Towards Stronger Education for Democracy in Finnish and German Teacher Education

By Matti Rautiainen (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) and Daniel Vetter (Heidelberg School of Education)

It’s true that democracy is a good idea. But that means nothing as long as the idea of democracy is not also learnt and put into practice. Education plays a central role when developing and maintaining democratic societies. Learning of democratic values, attitudes, skills, and knowledge must be at the core of a school’s programme, when educating citizenship not only theoretically, but also practically. According to the philosopher John Dewey, school should be organized and operate like a ‘minor society’, where students have an opportunity to act as active democratic citizens, and practice necessary skills for democracy. Dewey’s idea has become widely accepted as part of the ethos of education within a democratic context in schools during the past century.

School life: Aspiration vs Reality

Implementing this principle in practice however is complex. Goals have been poorly realized, despite the idea emphasized in policy papers and curricula, aimed to strengthen children’s and the youth’s commitment to democratic society via school life by active citizenship, and different kind of participation opportunities. According to results of the report on democracy and human rights education in Finland in 2023, education for democracy is not systematic, and deep. In addition, children and young people do not have a lot of opportunities for participation within their school communities in basic and secondary education. In Germany, too, there is a gap between aspiration and reality. In the belief that schools are an important place to develop and test democratic competences, the state of Baden-Württemberg introduced guidelines for ‘Democracy Education’, which are binding for all schools in the state, starting in the 2019/20 school year. However, it is more than questionable whether the guidelines are actually being brought to life in schools. Important empirical studies (e.g. the 16th Children and Youth Report) point out that the promotion of democratic skills in childhood and adolescence is often still neglected. Often, these policy papers remain too broad and abstract. As a result, they are unable to substantially shape classroom action.

Challenges for Teacher Training

The relationship between democracy and schools has been based on the idea that when democracy in society strengthens, so does the democracy in schools. Teacher education follows the same principle. In Finland, based on the results of the study of education for democracy and human rights in 2023, cornerstones of teacher education are strongly connected to democratic values and respect for human rights. However, programmes studied in teacher education are weakly linked to democracy. For example, questions related to interaction are at the core of teacher education in most of the courses, as it is when addressing essential democratic skills and attitudes from a human rights perspective. Nevertheless, they are not explicitly connected to democratic citizenship, but are approached from an individual rather than a societal perspective. In addition, teaching of education for democracy is still dependent on individual teacher educators in Finland. The situation in Germany is quite similar. Although the importance of political education is recognised on different levels (study programmes, academic and student self-administration, extracurricular student activities), there are still no educational policy guidelines that introduce democracy education as a cross-cutting competence in teacher training. In Baden-Württemberg for example, education for democracy at universities is even less structurally anchored than in the school system. The 16th report on children and youth already points out that democracy education is not systematically researched and taught at universities and that there is a lack of continuous dialogue between researchers and practitioners. So, in the field of teacher education too (and maybe even more so than elsewhere) it still depends on individual convictions and initiatives whether the relationship between school and democracy is (critically) addressed in the course of study.

In stable societal conditions, the need for developing education for democracy has been minimal because things have been perceived as sufficiently good. Additionally, education for democracy has tended to focus on established forms of democracy, such as student councils. However, this approach only affects a small portion of students with the majority remaining passive followers. Therefore, when considering the current state of education for democracy, the shift toward John Dewey’s ideal remains quite distant, especially in teacher education. Democracy is not self-evident, and thus its strengthening is the responsibility of every teacher and teacher educator. This, in turn, requires teacher education to be developed, so that all teacher students study the foundations of education for democracy and practice them in practical periods. International collaboration offers excellent opportunities to support this kind of development of teacher education, as our challenges are shared.

Matti Rautiainen is senior university lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

Daniel Vetter is a researcher at the Heidelberg School of Education


This blog post is a result of the ongoing collaboration between teacher educators in Jyväskylä and Heidelberg, made possible by the DAAD-funded project ‘Mobility in International Teacher Education‘.

OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Autor/in (2. Juli 2024). Towards Stronger Education for Democracy in Finnish and German Teacher Education. Fokus Lehrerbildung. Abgerufen am 17. Juli 2024 von

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