Children’s voice is the right of children to have a say in matters that affect them and to have their opinions taken into consideration. It encompasses all aspects of their life and decision-making where children are able to make a meaningful contribution, in accordance with their age and maturity. It stretches from informal situations, in which children express an opinion to their peers or adults, to participation in democratic structures or mechanisms, such as student parliaments and consultations. Children’s voice can be characterised according to a typology of increasing complexity and responsibility: expression (voice an opinion), consultation (be asked for an opinion), participation (attend and preferably play an active role in a meeting), partnership (have a formal role in decision-making), activism (identify a problem, propose a solution, and advocate its adoption), and leadership (plan and make decisions).
The CVS Curriculum includes a series of activities that encourage 9- to 10-year-old pupils to actively exercise their democratic and intercultural (DI) competences at school and in their local communities through urban regeneration activities, making their voices heard about their needs, views and dreams regarding their closest “urban” spaces. It is based on the main idea that children belong to different groups and communities and they have to take on the responsibility of each of them; adults caring for pupils have to help them in doing that. Adults can help pupils to adequately manage this responsibility starting from closer contexts (for example, the school) to further contexts (for example, the town). Children are not the citizens of the future, they are already citizens, and their voices need to be heard by policy-makers. They need to be protagonists able to express their needs, views and dreams about urban spaces in dialogue with local administrations. In order to do that, the CVS Curriculum foresees the involvement of local policy-makers dealing with the urban sector with whom pupils can discuss their own proposals.
Children’s voices are so required to create a new human space! The CVS Curriculum has been developed in order to: (a) foster pupils’ sense of being part of a community, their capabilities to think critically about the space where they live (both at school and town level), share their knowledge about the school and town history, and provide them with opportunities to experience respect for other people’s perspectives and for democratic processes of decision-making; (b) jointly plan the future environment of their school and of an area of their town; (c) act with others (both children and adults) to improve the shared school space; and (d) involve children with a migrant background in jointly re-thinking and re-generating a common space belonging to everyone.
The curriculum has been developed on the basis of some general, theoretical and methodological considerations comprising, among others, some fundamental rights of children, the impact of civic participation on child development, the effect of participatory urban planning on community well-being, and the relevance of a cooperative approach in teaching and learning processes. Each of these is described in the following paragraphs.
One of the main themes that has guided the development of the curriculum is constituted by the fundamental rights of children and more generally of all human beings. In particular, attention was centred on Articles 12 and 13 of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989), and Articles 19 and 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948). These are described below.
One of the fundamental values of the UNCRC is the right of the child to be heard and taken seriously, defined in Article 12:
- States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
- For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003) has identified Article 12 as one of the UNCRC four general principles2. It is based on the idea that in exercising his or her rights, the child is an active agent. This right of active engagement has been conceptualised as participation, which is an ongoing process of children’s expression of their views and involvement in decision-making in matters that concern them – at the local, national, and international levels. In order to have genuine participation, it is necessary that children may establish with adults – in line with their age and maturity – a relationship based on respect, dialogue and sharing of information, and the willingness to accept their opinions. From the earliest age, children are able to form and state their own views, but as they grow up they become capable of expressing increasingly complex forms of participation. When children are young, their participation will largely be limited to matters relating to their immediate environment, that is family, school and local community. As they grow up and their capabilities evolve to more complex forms, their horizons broaden to include the international context (Landsdown, 2011). However, the meaningful participation of children is only possible if adults accept children as partners in issues that concern them (see Paragraph 2.1 for a deeper discussion about participation and its relation with child development).
According to the UN General Assembly Omnibus resolution in November 2009, governments should “assure that children are given the opportunity to be heard about all matters affecting them, without discrimination on any grounds, by adopting and/or continuing to implement regulations and arrangements that provide for and encourage, as appropriate, children’s participation in all settings, including within the family, in school and in their communities, and that are firmly anchored in laws and institutional codes and that are regularly evaluated with regard to their effectiveness”. Similarly, Council of Europe (CoE) Recommendation CM/Rec (2012)2 urges its member States to ensure that all children and young people can exercise their right to be heard, to be taken seriously and to participate in decision making in all matters affecting them with their views given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.
The realisation of Article 12 is directly linked with other civil rights and freedoms contained in the UNCRC, one of which is Article 13. It is an extension to children of article 19 of the UDHR.
