Guest Commentary – Political Education – An Eternal Project

How do we learn about politics, how do we form our opinions and how do we learn to participate in society? For a long time, the answer to this question has been: we do it through our parents. But in recent decades, the role of schools has been increasingly emphasized. This should prepare future generations for an active life in society.

Underlying considerations: Schools create opportunities for democratic co-management for students in an essentially heterogeneous environment. They offer the possibility of leveling the inequalities that exist in society with regard to political participation. The importance of schools in giving young people a space to form and express political opinions has become evident in particular due to the climate crisis and the corona pandemic. However, schools still face many challenges in implementing and achieving the goals.

Living democracy at school

Elisabeth Graf is a university assistant and doctoral student at the Institute for Developmental and Educational Psychology of the University of Vienna. – © Inès Blatterer

As part of the reform of the electoral law of 2007, which made Austria a pioneering European country thanks to voting from the age of 16 at all levels, a number of educational policy reforms were implemented work. Political education was introduced as a school subject in combination with history and social studies from grade 8. A new decree on the pedagogical principle in 2015 should also ensure that political education is experienced on a daily basis at school. Concretely, this means that current political issues and opportunities for co-determination should be included in the regular teaching of the different subjects.

From the perspective of educational psychology, the principle of teaching is an exciting aspect. By living democracy in school, students can be strengthened in their political efficacy – in their sense of having the ability to contribute to society. The pedagogical principle also makes it possible to react to current political issues that concern them and to integrate them into the classroom. This makes visible the relevance of political and social issues in everyday life.

A concept that has been studied extensively in research is that of discussions of political and social issues or the class climate perceived during the discussion. Discussions make a significant contribution to the formation of student opinions and can promote political interest, effectiveness and motivation to participate among young people.

However, the actual implementation of political education and its perception by those taught in it still lags behind the specifications of the curriculum. According to the directors of a 2009 international comparative study, only 44% of 8th graders in Austria received a political education as part of regular school subjects. It is difficult to assess to what extent this has changed due to Austria’s lack of participation in tracer studies.

Lack of time and training

However, knowledge of low implementation also aligns with findings from the Democracy Monitor 2021, in which almost half of students said they did not learn enough political and media skills in school. Lack of time and training is often cited by teachers as barriers to implementing political education.

However, new approaches such as the first master’s course in political education at the Johannes Kepler University of Linz offer hope that there may be more competent teachers for the professional teaching of political education in the coming years. years. Only with competent, motivated and committed teachers can the goals be implemented and political education integrated into daily school life.

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