as an active and responsible citizen respectful of the rights of others” (EDC
In other words, there is a broad institutional consensus on these connections.
What can also be seen is different terminology : active citizenship, education for democratic
citizenship, democratic values, civic perspective. In my view, these semantic differences do
not really matter.
There a number of core features and constitutive elements which provide a reference
framework helping to understand what citizenship learning is about.
II. UNDERSTANDING CITIZENSHIP
1. Definition and objectives
Learning for (active, democratic) citizenship means becoming aware of one’s rights and
responsibilities and developing the capability for participation in society.
For the Council of Europe, education for democratic citizenship
- equips men and women to play an active part in public life and to shape in a responsible
way their own destiny and that of their society;
- aims to instil a culture of human rights which will ensure full respect for those rights and
understanding of responsibilities that flow from them;
- prepares people to live in a multicultural society and to deal with difference knowledgeably,
sensibly, tolerantly and morally.
It is a form of literacy : it aims at coming to grips with what happens in public life, being
“lucid” (France), developing knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and independent
judgement of local, national, European, global levels
It implies action : it implies empowerment, i.e. acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes,
being able and willing to use them, make decisions, take action individually and collectively
It is based on values : human rights, pluralist democracy, the rule of law, respect for diversity,
Learning for citizenship includes cognitive (knowledge), pragmatic (action), and affective
(values) aspects. The interdependence of the three aspects is illustrated by the English
citizenship education cube.1
Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, Final report of the Advisory Group on
Citizenship (Crick report), September 1998
2. Concepts of citizenship
The concept of citizenship is “polysemic and contested” (Ernst Jouthe, former deputy minister
for citizenship affairs, Québec). In other words, it has multiple contexts and meanings and
leads to discussion.
The Council of Europe adopted therefore a multidimensional approach to citizenship. It also
defined citizenship as being primarily a co-citizen, somebody who lives with others on the
basis of rights and responsibilities.
It differentiates between
- citizenship as status : it corresponds to the legal contract between a State and an
individual including nationality; it defines the individual as a subject of rights; it
includes the rights and liberties granted by a State and the duties and responsibilities
of the individual.
- citizenship as social role : it includes issues of identity, the sense of belonging and
inclusiveness, it dissociate citizenship from a particular State, it is context related
depending on the community it refers to (local, regional, European, global), it focuses
on inter-relations, on the co-citizen.
The various dimensions of citizenship are
- a political dimension - participation in the decision-making process and exercise of
- a legal dimension – respecting the rule of law; being aware of and exercising
citizens' rights and responsibilities;
- a cultural dimension - respect for diversity, fundamental democratic values, both a
shared and divergent history and heritage, and contributing to peaceful intercultural
- a social and economic dimension - in particular, the fight against poverty and
exclusion, considering new forms of work and community development, and corporate
- a European dimension - being aware of the unity and diversity of European culture,
learning to live in a European context, knowing about European institutions and
- a global dimension - recognising and promoting global interdependence and
Citizenship is also understood as a factor of social cohesion. The Council of Europe sees it as
a key element in “the notion of a new social contract, whereby social cohesion is based on
fundamental criteria other than homogeneity: these are empowerment, civic participation and
Council of Europe draft common guidelines on EDC adopted by the Ministers of Education, Cracow, October
Council of Europe 1997-2001 EDC project final reports
3. citizenship learning approaches
The forms and settings of citizenship learning are multiple and diverse. Citizenship learning
happens in formal, non-formal and informal settings, through a number of common
characteristics. Citizenship learning is :
- social learning (learning in society, about society, for society)
- based on experience and practice, through learning by doing, through exploration,
action and cooperation
- implies the democratisation of learning by focusing on the learner, valuing his/her
situation and experience, fostering his/her autonomy and responsibility in the learning
- is achieved through multiple, interconnected, transversal learning approaches, for
example through civic education, human rights education, intercultural education,
education for peace, global education and media education
4. As a summary :
The above elements are general and generic. But citizenship learning is above all contextual,
complex and diverse. There is not one recipe approach to citizenship and citizenship learning.
Nor is there one unique European approach to citizenship learning. Its analysis and
understanding needs to be holistic combining objectives, contents, concepts and approaches.
The Scottish graphic presentation of citizenship education in schools is another attempt to
illustrate the combination of learning objectives and approaches5 :
Strategies for learning democratic citizenship, p. 36, Council of Europe, 2000
Education for citizenship in Scotland, Primary Audit Materials, p.9
The complexity and inter-relationship is illustrated by the following mind-map produced by a
student in citizenship education at Leicester University6.
