Gina Chianese1

1University of Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy


The project SPACE, described following, aims to support empowerment, participation and active citizenship of young people across Europe through active involvement in the school and local community. In order to support this process, SPACE offers innovative methods and tools to encourage students’ participation and to develop their competences and skill, such as collaboration, participation, negotiation, and emotional intelligence. In this way, they can learn democratic ideas, and practice competencies for active citizenship through participation at working groups or involvement in student council, developing as future active citizens.

Keywords:Active citizenship Democracy Civic and citizenship education Key competencies for lifelong learning Participation. Active involvement.

ARTICLE HISTORY: Received:28 November 2017 Revised:11 January 2018 Accepted:17 January 2018 Published:22 January 2018.


European citizenship represents a permanent priority in the European Agenda and many documents recognize the importance of promoting active citizenship across education systems throughout Europe (European Council, 2001 ; European Commission, 2009 ).

Furthemore, the European framework on key competences for lifelong learning (2006) suggested that young people should develop social and civic skills during their school education in order to become active citizens.

This underline that schools play a key role in fostering citizenship skills and competencies, and in supporting the new generation to realize an inclusive societies and put democratic and civic education in practice1 (Englund, 2000 ; Amnå et al., 2009 ; Sherrod et al., 2010 ).

This competences/skills-based approach demands to understand democratic value and to experience active political participation and civic engagement at school through new teaching methodologies allowing intentional discussion, active cooperation in decision-making processes in schools (such as student radio or newspapers, elections of student representatives, volunteering for campaign work, …) and promoting students’ council or students group.

In this way, young people could become able to know deeper the principles, value and attitudes of democracy and to apply them in a real context.


In order to explore how different countries prepare young people to act as citizens, we assume as starting point the results from the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS), an on-going, comparative research program of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

ICCS aim to measure contexts and outcomes of civic and citizenship education and is linked to the IEA Civic Education Study (CIVED), (Torney-Purta et al., 2001 ; Schulz and Sibberns, 2004 ).

ICCS use the term civic and citizenship education «to emphasize a broadening of the concept, processes, and practices that have occurred in this area [since 1999]. Civic education focuses on knowledge and understanding of formal institutions and processes of civic life. Citizenship education focuses on knowledge and understanding and on opportunities for participation and engagement in both civic and civil society» (Schulz et al., 2010 ).

The ICCS assessment framework is organized around 4 content domains (each domain is made-up a set of sub-domains): Civic society and system, civic principles, civic participation, civic identities and include cognitive and affective-behavioral components (Table 1).

Table-1. ICCS assessment framework

Content Domain
Civic society & sustems
Civic partecipation
Civic identities
Cognitive domains
Analysing and reasoning 
Affective-behavioral domains
Value beliefs
Behavioral intentions

Source: Schulz et al. (2010 )

ICCS results underline that preparing students to be active citizen involves helping them to develop appropriate knowledge and understanding, and participating in activities in and outside the school through democratic idea and procedures.

Educating to a democratic value at school means to “flip” traditional views of the teaching and learning process2 and school making process.

Dewey argued «we need not only education in democracy, but also democracy in education [… ] for the welfare of the young thoughtful citizens must participate in the politics of public schooling» (cited in Tyack (1997 )). Democratic schools commonly show the following aspects: (a) shared decision-making among the students and staff; (b) a learner-centered approach in which students choose their daily activities; (c) equality among staff and students; and (d) the community as an extension of the classroom (Loflin, 2008 ).

These aspects underline a whole-school approach, involving everyone (students, teachers, parents,…) to the wider community (Eurydice, 2012 ).


The Erasmus + Project SPACE - Promoting Active Citizenship in Europe3 - encourages active learning and participation at school endorsing students to “learn democracy practicing democracy” and promotes the UNCRC, in details the Article 12 and Article 13.

In a wide sense, SPACE ambition is to realize an innovative whole-school approach that involves all the participants (students, teachers, principals, and community) offering a set of tools and methodology to develop citizenship education.

The main aim is to prepare young people to become active citizens empowering them to play a more active, engaged role in school community and in the wider society, developing attitude, skills and key competences (2006/962/EC).

In order to summarize this vision, SPACE realized a tree (figure 1) as an evocative mind map, to visualize the main components for an active citizenship education.

The Competences (Skills/Attitudes) are the roots, the Knowledge are the leaves, the (Working) Methods are the flowers, in order to reach the Outcomes/Results (fruits).

Among them, there is a relationship of interdependence: to flourish the tree requires active methods represented by flowers. The flowers developing produce the Fruits / the results.

It’s a metaphor of a growing and cyclic process of development that move from the competences and developing through managing activities in school councils/ groups and in many participation opportunities (eg. debates, forum, assembly, ...).

The term competence is crucial and it is relate to a «combination, recognized and proved, of representations, knowledge, capability and behavior fixed and matched in a given context» (Le Boterf, 1990 ). Competence consists in the individual’s ability to combine different resources (knowledge, abilities and behavior) and to manage them in a different context.

Figure-1. SPACE Tree

  Source: original intellectual output of the Erasmus+ poject SPACE. Final scientific report.

In order to support schools, teacher and students to adopt democratic rules, develop competences and skills, to learn how to participate and cooperate, SPACE realized different working tools consistent and complementary to each other: the Matrix of Competences (MoC), the Kite Marks and the Toolkit.

The MoC (figure 2) includes the core competences to support and improve the participation of the students in the school governance and in the community, and/or working in school councils/ groups. Each area of competence specifies the significant competence components.

The MoC is a guideline suggesting the key area of competence and the components to develop to promote an effective active citizenship.

Fig-2. MoC

   Source: original intellectual output of the Erasmus+ poject SPACE. Final scientific report.

The Kite Mark is closely linked to the MoC and it’s made-up of set of criteria at the three levels (Bronze, Silver and Gold) in order to monitor and assess citizenship competences (figure 3)4 .

Fig-3. Kite Mark

 Source: original intellectual output of the Erasmus+ poject SPACE. Final scientific report.

It’s a system of assessment and self-assessment intended to learning, the so-called assessment for learning (Black and Wiliam, 2004 ).

The Tool Kit offers a roadmap and tools to use in ordinary school activities (case studies, good practices, and helps for implementation strategies) to promote education for active citizenship (Bombardelli, 2016 ). The Tool Kit materials are available on website5 in order to improve the dissemination and application.


Assuming an active role in school decision-making processes could increase students motivation and intrinsic willingness to act as active citizen in and outside of schools (Feldman et al., 2007 ; Hess, 2009 ).

At a more wide level, through participation in the project, all partners (young people, teachers, staff, …) will be able to enhance their awareness as European citizens and develop their commitment of the democratic process at all levels from individual institution level to European level.

So, democracy is more than a form of government; it is mainly a mode of associated living, a conjoint experience (Dewey, 1916 )

Funding: This study received no specific financial support.
Competing Interests: The author declares that there are no conflicts of interests regarding the publication of this paper.


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1 Promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship through school education is one of the core objectives of the “Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training” to 2020.
3 SPACE is performed by a Consortium of 6 EU partners: Callington Community College (UK), Università di Trento (I), Alec Reed Academy, London (UK), Centro de Professorado de Alcalà de Guadaìra Alcala’ (ES), Alytaus Miesto Savivaldybes Administracija (LT), Alytaus Putinu Gimnazija (LT), under coordination of the UK.
4 There is one Kite Mark for the Competences, one for the Student Council. It’s be caused by different practices in the Consortium Partner.