5.7 “Learning to participate” through formal, non-formal and informal learning
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Most initiatives regarding “learning to participate” take place in formal education. “Learning to participate” is included in the objectives for education, more specific within the context of the key competences for citizenship in the first grade of secondary education (Decree concerning the educational objectives for the first grade of secondary education of 14 december 2018, decreet betreffende de onderwijsdoelen voor de eerste graad van het secundair onderwijs) and the cross-curricular final objectives concerning the politico-judicial aspect of a democratic society for the second and third grade. More information on the final goals for education can be found here (in Dutch).
The cross-curricular final objectives for the second and third grade are minimum objectives which do not appertain to a particular subject of study, but which are pursued by several subjects or educational projects and activities (via formal learning as well as via non-formal learning). The cross-curricular final objectives entail an obligation of effort for the schools, not for the pupils. With the new key competences (at the moment only in the first grade) the distinction between subject-related and cross-curricular final objectives disappears. Students must achieve most objectives at the population level, though there remain attitudinal objectives that will only be pursued. The education providers are free to decide within which subjects they realize the different attainment targets.
Within the first grade of secondary education the following transversal themes and final goals are defined:
- Active participation in society, taking into account the rights and duties of everyone within the rule of law.
- The pupils actively participate in school situations, taking into account the rights and duties of everyone. (attitudinal goal)
- The pupils illustrate the importance of individual and joint actions and engagement for society.
- The students distinguish between “being heard”, participation and decision making in school situations, taking into account the rights and duties of everyone.
- Democratic decision-making at local, national and international level
- The pupils explain ways of representation, participation in power and democratic decision-making insofar as these are relevant to their own world.
The cross-curricular final objectives (VOET) and cross-curricular developmental objectives (apart from the cross-curricular theme learning to learn) apply to the second and third grade in secondary education They have a common core of essential skills which are generically formulated and relate to: communication skills, creativity, perseverance, empathy, aesthetic skills, exploring, flexibility, initiative, critical thinking, media awareness, an open and constructive attitude, respect, collaboration, responsibility, self-image, independence, meticulousness, thoughtfulness. These skills are crystallized and integrated in 7 contexts: physical health and safety, mental health, socio-relational development, the environment and sustainable development, the politico-judicial society, the socio-economic society, the socio-cultural society.
With regard to the politico-judicial aspect of a democratic society, particular attention is paid to four interrelated themes:
- active citizenship
- human rights
- democracy and
- the European / international dimension.
- can indicate how they can participate in decision making and development of society;
- exercise involvement, participation and decision-making in real school situations;
- can show the importance and dynamic character of human and children's rights;
- are actively and constructively committed for their own rights and those of others;
- show that living together in a democratic state is based on rights and obligations that apply to citizens, organizations and public authorities;
- acknowledge the role of check and balance between the legislative, executive and judicial power in our democratic system;
- can illustrate the role of the media and organizations in the functioning of our democratic system;
- distinguish the main elements of the Belgian federal state structure;
- can compare the life in our democratic system with that in other forms of governance;
- illustrate how a democratic policy pursues the public interest and takes account of ideas, opinions and interests of different stakeholders;
- can explain the impact of European cooperation and of the EU policy and institutions for their own environment;
- can show the importance of international organizations and institutions;
- can give examples that illustrate how globalization entails advantages, problems and conflicts.
Non-formal and informal learning
The above mentioned cross-curricular themes can also be achieved by means (and even more) by non-formal and informal ways of learning, e.g. by social and civic projects, activities inside and outside the school walls, … and also by organising pupil participation (mostly in the form of pupil counsels).
In addition, Flemish youngsters learn to participate ‘by doing’ in youth work, sports, culture, in formal education… In leisure-time organisations, young people do not only (have to) play together, they often have a say in organisational decisions and sometimes come to lead activities.