Article 19 of the UDHR establishes the freedom of expression to all, including the right to receive and share information and ideas through all means. It states:
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Article 13 of the UNCRC establishes that children have the right to seek, receive and share information, in all forms (art, written, broadcast and electronic…) as long as the information is not damaging to them or to others. It states:
- The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.
- The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.
1.3 Article 29 of the UDHR: duty to one’s own community
Another human right which constitutes one of the core themes of the CVS Curriculum is Article 29 of the UDHR. It states:
- Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
- In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
- These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
This article implies that the corollary of rights is duties. We all have a duty to other people and must work to protect their rights and freedoms. The discourse on human rights places particular emphasis on the concepts of community, mutuality and responsibility. The term “alone” used in Article 29 recalls the idea that in order to develop their true humanity, individuals must remain connected to the other components of the society in which they live, towards whom they must act with respect and responsibility (Klug, 2000; Landsdown, 2011).
The main theoretical framework that inspires the CVS Curriculum is the CoE’s RFCDC (Barrett et al., 2018a, 2018b, 2018c), which defines a conceptual model of the democratic and intercultural (DI) competences which citizens require to participate effectively in a culture of democracy. A brief description of the RFCDC is reported in Chapter 1 of the Introduction to the CVS Outputs (https://www.cvs-project.eu/intellectual-output/).
Moreover, the CVS Curriculum has been developed taking into account, on the one hand, the empirical evidence supporting the importance of listening to children and taking them seriously, and on the other hand, participatory urban planning, an urban planning paradigm which emphasizes the involvement of the community in the strategic and management processes of urban planning (Lefevre, Kolsteren, De Wael, & Byekwaso, 2000); it aims at creating a balance between the views expressed by all participants and to prevent conflicts between opposing parties, giving marginalized groups the opportunity to participate in the planning process (McTague & Jakubowski, 2013).
Participation is both an essential practice of human rights and a working practice of citizenship for all people. The most important precondition of children’s meaningful participation is that adults respect children’s capacities to take part in decisions and recognise them as partners. Otherwise, children’s participation is merely “tokenism”: children may express their views but they have no influence on whether and/or how their contribution is used.
The essence of participation was well explained by Hart (1992) in his “ladder of participation” model, in which the author identifies eight stages (see Figure 1). The first three stages are manipulation, decoration and tokenism, false means of participation that can compromise the entire process. Real forms of participation include the assigned and informed stage, in which specific roles are given to children, and the consultation and informed stage, in which children give advice on programmes run by adults and they understand how their opinion will affect the outcome. The most advanced stages are adult initiated participation, a shared decision making process with children, and child-initiated and directed projects in which adults appear only in a supportive, advisory role. This last stage provides children with the opportunity for joint decision-making, co-management and shared responsibility with children and adults accessing each other’s information and learning from each other’s life experience.
There is a great deal of empirical evidence that listening to children when they are involved in participation has a widespread positive impact. As outlined by Landsdown (2011), participation is important for several reasons. Firstly, it contributes to personal development promoting children’s capacities. Several studies have shown that taking children’s views into account is related to children’s self-esteem, cognitive abilities, social skills and respect for others (Covell & Howe, 2005; Kirby & Bryson, 2002; Kranzl-Nagl & Zartler, 2009). Initiatives that consider young people as resources for the programs in the territory (for example, by giving them the opportunity to contribute to the definition and the change of social reality) increase their sense of self-awareness and self-efficacy, improve their mental well-being and school results, and decrease rates of school dropout, delinquency and use of substances (Wallerstein, 2006). Participating in school decision-making fosters a sense of citizenship in children, helping them to develop important competences, e.g. cooperation and communication skills, self-efficacy, responsibility, civic-mindedness and respect for the value of democracy – all of which lie at the heart of the RFCDC. Contributing to their school community gives children a sense of belonging, develops self-esteem and can lead to relationships that are more respectful. This has a positive influence on school discipline and helps to reduce the incidence of problems, such as drop-out, bullying, substance abuse and radicalisation (UNESCO, 2019). Engaging students in active learning activities in class has a positive effect not only on the classroom atmosphere, but also on the educational achievements of students and their peers. A virtuous cycle is created through participation, since children acquire skills, build competence, and gain confidence; the more effective the children’s contribution, the greater the impact of the participation experience on their own development.
