Today’s Challenges

The project “Free to Speak - Safe to Learn” Democratic Schools for All follows up Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland’s 3rd Annual report (2016), recommending “(…) a safe spaces project around teaching controversial issues…” to support educators across Europe as they tackle controversial issues while promoting freedom of expression, inclusion and tolerance.

The overall aim is to safeguard human rights principles and the fundamental mission of education in developing and maintaining a culture of democracy in European societies.

Schools reflect the challenges facing society as a whole. It is no surprise that they also have to deal with issues related to the threats and challenges to our democratic societies such as the socioeconomic crisis in many countries, migration, information disorder and the rise in violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism.

For member States of the Council of Europe, one key challenge lies in addressing issues concerning students and their families, as well as education and security professionals while preserving the core democratic values of education. Schools are increasingly seen as places where solutions are developed, tested, adapted for society as a whole.

For decades, the Council of Europe has acknowledged this through its education programme influencing education policy and practice throughout Europe. And the practices reported have been the starting point for many policy initiatives and activities.

Solutions – Democracy in action: the prerequisite for a culture of democracy

To tackle these challenges, democracy must be a part of every citizen’s daily life, including in school. This is democracy in action – the prerequisite for a culture of democracy.

When looking at good practice in communities and neighbourhoods, in families and schools we see the development of a Culture of Democracy: the attitudes and behaviours needed to make democratic institutions and laws work in practice.

The Council of Europe has responded and developed the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture, which sets out, for the first time, the core values, skills, attitudes and knowledge and understanding that every citizen needs in order to be active in a democratic society.

Individuals are not born with these competences; they need to be learned. The Project draws on the work done in many schools for a Culture of Democracy and, through the lens of the Framework, aims to provide a “common working language” for schools all over Europe.

The 20 competences and their descriptors can be adapted for use in primary and secondary schools, as well as in vocational and higher education.