Citizen, the newsletter for the Centre for citizenship studies in education, n.2. All concepts of society are in
mustard, all concepts of globalisation are in light orange, all concepts of values and relationships are in red,
concepts of qualities of behaviour are in pale yellow, the concept of the environment is shown by green,
democracy is shown by powder-blue, equal opportunities is shown by dark yellow, the concept of the home /
school partnership is shown by brown.
This graphic presentation highlights a tension. On the one hand, the complexity of citizenship
learning is a reflection of the complexity of today’s society. On the other hand, for many
practitioners, this complexity is not operational. There is a strong request for simpler, clearer,
more accessible approach and words. On the other hand again, simplification includes the risk
of watering down the understanding of democracy and society. Tackling the complexity of
citizenship corresponds to tackling today’s complexity.
II. CHALLENGES OF CITIZENSHIP AND ADULT EDUCATION / LIFELONG
This presentation started with a number of quotations indicating that major European and
international institutions stated a clear link between adult education and citizenship learning.
This clearly indicates a positive movement, enlarging the understanding of lifelong learning
from the limited focus of economic development to personal, social and democratic
development through active citizenship.
Nevertheless, a strong case still needs to be made for adult citizenship learning or for lifelong
learning for active citizenship. A further enlargement of minds, policies and practices is
necessary to widely share and strengthen the citizenship dimension.
The objective should be to lift a number of contradictions, to clarify, focus and exemplify
statements and data. There is a need to go “beyond the rhetoric”.
Here are a number of challenges where this appears to be necessary.
Challenge 1 : explicit adult education and LLL policies for active citizenship
Out of the nine countries reviewed by the OECD, only Finland, Spain, Sweden state
democracy and / or citizenship explicitly as an objective of their adult education approach.
Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland indicate personal and /or social development
/qualifications, or social cohesion.7
Provide learning content that supports the development of personality, consolidates
democratic values, maintains cohesion and promotes innovation and productivity
Spain : help adults acquire or improve professional qualifications and the capacity to
participate in the social, cultural, political and economic areas of life
Sweden : strengthen democracy; promote social well-being, and strengthen democratic values
As another example, outside the OECD review, the Irish White Paper on adult education
(2000) “identifies six priority roles for adult education : citizenship, consciousness-raising,
cohesion, competitiveness, cultural development and community building. Concerning
citizenship education, the function of adult education is to enable individuals to grow in self-
confidence, social awareness and social responsibility, to take an active role in shaping
society, to engage proactively in community decision making”8.
Beyond Rethoric : Adult learning policies and practices, OECD, 2003, pp. 93-101
Learning for citizenship in Ireland : the role of adult education, by Helen Keogh, in Citizenship, democracy and
lifelong learning, UNESCO Institute for Education, 2003, p. 4
Similarly, in the White Book on education of the Czech Republic, the chapter on adult
education mentions civic education which “improves the level of information, the general
overview and values of citizens related to specific social, political and other questions. This is
why it should also be part of adult education provided for instance by trade unions, churches,
local and regional bodies, civic initiatives, etc and this should be supported”9.
The Council of Europe has just carried out an All-European study on policies for education
for democratic citizenship. It examined EDC policies and their implementation mainly
through official policy documents, therefore focusing on formal, and particularly school
education. It also considered lifelong learning aspects of EDC, given its LLL perspective and
pointed to the “paradoxical situation” between the stated LLL perspective and the actual
Western European region
There is a considerable gap, in most countries, between the rhetoric of EDC in non-formal and
informal settings and the actual practice. The contribution of EDC in this area is not as
comprehensive and well established as that in the formal education setting of schools. Many
countries have no clear links between formal education and non-formal education and training
and adult / continuing education settings for EDC, and no policy for making and
strengthening such links. As a result, there is no clear policy regarding EDC as an entitlement
in terms of lifelong learning in the Western Europe region;
Central European region
In the national reports, EDC in lifelong learning is hard to find. While governments tend to
focus their EDC policy and implementation efforts mainly on the school sector, they all tend
to underestimate EDC in relation to the lifelong learning sector.
Eastern European region
Lifelong learning is still not well developed in Eastern Europe. State educational authorities
do not provide a sufficient support for non-formal and informal adult education. It means that
there are no real possibilities to deliver EDC through this type of lifelong learning.
Challenge 2 : effective balance between adult education and lifelong learning objectives
While there are strong claims and expressions for a comprehensive approach to lifelong
learning aiming at both employability and personal, social and democratic development, it
would appear that the practices continue to show an inclination for the former rather than the
According to the CONFINTEA11 review, the priority in industrialised countries is to make the
lifelong learning principles operational, to improve the tools for developing a knowledge
society, focusing particularly on ICT and the training of the labour force, to meet the
challenges of the changing labour market.