Secondly, children’s participation leads to better decision-making and outcomes. Adults do not always have sufficient insights into children’s lives to be able to make informed and effective decisions on legislation, policies and programmes. Children have a unique body of knowledge about their lives, needs, and concerns, together with ideas and views which derive from their direct experience. This knowledge and experience needs to inform all decision-making processes affecting children’s lives. Decisions that are informed by children’s views will be more relevant, effective and sustainable.
Thirdly, participation serves to protect children. The right to express views and have them taken seriously is a powerful tool through which to challenge situations of violence, abuse, threat, injustice or discrimination. Children traditionally have been denied both the knowledge that they are entitled to be protected from violence, and the mechanisms through which they can challenge this situation. The consequent silencing of children and the abuse they experience have had the effect of protecting abusers rather than children. However, if they are encouraged to voice what is happening to them, and provided with the necessary mechanisms through which they can raise concerns, it is much easier for violations of rights to be exposed (Willow, 2010). The self-esteem and confidence acquired through participation also empower children to challenge abuses of their rights. Furthermore, adults can act to protect children only if they are informed about what is happening in children’s lives; and often it is only children themselves who can provide that information. Violence against children in families, schools, prisons and institutions, or exploitative child labour will be tackled more effectively if children themselves are enabled to tell their stories to those people with the authority to take appropriate action. It is also important to recognise that protective approaches which entail children being completely dependent on adult support run the risk of children being abandoned without resources when that adult protection is withdrawn (Myers & Boyden, 2001).
Fourthly, participation contributes to preparation for civil society development, tolerance and respect for others. Respecting children and providing them with opportunities to participate in matters of concern to them is one of the most effective ways of encouraging them to believe in themselves, to gain confidence, and to learn how to negotiate decision-making with other people. Children’s involvement in groups, clubs, committees, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), boards, unions and other forms of organisation offers them opportunities for helping to strengthen civil society, learning how to contribute towards community development, and recognising that it is possible to make a positive difference. Participation also offers opportunities for children from diverse backgrounds to build a sense of belonging, solidarity, justice, responsibility, caring and sensitivity. Democracy requires a citizenry with the understanding, skills and commitment to build and support its institutions. It is through participation that children can develop those capacities, starting with negotiations over decision-making within the family, through to resolving conflicts in school, and contributing to policy developments at the local or national level. It can equip children to learn to respect differences and resolve conflicts peacefully, and to strengthen their capacity to arrive at win-win solutions. Democracy also requires both direct and indirect participation: children can participate either directly, representing themselves as individuals, or as representatives of others, with a clear mandate from the group they represent and equally clear accountability to that group. Supporting a child’s right to be heard in the early years is integral to nurturing citizenship over the long term. In this way, the values of democracy are embedded in the child’s approach to life – a far more effective grounding for democracy than a sudden transfer of power at the age of 18.
Finally, participation strengthens accountability. Building opportunities for children to engage in issues of concern to them in their local community not only contributes to civic engagement, but also strengthens capacity for holding governments and other duty-bearers to account. Knowledge of one’s rights, learning the skills of participation, acquiring confidence in using and gathering information, engaging in dialogue with others and understanding the responsibilities of governments are all vital elements in creating an articulate citizenry. Governments have a key role to play in ensuring that citizens have the awareness, commitment and capacity to challenge government action or inaction through democratic and peaceful means, and to contribute to positive policy-making and improved allocation of resources. Building these opportunities for children from the earliest ages will contribute significantly to the creation of accountable and transparent governance, not only at the government level but in all arenas that children and young people inhabit.
2.2.1 Shared planning
The verb “to share” is commonly used as means/tool to let others know thoughts, images, visions and all those elements which can be communicated to an interlocutor. The phrase “common and joint use” denotes a tool to put together and introduce new kinds of resources in a relationship system. The expression tangible or intangible in this way has a different value if it is shown to the community, meaning nowadays with this expression a network of individuals at a global scale. In the social networking system, sharing causes debates, creates new visions and new points of view, becomes a topic of reflection and criticism; it might become, in other words, the starting point for new creative actions, leading to new potentials and positive opportunities, becoming the starting point for change. Moving towards shared values or needs, the change pulls towards actions which also become “shared”.
Urban development planning is based on two main factors: the area with all its elements (cultural, environmental, economic, etc.) and the inhabitants who live in that area and make actions and changes. The first factor provides the resources on which people can base their actions to choose and start, the second provides experiences and knowledge at different levels based on the environment where they move, on their social and economic status, and on their age.
