Decreased Citizenship Education

– Schools are becoming increasingly instrumental. This may influence the role of citizenship in our society and our future democracy, says Associate Professor Janicke Heldal Stray.

Janicke Heldal Stray is an Associate Professor of Pedagogy at MF.
Her academic research fields are Citizenship, Democracy and Education.

Heldal Stray, Associate Professor of Pedagogy at MF, is researching the relationship between pedagogy and democracy. She is particularly concerned with how democracy is taught in schools and wrote her dissertation on how democracy is understood within the Norwegian Education Reform known as “Kunskapsløftet”.

To invite and challenge
Heldal Stray points out that democracy as a field of research is, and has always been, central to education and learning, and may be seen as the heart of pedagogy.
– The Ancient Greeks were interested in the same questions; How do we form a society that is the best possible, for the most people? How might we live together, whilst preserving our differences, and by what means should we initiate our young people into our established practices and cultures whilst giving them the ability, courage and the moral imperative to challenge the status quo?

An Unclear Mandate
– Schools are given an unclear mandate when it comes to teaching democracy, and teachers are not equipped to teach on the subject, says Janicke Heldal Stray.
Not only is there scant training in the teaching of democracy, but international standardized tests also play a role in the current situation. These have become extremely important in the political realm.

– My research indicates that these tests are a key component in the instrumentalization of the school system. This may in turn influence the role of citizenship and our future democracy, says Heldal Stray.

Team Spirit is weakened
Heldal Stray indicates that schools are increasingly individualized, and that students have a great responsibility for their own learning. This will weaken the team spirit; the class as a community.

– We now see how many schools’ attitudes to responsibility have affected their students. Furthermore, the political influences on schools, and the international tests, are leading to a greater degree of de-politicised knowledge and a culture built around test results. The students are primarily people trained to process information. Thus, the development of community and citizenship is weakened, the education specialist believes.

As an educator, Heldal Stray is concerned with development and how political governance and influence affect, both our mandate to develop, and our understanding of democracy.

– Learning takes place in schools within the context of national, cultural and historical attitudes and preconceptions. These affect the selection of learning materials and curriculum. In Norway, there is a heavy political management of schools, and I have analyzed ‘knowledge-policy’ documents, based on political philosophy, pedagogical theory, and democratic theory, says Heldal Stray.

The Challenge to Democracy
 We live in an increasingly pluralistic world, and national identity is weakening. The impulses of social media are stronger than those of traditional media. More than ever before, results are given precedence, and democracy is under attack from many different sides. This makes research on democracy and learning all the more relevant and essential.

Heldal Stray says that much is happening in research on democracy and its education.

– But this is not a field that is currently prioritized by the Norwegian Research Council. The research community around democracy and education is relatively small in Norway, but there are more and more students taking an interest in the field; and it is a very good thing!

Translation: Nicholas Rognli-Olsen Noble / Matthew P. Monger