Council of Europe All European Study on EDC policies, Central European region, by Milan Pol, p. 48-49
All European study on EDC policies, Council of Europe, September 2003. Synthesis report by César Birzéa,
Study on the Western European region by David Kerr, on the Central European region by Milan Pol, on Eastern
European region by Isaac Froumin
synthesis report of the CONFINTEA Midterm Review Meeting (Bangkok, September 2003)
According to the OECD, “learning is largely related to employment and a high proportion of
adult learning focuses on professional upgrading, as the enterprise is one of the main catalyst
Also, the OECD sees a major benefit of adult education in its contribution to human capital
which itself is a key factor for economic growth. No mention is made in the review of adult
learning policies of their contribution to the development of social capital, i.e. the
development of trust, solidarity and cooperation13.
However, there seem to be a number of encouraging trends, which would support a greater,
more balanced focus on citizenship learning :
First of all, citizens’ views on lifelong learning collected through a Eurobarometer survey
commissioned by CEDEFOP, indicate that 8 in 10 citizens support an integrated approach to
LLL that combines employability, personal development, active citizenship and social
cohesion. In Greece, Spain, Ireland and Sweden, 9 out of 10 interviewees hold this view. Still
the study points out that it would be helpful to know exactly how people see and judge the
relationship between these different purposes of LLL14. Incidentally, one can notice that three
of those very positive countries (Ireland, Spain, Sweden) have an explicit citizenship
approach to adult education (see challenge 2 above).
Secondly, the CONFINTEA’s review highlighted the growing trend towards partnerships with
NGOs and social partners in the delivery of adult education. This includes at least the
potential for including more social and political content agendas of interest to NGOs.
Another encouragement in favour of the active citizenship approach to lifelong learning could
come from discussions on how to make learning attractive and the identified need for
developing a new learning culture.
The citizenship potential was strikingly highlighted, but without recognising it as such, by
working group H of the European Commission’s work programme on the concrete objectives
in education systems, which deals with precisely these themes. In its words “a learning-
conducive environment is one that encourages people to engage in critical thinking and
behave in an autonomous and responsible manner. Focussing on the learners’ needs and
motivation, these environments value … learning together as social participation (i.e. in
communities of practice in which people share activities and experiences over time),
promoting critical thinking, creativity, autonomy, responsibility and sense of belonging.”15
To make the citizenship approach visible would undoubtedly strengthen its outreach.
Conversely, strengthening and expanding citizenship learning would contribute to bringing
about this new learning culture.
OECD, Beyond rhetoric, 2003, op.cit., p. 9
the OECD is however working on new approaches to social capital; cf CERI objective 2.
Lifelong learning : citizens’views, CEDEFOP, 2003, p.6
Working group H interim report, July 2003, p.6
Challenge 3 : lifelong learning for active citizenship as a resource for economic and
Another way to consider this issue of balance between the various dimensions and objectives
of lifelong learning would be to consider the link between lifelong learning for active
citizenship and for economic development and to identify the interfaces between (LL)
learning for active citizenship and learning for economic development. This could be done in
• objectives : how are the social, democratic and economic objectives of lifelong learning
dimensions fitting together?
• learning settings : learning for active citizenship in VET; in community development; in
workplace based learning; in
• in terms of target groups : learning for active citizenship for all ? focus LLL on specific
groups for social inclusion, e.g. low qualified workers, non traditional learners
• in terms of skills and competencies : can active citizenship skills and vocational skills be
matched / correlated ? can social and communication skills be included in occupational
• in terms of learning approaches : participative, social learning, experiential learning,
collaborative learning; the development of enterprises as learning organisations …..
Arguably, this approach could be seen by some as too instrumental, transforming active
citizenship from a vision and aspiration into an means of growth. However, this
rapprochement could lead to decompartmentalisation and a genuine integrated approach to
Challenge 4 : discussions on basic skills and competencies
Discussions and documents concerning the acquisition of citizenship skills and competencies
through adult education show that work is in progress.
In many instances, the focus is for good reasons on the acquisition of basic skills, understood
mainly as literacy and numeracy. The link between basic skills and active citizenship is not
necessarily developed beyond general statements such as : ”clearly the lack of basic literacy
skills can severely limit an individual’s civic participation” (OECD)16
For 90 % of the interviewees of the Eurobarometer on lifelong learning too, traditional basic
skills “are at the top of the list of very useful skills for both personal and working life”.