Urban development planning is a science which studies the problems linked to the development of a city, in order to get a rational arrangement of its buildings, streets and squares. Planning means putting at the service of the community analytic competences, planning tools, evaluation techniques, sensitiveness and managerial skills in order to plan and manage more sustainable, creative, fair, happier and nicer cities, areas, landscapes and environments. For this reason, an urban planner has ideas and tools to improve the world. The proposed strategies to reconquer our cities require new perceptions of science, politics, education, of children themselves. In this perspective, city planning is a cultural process, an ongoing “social dialogue” between the different actors who live in the city. Key words for this strategy are participation and education.
In order to have careful urban development planning, this integrated database becomes crucial. Knowledge of local elements, even if essential, always needs an interface with the final user who will have to put in place the selected choices. The “human-creative” contribution must always be kept in consideration in order to put in place these choices positively. Shared planning starts with these preconditions, and it is a practice with the goal of involve the local population in the choices to put in place in the area. The sharing process acts as follows: the expert shares with citizens the data obtained through local analysis, while the population shares needs, experiences and proposals. A circular action where knowledge, transferred from one individual to another, becomes richer and develops. The shared participation is put into practice with several techniques, with the purpose of collecting the database implicitly owned by the citizens. Citizens involuntarily absorb constantly the elements of the area, perceiving them in a different way based on their own “personal history”. The role of the urban planner is then to facilitate local development starting from the bottom. He or she should be able to understand the different contributions that citizens can give to the future vision of the area. They are invited to have a debate about the highlighted topics, sharing proposals and solutions. A citizenry able to analyse its own status and that of the lived environment, but active and propositional towards improvement. Such generated inputs will have to be kept under consideration and translated into actions, politics and projects. The final target will be outlining some actions that, having their origin from citizens themselves, will be welcomed favourably: in other words, shared. A shared action, in this case, is displayed as an element supported by several individuals’ opinion, but it is crucial that even this action is known. The final communication will complete the process of shared planning, being itself the precondition of interventions.
At an international level, the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 was the first involvement of citizens in environmental politics, a cornerstone of sustainable development (principle number ten of the Rio Declaration). The promotion of participation has found further confirmation afterwards in the European context with the Aalborg Charter in 1994, the Aarhus Convention in 1998, and the European Landscape Convention in 2000.
Participation processes can have three different levels of citizens’ involvement. The first level is administrators and experts only listening to the addressees in order to elaborate and recalibrate their actions. The second level includes the participation of the addressees in the choices made by the project. The third “bottom-up” level happens when citizens are the promoters of the participation process and actively ask administrators and experts for solutions to issues that they perceive to be common and primary. In this case, the community handles the full cycle of planning, from the first analysis of the problem and the definition of the action, until the final evaluation.
A good shared planning path has five crucial steps:
- explanation of the problem analysed from several points of view according to the competencies and sensitivity of each participant;
- identification of the strategies for handling the issue and evaluation of alternative options in terms of costs and benefits;
- creation of agreements between the different expressed needs and analysis of their technical feasibility;
- definition of the different steps of the project and of the actors needed to execute it;
- analysis of the test results and proposals of re-direction between a system of evaluation of the project.
Starting from these prerequisites, it is possible to plan the city and its services with the citizens. In this new scenario of shared and educational urban planning (towards an educational city), children will be crucial elements for several reasons:
- as citizens, they need shared environments, and enjoyable and liveable urban spaces;
- they have the right (according to the UNCRC) to enjoy safe and healthy spaces in which to play, express themselves, socialize, learn and grow;
- children have the right to express their opinions and to be listened to, for every matter that concerns them.
2.2.2 The different techniques of shared planning
In order to listen to children’s and citizens’ voices in general, there are different kinds of approaches and techniques of shared planning. The most common are open space technology, brainstorming, focus group, consensus building, walk in the surroundings, and planning for real.
Planning for Real – used in the CVS Curriculum – is a method of shared planning developed starting from the 1960s-1970s in England. The goal is identifying needs and options for action in a specific environmental context, starting from local community experience, where participants have the best knowledge of the problems in their own territory. Each participant can express freely his or her own ideas and opinions. The starting point is always a representation of the action area with a three-dimensional or two-dimensional model that must have the following features:
- a relief map, with dimensions and features which participants are encouraged to “TOUCH”;
- the relief map can be realized in cooperation with the local community;
- each person is required to place specific small flags, option-cards, three-dimensional or two-dimensional elements, where each small flag shows an improving action that can be taken;
- citizens are accompanied in their path by a specific group of facilitators, who interact with them in a neutral way, in order to collect their opinions and the reasons behind their choices.
