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Education about/for/through democracy

Lead academics introduce different approaches to promoting democracy in the classroom.
Very often teachers argue that they don’t have time to teach about democracy, given how busy our syllabus’s are, is it possible to find a time to actually engage with the students and reflecting on democracy? In reality, promoting democracy is not only about teaching about democracy, possessing knowledge about political systems, rights and responsibilities or forms of participation is important. However, this is not the only thing teachers can do to promote democracy. Indeed, when we talk about democratic education, we very often refer to two other approaches, education for democracy and education through democracy. In education for democracy, citizens and policy makers define first the ideal democratic culture that would be expected from all citizens.
Curriculum developers than further identify the competences or clusters of knowledge, critical understanding skills, values, and attitudes that comprise this democratic culture. The role of researchers and teachers is to find out what teaching methods are better placed to facilitate that the students learn this competences. In this perspective, young people are getting prepared to acquire the democratic culture needed to appropriately respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by democratic situations. To use an example, the Council of Europe, working in partnership with experts, teachers, and students from across Europe, identified 20 democratic competences. Among them are values, knowledge, critical understanding, skills and attitudes.
Working with researchers, the Council of Europe, further identify pedagogical strategies that could benefit the teaching and learning of these competences. Currently, in many schools in Europe, teachers are using this framework to promote competences for democratic culture. The model includes a range of competence, for instance, knowledge and critical understanding of language and communication. Also, respect and cooperation skills. Thus, it is easy to see how teachers can teach this competence without the need to actually teaching about democracy itself. So far, we have considered two approaches, education about democracy and education for democracy. The third approach is education through democracy.
In this perspective, what is important is to create possibilities for children and young people to participate in their learning processes and in their communities. What matters here more than anything else, is that the students are seen as active members who already have the capacity and power to influence the decision-making of their classrooms, schools, villages, et cetera. The education through democracy approach help us to acknowledge that participation can be both in itself, a political and a learning experience. Also to emphasis that to promote the democratic culture, schools need to be democratised. For instance, schools in all Barcelona participate in the Barcelona Youth Council, which is name, Audiencia Publica als Nois i Noies de Barcelona.
Each year, the City Council, in collaboration with the schools, decide on a specific topic for discussion. Teaching resources related to this topic are distributed across all participants schools. Secondary students and their teachers use these resources to investigate the topic and develop proposals for actions. Student representatives from each class meet and present their ideas to the City Council. The Barcelona City Council is committed to accept at least some of the students proposals. Teachers can promote democracy in many different ways. Whilst it is important that children and young people, gain knowledge about democratic concepts and processes. These is not enough and surely it is not the only way of promoting democracy.
Teachers can promote the democratic culture by teaching a range of values, knowledge, and critical understanding, skills and attitudes. Teachers can also promote democracy by fostering the participation of children and young people in their communities.

Listen one of the lead educators of this course, Edda Sant, introducing different approaches to the promotion of democracy in schools. Edda discusses the differences between education about, education for and education through democracy.


Sant, E. Democratic education: A theoretical review (2006–2017). Review of Educational Research. 2019 [cited 23 September 2021]; 89(5), 655-696. Available from:

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Promoting Democracy in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers

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