Interestingly, social skills are also seen as very useful for more than 80 % of them in both
areas of life. However social skills are defined very generally and not specifically in terms of
OECD, Beyond rhetoric, 2003, op.cit., p. 27
Lifelong learning : citizens’ views, op.cit., p.8
OECD’s International Adult Literacy Survey includes civic skills but discusses and provides
figures for them in terms of sustaining them through the participation in voluntary association
and in civil society, and the role of the voluntary sector in delivering adult education and in
reaching out to adults who might otherwise not engage in adult learning.18
In the OECD framework, important foundation work on the definition and selection of key
competencies, the DeSeCo activities, has been and is still being carried out. On the one hand,
its first phase of work resulted in the definition of a threefold framework of key competencies,
which are very close to citizenship issues19.
Interacting in socially heterogeneous groups : relating well to others; cooperating;
managing and resolving conflicts
Acting autonomously : acting within the big picture; forming and conducing life
plans and personal projects; defending and asserting one’s rights, interests, limits and
Using tools interactively : using language, symbols and text interactively ; using
knowledge and information interactively ; using technology interactively
On the other hand, a new working group has been set up specifically on active citizenship
The European Commission’s work programme on concrete objectives of education systems
includes Working group B on Basic Skills, Foreign languages and Entrepreneurship. As its
OECD, IALS, 2003, p. 49-50
Key competencies for a successful life and a well-functioning society, DeSeCo, 2003
first task it defined eight key competencies and included interpersonal and civic competences.
However, so far, when collecting examples of good practice in this area, it concentrated on
formal school education and did not consider adult education nor the lifelong learning
Working group G is dealing specifically with the objectives on supporting active citizenship,
and ensuring that the learning of democratic values and democratic participation is effectively
promoted in all sectors of education.
The working group identified as a future action to provide political support to active
citizenship in lifelong learning by ensuring that citizenship skills and competencies become
essential life skills. It will in future cooperate more closely with working group B dealing
with basic skills.21
5. what conclusions to draw from these challenges
Three points emerge from these challenges :
- (un)clarity of concepts : the semantics of citizenship are not always clear. Certainly the
conceptual complexity does not help. However, is citizenship included and meant for example
by social development, social skills ? The fact that this question arises pleads for explicit
mentions of democracy and participation to lift uncertainties and confusion.
- status and legitimacy : while the importance of citizenship aspects has developed, much still
needs to be done for a further understanding and recognition of what it is, of its value and
effects. Citizenship learning has developed a lot in the formal education system. But there is a
gap with the wider LLL community and the public at large, where its meaning and
significance is not yet widespread.
- transversality : citizenship learning is a transversal dimension, i.e. it touches different
aspects of lifelong learning as can be seen from examining three Objectives working groups
(the working group on teacher training has not even been mentioned). Conversely, it can be
assumed that strengthening citizenship learning would strengthen a number of transversal and
cooperative aspects of lifelong learning, such as combining knowledge, skills and values, the
links between formal, non-formal and informal education, the building of learning
What can be done to meet these challenges :
Evidence-based advocacy, i.e. gather information and examples to raise awareness and
- define criteria for success and indicators for data collection specific for citizenship
learning in LLL / adult education contexts
Working Group B, Second Report, European Commission, June 2003
Working group G, interim report, European Commission, October 2003
- make known practices of adult learning for active citizenship by collecting them,
exchanging on them and disseminating them
- analyse / carry out research (empirical research, action research) in relation to the
definition and acquisition of citizenship skills and competencies, the approaches and
settings of citizenship learning, the added value and impact of adult citizenship
learning. Time has maybe come for a second study by the European Commission on
learning for active citizenship within LLL, after the first one in 1998.
- study adult education and lifelong learning policies and their implementation from the
angle of citizenship learning (e.g. use the model of the Council of Europe stocktaking
research on EDC policies)
- lobby for the explicit inclusion of active citizenship as an educational aim of adult
education and lifelong learning policies
- use and contribute to the 2005 European Year of citizenship through education to raise
awareness and promote the citizenship dimension of adult education and lifelong
V. THE VOICES OF THE PRACTITIONERS
To conclude, and to return to citizenship learning practices, here are a few quotations by
learners in the Council of Europe sites of citizenship22 :
“I’ve become a free person, capable of making choices. I am now active in building my own
community, through participation in those organisations which are important to me … school,
“Lifelong learning through community activities helps to keep in touch with each other, to
offer solutions, to increase social responsibility, and it also changes some attitudes” (Portugal)
“Our fight started six years ago. Now Mazzini Square is “new” and we can live it !!! We are
always going to find new things to fight for. We want to become stronger and plan. For us
democracy means growing up” (Italy)
“We think we know how to live and work together. But there is not enough support for an
awareness of the problems immigrants have in accessing common things like housing and
“Since I retired I have come here very often. Political parties don’t listen to me. This is the
only place (the Genesis community initiative) I can express myself, where I can protest”
Sites of citizenship, Council of Europe brochure, 2001