The city becomes an experimental field to develop proposals that have been created from the bottom up, in a sustainable approach that is open to all citizens. Creative problem-solving skills inspired by knowledge of the territory and its resources must be the foundation of each participatory action, which will re-activate the city and the citizens.
Shared planning must acquire an active educational role, and its final result will be the creation of a collective dynamics able to have a role in the transformation of the area. A governance that, starting from the bottom, is able to identify the problems linked to the area and to its inhabitants and, involving them directly, is rewarding and motivates them to embrace the change.
Human capital represents the main resource that a city owns, and it is at the same time the most fragile and breakable one, subject to impacts and changes; taking an active and creative city back can change the current course, allowing an enormous group of ideas to inspire and flourish in the group context. It can also provide the chance to spread topics linked to sustainability, to the rational use of resources, to the defence of the area undertaken by the whole citizenry, with the purpose of increasing the sense of belonging of the whole community and promote a new conscience.
2.2.3. Experiences of shared planning
During recent years, several Italian cities have activated shared planning paths, transforming the cities in the direction of environmental and social sustainability. One of the most successful Italian examples, which has subsequently been reproduced in several cities in Italy and elsewhere in Fano in 1991, where children were treated as the point of reference for political choices.
“Girls’ and boys’ city” in Fano is a place where no one is left behind (Tonucci & Bobbio, 1996). It is a long-term project of urban transformation, but even more so the cultural transformation, of a city. Fano is the only Italian city that, in order to reach specific goals, planned a rich set of activities, trying to facilitate the integration of the politics and different intentions. In fact, the project developed on several fronts, moving towards several settings for the development and management of the city area. The main initiatives include “The Summit of Children”, the upgrading of a child-oriented pilot district, and the project “We go alone to school” which is focused on events concerning games, museum areas, and parks. The “Summit of Children” was founded in 1992, and it represents one of the most significant styles of child participation. It comprises representatives from all the primary school in the city of Fano, a total number of about thirty children. Every school names, after a competition between all those who expressed their interest in this commitment, a girl and a boy from the fourth and fifth grades. The group of children is given custody of the guide, and is animated by competent adults who keep a neutral role, and sustain and defend the children’s positions, ideas and requests. The “Summit of Children” takes care of proposals and requests about the relationship between the children and the city and about the quality of life (for example, traffic problems, playgrounds, respect for the right of playing, going to school alone, proposals for the refurbishment of buildings of public interest, sustainable tourism, etc.). During the year, they explore problems and elaborate solutions, which are constantly shared with the city administration. Boys and girls, self-aware of the importance of their role, know that adults keep their work and their proposals under consideration. Another action of considerable importance is the project “We go alone to school”, started by Fano Municipality for the first time during the 1990s. The project has three main actors: school, families and the city. It is an experiential project that is developed as an educational path for personal health and the health of the environment, and it is a project that stimulates knowledge of the urban environment and of one’s own district using observation and orientation. A pilot project on the planning of “a child-oriented district” has also been started in Fano, putting in place the foundational principles of the City of Children. Considering the child as the prototype and keeping under consideration his or her needs and rights, planning choices are made that re-think the city, starting from the needs of the youth. In this way, it is possible to imagine and reach ambitious targets based on quality of life and wellbeing, in order to provide a joyful, comfortable, sustainable city. Even environmental choices such as sustainable mobility, projects to improve the quality of the air, and actions aimed at the spread of culture and sustainability, are guided by this philosophy. This urban and cultural transformation regenerates the social context, increases sense of belonging in the children and makes the city passionate about itself, and this process increases the sense of civic duty and care of common goods, starting from the youngest age.
