On Youth Participation: Are we active citizens?

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. The following entry is written by Arif Shala,  doctoral student at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany

Arif Shala is a a doctoral student at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany and executive director at the Institute for Economic Development Studies in Prishtine, Kosovo.

Arif Shala is a a doctoral student at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany and executive director at the Institute for Economic Development Studies in Prishtine, Kosovo.

I wrote this title because what I know from past and present, I did not see any form of active citizenship in Kosovo. I do not understand why we are not active citizens in our country. We have many causes to be active for the reason that our lives are not good enough, relationship between neighbors are bad, economy, education and we have a corrupt leadership. It is a good idea to ask ourselves first how active are we in the community? It’s not really hard to lend a hand whenever someone asks for it. That’s called being an active citizen. But there’s more too. Being an active citizen is about being community-oriented and looking beyond the microcosm of your own life and family, to contribute some of your time, skills and energies to make a better world for the wider human family around you.

What are active citizens? 

Active citizens are those who have the skills, knowledge and understanding and can make informed decisions about their communities and workplaces to improve the quality of their lives. In the national level it means voting, involving in campaigning and being a part of a political party. Active citizens can challenge rules and structures but they should do so in accordance to processes of democracy and   not become implicated in violence. The values of active citizenship include respect for justice, democracy, rule of law, openness, tolerance to defend an opinion and a desire to listen, work and support others.

What is active citizenship?

Active citizenship refers to developing knowledge, understanding, critical thinking, and independent evaluation of what happens in the local, national and global level. Active citizenship is considered as the promoter of the participation of citizens in creating an equitable, respectful and just society. In order to become involved in the civic and political life, citizens need to have a set of skills necessary for successful participation. Even in cases where these skills are present, it does not always translate in involvement. Therefore, identifying factors that enhance active citizenship is the key. Education has shown to be a factor that promotes the engagement of citizens. The level of education, as well as the years spent in academic settings are strong determinants of political involvement. This relationship is a positive correlation pointing to the fact that with increased levels of education the levels of active citizenship increase as well.

Active citizenship is considered to promote the participation of citizens in creating an equitable, respectful and just society. Literature suggests that citizenship is more than a juridical status, it is a lived experience, that can be understood and impacted by education. The education of citizens fosters the shift from having the rights to practicing these rights. The role of education in this respect is to understand the political culture, participate in political institutions, be autonomous, and have political virtues (Callan, 1997; Levinson, 1999).

Education and active citizenship

Education is key to citizenship as it offers the prerequisites to an informed participation and integration. Education is what provides individuals with information, knowledge, skills and the qualities they need. It should also be noted that teaching citizenship and learning it are two different issues. In this rapidly developing world, where technology is impacting education, learners need above all to learn how to be independent, update the knowledge, and be able to respond to a changing pool of problems. The role of instructor is to guide and facilitate the creation of knowledge (Campbell, 2006; Milana and Tarozzi, 2013).   

The primary assumption was that education not only has a positive impact in active citizenship behavior but that this relationship is a causal one. Specifically, researchers found that the years that an individual has spent in formal education are positively correlated with the involvement of that individual in protests, social change activities, political party membership and voting. In a more general sense, the benefits of education have been tied to monetary returns and the promotion of  active citizenship.

Due to the impact education has in active citizenship; much has been done to use education as a tool of fostering citizenship awareness. The current forms of teaching citizenship in the EU include: (a) knowledge of the political world, (b) attitudes to influence decision making in politics and political institutions, and (c) values including tolerance, peace, and an understanding for the rule of law and human rights (Levinson, 1999). These forms of instruction rely on traditional forms of teaching which place little emphasis on the originality of ideas, critical thinking and public speaking. Milana and Tarozzi, (2013) argue that citizenship is an educational domain that makes it possible for citizenship to overcome the national notion and be understood as a form of open minded attitude towards people and countries which fails to be taught in traditional education settings.

Due to this reason education programs should be developed to improve competencies including but not limited to leadership skills, public speaking, critical thinking, writing, understanding, and most importantly keep learning.

In the Balkans, in this case Kosovo, these competences are needed more than in other countries. The region was subject to dictatorship, communism, and conflicts with neighbors. Therefore developing skills that put the individual at the center are the key to active citizenship.

About the author

Arif Shala is a a doctoral student at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany and executive director at the Institute for Economic Development Studies in Prishtine, Kosovo.

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