The portal of the German school: In your opinion, should the importance of political education in schools be strengthened, especially against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine? And how can schools do this justice?
Sabine Achour: The war in Ukraine once again shows the importance of political education. Structurally, there should always be enough space available for her in the school. Crises currently alternate: economic crisis, financial crisis, crown crisis – combined with belief in conspiracies, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian racism or the right-wing populist charge of flight and migration. Schools cannot support young people in these crises where there is no room for political education.
However, Ukraine also shows that political education shouldn’t be limited to one subject. Each teacher must be able to react to current topics and, above all, on the move in a pedagogically professional and emotionally supportive way. Ultimately, political education must be strengthened among both teachers and students.
When you studied, the war in Ukraine was a long way off. What political debates were going on at the time?
Against the backdrop of growing populism and right-wing extremism, but also of the Syrian war and the debate on radicalization surrounding the so-called Islamic State, the goal was to strengthen political education in schools. Many young people are very likely to be reached through school as an institution. For this, the status quo should be raised. On this basis, the first guidance and action frameworks for the construction of democracy were then written and implemented.
How did you do?
In fact, it’s purely a student survey, although the teachers’ point of view would certainly have been exciting. All ministries of education, apart from Bavaria, had approved the study. Interestingly, the interest of the schools was so great that at some point we had to draw a line for participation.
This was actually one of the most beautiful results, without us having to evaluate the results: that there is a wide awareness that schools have a social responsibility at this point, which is linked to questions of political and democratic education.
All the results have passed that socio-cultural inequality goes hand in hand with the offer of political education.
What are the differences between the types of schools?
You will have already guessed it from the title of the study, “Who has, will be given”: it has retraced all the results that socio-cultural inequality goes hand in hand with the offer of political education. In grammar schools, the scope and quality of offerings are much higher, both in terms of subject matter and democratic teaching and school culture. Generally speaking, it has been shown that elementary school students, who are already privileged from home, have better access in all fields than high school types.
What are the implications?
This is clearly reflected in the attitudes examined: self-efficacy, willingness to participate and trust in democracy are stronger among these young people, while misanthropic attitudes are less common.
What were the differences by class level?
In high school, much more happens in terms of political education, due to the structure of the courses, which leaves more time for political education. As soon as the offers were aligned quantitatively and qualitatively, it didn’t matter what kind of school it was – attitudes were aligned too. This shows that a comparable offer of political education for all types of schools would be desirable.
But you haven’t just looked into the subject itself.
Right. We were also interested in the importance of political imagery and education for democracy beyond the subject. Are we discussing anti-Muslim racism or anti-Semitism? Are there any trips to memorial sites or a school newspaper? How active is the student council? In a special evaluation of democracy education, we were able to determine that there were significant differences in democratic attitudes and willingness to participate among students who could take part in five offers per year, such as excursions or cycles. of talks with political actors. This shows that the school can be effective when it comes to democratic attitudes.
What do the students want?
A nice quote comes from a student who wrote on the questionnaire: “Democracy is Habibi”, or “Democracy is a treasure”. We have specifically asked for didactic quality criteria. The result has been that political education should be up-to-date, controversial and problem-oriented. So that the students notice: this has something to do with me. If this is the case, the lessons are perceived as more exciting and less complicated. Experience shows that writing or lecturing is also easier to learn based on topics that have something to do with me or with society.
Why does an interesting political lesson fail in practice?
In my teacher training courses, I often find it unnecessary to reinvent the wheel. Most of them know what an exciting lesson can be. However, due to lack of time, some teachers turn to textbooks, which are obviously outdated and often very institutional. In times when data is more easily accessible than ever, I am amazed: after all, teachers should be role models when it comes to current affairs and source research, even from the perspective of fake news.
What does it speak for a separate political topic? What about that?
Professionalism always speaks for a separate topic. The skills learned are not only important for high school, but also for after school. If you don’t have a political background, it’s hard to classify a newspaper comment. The main problem for the social sciences is always the few hours. At worst, political education – or another subject – is offered one hour per week.
Then it is better to teach epochal. A more complete number of lessons can be obtained by integrating different subjects, such as politics, history, geography and ethics. However, a teacher must teach anything that technically overwhelms many. We also know that teaching in a different subject is often not good teaching. Further training and coaching could help ensure that such a blend doesn’t necessarily lead to bad teaching.
Did the study initiate changes in the school system?
I have presented the study in almost every federal state and have been asked several times by education ministries when it came to updating curricula, developing guidelines and action frameworks for democracy education or strengthening political education in general . It is a process that is still ongoing.