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World Forum for Democracy

World Forum for Democracy

Democracy and equality - does education matter?

Strasbourg, 7-9 November 2016

The 2016 World Forum for Democracy will focus on the relationship between education and democracy. Education is central to democratic societies. Schools, universities, civil society organisations and other learning institutions should encourage the acquisition and practice of values and skills which are essential for democracy. The World Forum for Democracy 2016 will focus on how education can help bridge the social divide and become a real asset for our diverse democracies.

The World Forum for Democracy is a unique platform for political decision-makers and activists to debate solutions to key challenges for democracies worldwide. By identifying and analysing experimental initiatives and practices, the Forum highlights and encourages democracy innovations at the grassroots and their transfer on a systemic level in order to strengthen the foundations of democratic societies. The Forum thus contributes to the evolution of democracy towards more participatory and inclusive structures and institutions.

What is the objective of the World Forum for Democracy 2016?

The 2016 World Forum for Democracy will focus on the relationship between education and democracy. It will examine whether they can reinforce each other and together address the risks of new social divides. In particular, the forum will explore how education and democracy can nurture active citizens with critical and analytical skills, and how through fostering grassroots innovation and bottom-up democratic reform, it can help develop civic engagement and improve opportunities for all.

Why the theme "Democracy and equality – does education matter ?" is important?

Education is central to democratic societies. In principle, the higher their level of education, the more actively citizens participate in elections and other aspects of democratic life. Education for democratic citizenship aims "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".
But is education fulfilling its democratic mission or is it failing to build the key qualities for democratic citizenship? What is role of different education actors – teachers, learners, families, civil society organisations, public authorities, and the media? Is it necessary to reform the organisation and functioning of educational institutions in order to better respond to the requirements of democracy? Can schools and other educational environments become spaces for democratic experimentation, including new forms of democracy in the digital age? Are there new, alternative forms of learning and practicing democracy in educational institutions and how to analyse them?
Democracies, in theory at least, contain a promise of equitable education opportunities.
But social divides persist, and are even growing worldwide. What can we do better? How can education not only preach but also practice democracy? And how can democracy adopt more inclusive and participatory methods which give a voice to all citizens and not only the educated elites?
Recent studies reveal an increasing divide between educational "haves" and "have-nots". According to the 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the poorest children are five times more likely not to complete primary school than the richest. Unequal access to quality education and educational outcomes leads to inequality both in terms of life chances, and in terms of access to democratic processes. To make things worse, inequalities are being reproduced across generations: the success of parents determines to a large extent the chances of children to fulfill their potential, regardless of their capacities and talents. Although "the millennials are the brainiest, best-educated generation ever, their elders often stop them from reaching their full potential".
While governments have a responsibility for making education a means to reducing inequalities, greater citizen participation in decision-making regarding education could also contribute to this goal. Democracy is not a spectator sport - it relies on educated citizens to make informed decisions.
At the same time, education systems could do more to foster the civic values and skills needed not only for the optimal functioning of democracy, but also for its evolution towards a more participatory and inclusive modus operandi. Education has an important role to play in bridging cultural divides in society – ethnic, religious, linguistic, etc. – and in contributing to building an open mind and identity in line with the diverse, interconnected world of today. Finally, it is important to consider how non-formal and informal education can break the link between social inequality and political inequality and help nurture active citizens and leaders from disadvantaged backgrounds to drive sustainable change.
The World Forum for Democracy 2016 will draw upon ideas from a wide range of participants as well as innovative grassroots and political initiatives worldwide to kick-start the debate on what education can do for democracy and what democracy can do for education.

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