Other practices of shared planning have taken place in other Sicilian territories (Sferracavallo, Aspra and Falcone) in 2014, inside the cycle of events of “Participate Propose Share”. In Aspra, the event was held on the 13th September at the seafront of the small village as part of the activities for the celebration of St. Virgin Mary. The place was chosen because it represents one of the key places in the small village and is one of the places that is most used by the citizenry. Adults and children have been involved in a process that occupied the whole morning; during this time, citizens, experts and stakeholders had a human, collaborative relationship that led to a fruitful and creative exchange that allowed the collection of proposals and planning ideas. “Participate Propose Share Aspra” set two goals. The first was letting the citizenry understand the importance of participating in political choices concerning the management of the territory, how this activity can be easy and fun, and how proposing and sharing with others a common vision to recuperate and develop one’s own territory can be promising and satisfying. The second goal was promoting the spread of innovative techniques of shared planning, in order to let the administrators understand, through practical examples, how useful it is to obtain a more complete and complex vision about territory conditions and citizens’ requests and hopes. The choice of the small village of Aspra was dependant on the contradictions and the potential of the place itself. “Participate Propose Share Aspra” pursued the goal of collecting citizens’ reflections and perspectives and promoting them, sharing them with others and with the Municipality Administration in order to put in place planning choices that start from the needs of the local community.
Moving to the northern part of Italy, processes of shared planning have also been promoted in Bologna. In fact, over the years, several meetings concerning the participative process in relationship to the “Statute of the Metropolitan City” (created in 2014) have been held in Bologna. The purpose of the participative process was to provide directions for a statute promoting tools for a deliberative democracy that gives value to personal and local knowledge, and supports conditions for a quality life for all, using a mix of participative, deliberative and representative practices. In addition to the meetings for a detailed study, over the years there have been opportunities to listen directly to citizens who use the territory, and to employ thematic Open Space Technology (OST, a method based on the self-organization to manage meetings, conferences and workshops). After the completion of OSTs, a Town Meeting (a tool of direct participation in local government for citizens) involving the whole metropolitan area was held. The results of the process were discussed with the citizenry, and Bologna Municipality (which is the decision maker) and a committee chosen by the participants had to verify that proposals were put in place.
Other shared planning processes have been held and are happening in Italy and worldwide in many urban contexts, where they have involved Urban General Plans and Urban Executive Plans, Integrated Plans for Upgrading of Outskirts, Strategic Environmental Evaluation, Strategic Plans, Social Accompanying Plans, Social housing, Co-housing, all of which are focused actions to transform the territory or the modes of use of public spaces.
Countries, local communities and schools are all faced with growing intolerance of diversity, lack of respect for human rights, violent conflict, and societal and environmental degradation, as well as more recently the global COVID-19 pandemic. Although many young people feel that their generation has a responsibility to improve the world, they believe that they are not well equipped to deal with these global challenges, and that decision-makers are not actually hearing their voices (WISE survey, 2020).
Education can play an important role in gradually improving this state of affairs. Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the CoE promote a vision of education in which school leaders and teachers contribute significantly to prepare students to build sustainable, peaceful societies by developing adherence to and proneness in defending and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and to participate effectively in culturally diverse societies.
The right to participation is at the heart of UNESCO Global Citizenship Education, which aims to be transformative and empower learners to become champions for peaceful societies. Similarly, the CoE’s RFCDC aims to equip young people with the knowledge and critical understanding, skills, values and attitudes that they need to be able to contribute to a more democratic, inclusive and fair world.
In practice, schools can make a difference by promoting students’ voices, involving them in decision making and promoting their civic engagement, in both the physical and digital environment. The first step is for schools to ensure that students are fully aware of their right to participation and that they develop the competences needed to engage in school and in broader society, by means (among other things) of education for democratic citizenship, human rights and the rule of law. Schools should also equip students with a sense of agency, which empowers them and makes them capable of improving themselves and influencing their communities. School leaders and teachers can demonstrate attitudes and behaviours they wish to develop in students, such as being respectful of diversity and inclusive, resolving conflicts peacefully, being responsible as well as mindful of the natural environment.
Learning about and practicing participation and civic engagement is clearly not only about theoretical knowledge of democratic citizenship but also – and mainly – about developing competences for democratic culture; this includes the values, attitudes, skills, and knowledge and critical understanding that prepare young people for life as active citizens. Both formal and informal activities in school play a role in this regard.
Strictly related to the expression of children’s voices is media education. “The Council of Europe recommends (…) a coherent information literacy and training strategy which is conducive to empowering children and their educators in order for them to make the best possible use of information and communication services and technologies” Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers Recommendation REC (2006) 12. One answer to the issues posited by media power is to educate children to become more critical media consumers and communicators of their ideas by providing opportunities to use and learn different media (including desktop publishing, radio and TV programming, websites and blogs). Media education aims at making all children aware of the importance and power of the media. Techniques of media education include making children aware of what they see and how that may affect them. However, media education is also crucial for adults who work with children; parents, teachers and other educators should invest time and energy to learn about and observe how their children communicate and live together.
