Citizenship Education: Definitions

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Civic involvement is an idea based on normative aspects. It promotes those skills that allow people to become active, responsible citizens in a society that respects the rights and the involvement of its individuals and fundamental democratic values. States, organizations or the EU promote therefore their definitions of what this connection of competence centered learning with the norms and values of the society consists.

Democratic Citizenship Education

Citizenship education is the approach of facilitating civic/democratic competence development. In different countries and organizations there are other terms in use, most often "civic education" or "citizenship education". The NECE network (Networking European Citizenship Education) examined the different concepts for European countries (The Making of Citizens in Europe).[1]

Education for democratic citizenship (CoE)

"Education for democratic citizenship means education, training, awareness-raising, information, practices, and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law." (Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education)[2]

Active Citizenship - promoting participation

An approach emphasizing on the intersection between civic education and civil engagement. From this perspective, education facilitates the knowledge and competencies necessary to involve people in societal discussions and decision-making processes in a democratic way. The idea is reflected in different concepts and educational approaches.

  • The Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education refers also to this aspect with the statement that citizens should "play an active part in democratic life".
  • OECD/PISA's Global Competence Model refers to it also with the section "Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development."
  • Become informed! Be consulted! Participate! is the idea of European Economic and Social Committee's European Democracy Passport.[3]
  • It is also close to a broader definition of Entrepreneurship Education how promoted by the EU EntreComp framework: "Entrepreneurship is when you act upon opportunities and ideas and transform them into value for others. The value that is created can be financial, cultural, or social."[4]

Competences for Citizenship, Participation, Co-creation, Democracy

Competences for a Democratic Culture (CoE)

The complementary competency framework to the Council of Europe's concept of "Education for Democratic Citzenship and Human Rights Education". They are defined in the following way: "The heart of the Framework is a model of the competences that need to be acquired by learners if they are to participate effectively in a culture of democracy and live peacefully together with others in culturally diverse democratic societies."[5]

Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning (EU)

The EU Key Competencies for lifelong learning define citizenship as a competence (see also in Competendo: [Civic Competences]) in the 2018 revision as "the ability to act as responsible citizens and to fully participate in civic and social life, based on understanding of social, economic, legal and political concepts and structures, as well as global developments and sustainability."[6] This is a shift from a more knowledge-centered understanding of citizenship education in the first version from 2006 toward the concept of active citizenship.

OECD Transformative Competences

OECD uses the term 21st century skills. Grounding the work in key competencies that lead to the foundations of the PISA studies, the OECD is providing in Future of Education and Skills 2030 the term as a meta-category of competences.[7] These support the learners in taking action, reflecting and anticipating. The three transformative competencies are

  • Reconciling tensions and dilemmas;
  • Creating new value;
  • Taking responsibility.

UNESCO: Inclusive and equitable quality education for all

UNESCO is strongly emphasizing on the need of quality education for all.

  • Introducing education as a human right inline with the SDG Goal 4[8]. Emphasis on access, inclusion and equity, gender equality, quality, and lifelong learning opportunities, like expressed in the Incheon Declaration[9]
  • While UNESCO is focusing on these aspects, for our context also relevant is the Convention against Discrimination, stressing explicitely the necessity of respect for fundamental freedoms and Human Rights[10]
  • Promoting the idea of Open Educational Resources[11]

Clip: How we are teaching citizenship?



  1. NECE network: The Making of Citizens in Europe and North Africa, Section: Citizenship Education by Comparison
  2. Council of Europe: Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education
  3. European Economic and Social Committee: European Democracy Passport (2020). EESC Visits and Publications” Unit, EESC-2020-50-EN.
  4. Bacigalupo, M., Kampylis, P., Punie, Y., Van den Brande, G. (2016). EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union; EUR 27939 EN;
  5. Council of Europe: Competences for a Democratic Culture - Volume 1 Context, concepts and model
  6. Council Recommendation of 22 May 2018 on key competences for lifelong learning; ST/9009/2018/INIT; OJ C 189, 4.6.2018, p. 1–13
  7. OECD (2019). OECD Learning Compass 2030. Future of Education and Skills 2030 Concept Note
  8. The 17 SDG Goals. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Sustainable Development.
  9. UNESCO (2016).[ Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. ED-2016/WS/28, Paris.
  10. In example: Convention against Discrimination
  11. UNESCO: Open Educational Resources