In formal education, there are also opportunities for active participation in school policy, anchored in a Flemish Parliament Act on Pupil Participation (decreet betreffende participatie op school en de Vlaamse Onderwijsraad). Flemish primary and secondary schools, universities and university colleges are obliged to organise student councils (or other participation mechanisms) if students request it. Only when the school regulations ensure pupils engagement in school policy in other ways (e.g. by surveys, e-participation), and on the condition that the establishment of a pupil is not requested by at least ten percent of the pupils (where this rate counts at least three students) schools are not obliged to establish a pupil council. At this moment, there are no national or large-scale policy initiatives and programmes to encourage student participation in the local community and wider society.
Youth Parliament (Vlaams Jeugdparlement - VJP)
Since 2013, the Flemish Youth Parliament (Vlaams Jeugdparlement - VJP) has been organizing an annual parliamentary simulation for and by young people in the Flemish Parliament. The VJP does this in collaboration with the sister simulations of the Jeugd Parlement Jeunesse and Jeunesse Wallonie-Bruxelles Parliament. The Flemish Youth Parliament is a non-profit organization and can count on the cooperation and financial support of both the Flemish Parliament and the Flemish Government, as well as some private sponsors.
For four days, 120 young people between the ages of 17 and 27 are debating and negotiating three social issues in the Flemish Hemisphere. The participants are committed youngsters from all over Flanders and from different social background: from university students and college students to secondary school students to workers or job seekers. The Flemish Youth Parliament wants to introduce young people to the ins and outs of the Flemish Parliament, regardless of background or prior knowledge. On the basis of the necessary coaching, each participant participates in an educational and playful manner in the Flemish legislature in all its facets.
Youth participation projects
Under the heading ‘participation and information’ the Flemish Government funds Bataljong to support youth participation in Flanders. Bataljong (at that moment VVJ) organized for instance in 2018 the youth project Debattle together with the Ambrassade. Debattle was a project regarding the local elections and supported young people to have a significant impact on the policy choices of the new multi-annual planning. More concrete the project had the following four objectives:
- to provide young people with information about the elections and the local youth policy,
- helping youth in their communications to policymakers to make them clear what good local youth policy is about and to give them tools to ensure that policymakers commit to it,
- to stimulate young people and to provide them handles to organize a local debate towards municipal elections,
- to inform young people and provide them tools to weigh after the elections at the local level.
Under the heading ‘participation and information’ the Flemish Government also recognizes political youth movements (youth divisions of political parties) and other organisations that develop initiatives in this field. However, political youth movements are no longer funded within the youth policy domain.
Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning
There exists no system of quality assurance/guidelines of non-formal learning activities/projects.
However, every student council is obliged to draw up internal rules. These internal rules specify agreements concerning composition of the council, support, gathering, budget, communication,…
Also each structural youth organisations must submit an annual report which entails among others a financial and an activity report.
Several organisations provide information, pedagogical material, tools, …for teachers, trainers and non-formal education workers and youth-workers. Some examples:
The Power of your Voice (De kracht van je stem)
The Power of your Voice is the educational project of the Flemish Parliament regarding formal education for democratic citizenship. The project is oriented to children, young people and their teachers and offers:
- educational materials for teachers and pupils to work in schools on democracy
- programs and activities for pupils in the Flemish Parliament
- education and training to teachers and students in teachers trainings
KLAScement is a free platform of the Flemish Government for teachers, where they inspire one another by sharing teaching materials for students of all ages. A large amount of learning resources can easily searched by topic, subject or level of education. Also teaching material for social and civic competences are available on the platform.
EDUbox Democracy (EDUbox Democratie)
In the run-up to the elections of May 2019, VRT NWS (the news channel of the Flemish Radio and Television Broadcasting Organisation) and the Flemish Parliament joined forces to inform students about politics and democracy with the EDUbox Democracy. The box introduces students in a comprehensible, playful way to different political systems and to democracy as we know it in Belgium. The box also contains a teacher manual.