4. The methodological framework of the CVS Curriculum
The CVS Curriculum has been largely developed on the basis of the principles for designing and developing curricula described in the RFCDC (Barrett et al., 2018c). These principles include the conception of a curriculum as a “plan for learning”, using project-based and service-based learning approaches, using the cooperative approach in teaching and learning processes, the use of RFCDC descriptors, and a multi-informant approach for assessing children’s DI competences. Other methodological considerations were the “redundant” teaching and learning methodology (that is the repeated use of some activities and structure during the same school year and across the modules) , using experiential learning, a cross-curricular approach, and the active involvement of senior citizens in their community.
- The curriculum was developed starting from auditing. As a first step, we conducted an auditing process involving all partner schools, through a systematic examination aimed at analysing to what extent, when and how children were acquiring DI in the course of their schooling as a whole.
- The curriculum was defined as “a plan for learning” in the form of the description of learning outcomes, of learning content and of learning processes for a specified period of study (see Barrett et al., 2018c).
- The modules are expressed in the five steps of Experience, Comparison, Analysis, Reflection and Action. The activities have been planned in order to include opportunities for learning through experience (which can be either real or imagined), through exposure to “difference”, through explanations for practices, thoughts, values and beliefs, through the development of critical awareness and understanding, and through engagement with others in taking action (see Barrett et al., 2018c).
- The curriculum is based on complex learning approaches. It was developed according to a project-based learning approach for Module 1 and a service-based learning approach for Module 2 (see the guidance for implementation of the RFCDC, Barrett et al., 2018c, pp. 35-36.).
- The curriculum is based on a cooperative approach at both teaching and learning levels. Co-operation is an important component of social cohesion. In order to teach DI competence and to develop a democratic culture at institution level, teachers need to co-ordinate and work together to organize learning situations where children can acquire and practice DI competences. Moreover, the activities included in the curriculum allow pupils to actively co-operate with their class-mates.
- Teachers’ and children’s views were taken into account in the revision of the curriculum. It was field-tested in all the partnership countries, involving both teachers and pupils.
- The curriculum allows children to have a voice in the learning process. have the chance to participate in the decision-making on what and how they have to learn, including a learning evaluation (see chapter 4 in this volume) through which teachers can receive feedback about the activities proposed during the implementation of the curriculum.
- The curriculum reflects and is closely aligned to everyday, real-life issues. It is oriented towards and connected with the everyday lifeworld situations and contexts, where children and teachers live together.
- Teachers are conceived as facilitators of learning. They encourage pupils to become actively involved in experience, discovery, challenge, analysis, comparison, reflection and co-operation. They address children as whole persons and engage them cognitively, emotionally and through their experience (with their head, heart and hands).
- Redundant teaching/learning methodology. The CVS Curriculum makes use of a “redundant” teaching/learning methodology (and so is stable and predictable by teachers and children) in order to favour the development of teachers’ and children’s confidence in teaching/learning process.
- It is based on a cross-curricular approach. In implementing it, several activities can be integrated in different school subjects. For instance, an English teacher can select texts dealing with the issues of democracy, interculturality, and participation; a Geometry teacher could link his/her activities to the creation of the maps and real planning; a History and Geography teacher could link his/her activities to the issues of the CVS Curriculum as well.
- The curriculum makes reference to descriptors for assessing children’s DI competence. The use of descriptors allows not only the recognition of what children can do, but also the identification of future learning goals to be achieved through the educational intervention (see Barrett et al., 2018 for a discussion about RFCDC descriptors);
- The curriculum foresees the multi-informant assessment of children’s DI competence. Before and after the implementation of the curriculum, the degree of proficiency of children’s DI competences are assessed, by children themselves (through a self-report questionnaire) and by their teachers.
- The curriculum prompts the active involvement of senior citizens. The aim was to get elderly people actively engaged both in their community to foster intergenerational learning and dialogue, and to improve young people’s knowledge and enhance their understanding of how the past can impact on today’s society. Intergenerational learning activities were developed to enable senior citizens to share their experiences with children, including stories of their life. The activities have also been designed to bridge the intergenerational gap between the two.