A new way to teach active citizenship to students?

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___UniCafe, is a new approach in teaching active citizenship. It has never been applied however I am strongly convinced that it is a legitimate approach in increasing levels of active citizenship among students. Citizens, need to acquire civic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors. Active citizens need to be skilled communicators, thinkers and actors in addition to being concerned about the common good, making a difference through public action, and participations in public affairs (e.g. voting, protesting, etc.). States urge citizens to become involved as this makes governments more accountable, work harder and keep the interests of citizens in mind. Consequently, the basic aim of UniCafé is to bring students together to think and create together in an attempt to create new visions and possibilities for engagement, and take them apart from adapting to existing knowledge.

The process has five distinct steps in all of which discussion is key.

Question: In addition to placing conversation in the center of attention, in order for the UniCafe to be successful in teaching about citizenship, it should be clear to the instructor why students are coming together as well as understand what should be the outcome of this learning experience. This allows the instructor to choose the most important questions. In an education setting questions initiate discussions, students are able to understand the validity of their ideas as well as reflect on them once they are faced with an ambiguous question.

Group work: Students choose to become a part of any virtual group. A virtual setting is chosen because it is considered to give students more control as a result of which they will be more likely to engage in creative thinking, speaking and listening. Despite the fact that students will be assigned materials, this online course is built on the assumption that knowledge comes from discussing questions. Participants will experience several rounds of group discussions which will also be valuable in improving their debating and speaking skills. The sessions can either explore one question or follow a line of inquiry.

Cooperation: During the session students made decide to cooperate with one group or with several groups. Unicafe is designed in a way that participants are exposed to the ideas of others. By changing groups participants meet new people, contribute with their thoughts and link to the thoughts of others. Due to the fact that individuals switch tables, they also exchange perspectives enhancing thus the possibility for new discoveries while also learning how to effectively cooperate with others.

Listening: Listening is among the most important component of the UniCafé process determining its success. Every person has his or her unique interpretation of the world, even in cases when this perspective may hold true, it should be kept in mind that it is the individual interpretation of one person. Every student is a member of the society therefore, every opinion matters. By listening and being attentive to topics, conclusions and insights participants are able to see the whole picture. Listening to others in the group and final conclusions of all groups at the end allows students to reflect and see the deep issues. People learn from others as much as learn on their own, active citizenship can become negatively influenced if individuals fail to see how other people in the community are affected.

Collaborative action: UniCafé will enable students to understand how others perceive the same reality, as well as how they judge it. Once students see the whole picture are they able to engage in collaborative action with the rest of the group. Ultimately, UniCafe aims to create the intellectual and social capital necessary for joint action.

In increasing rats of active participation education is of key importance. Previous studies have shown that there is a direct link between education and active citizenship. Evidence suggests that the more education one has the more likely one is to become involved. Unfortunately, as rates of education among young people are increasing involvement levels have either come to a halt or are decreasing. In my opinion this is due to two important factors namely the fact that active citizenship is not taught in tertiary education, and the fact that traditional forms of instruction are not appropriate for teaching active citizenship. In this paper I propose an alternative form of teaching.

A course designed according to the World Café method which takes place in a virtual café, lasts four weeks and exposes students to concepts and skills of active citizenship can enhance levels of active citizenship among students. UniCafe should become a mandatory experience for all students and it should promote meaningful and cooperative dialogue in addition to collaborative thinking and action opportunities. This is without a doubt a new concept and research should be done to establish its usefulness in promoting participation in the social and political life.

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