Education is the last hope for democratic political culture

“I’m required to be very well acquainted with the political organization of France in the late 18th century, but as far as the current political situation goes, I still successfully continue with knowing that the Prime Minister is a prime minister, ” said Hrvoje Kožić, a 3rd grade student at 5th gymnasium in Zagreb, explaining why the results of the research on the political literacy of last year’s graduates were not surprising. Irma Gračić, a senior at 16th gymnasium in Zagreb, concluded that the main problem is widespread passivity in policy approach: “It is not enough to read the newspaper to know that the situation is bad and comment with your family or colleagues as a politician says something unwise, inappropriate, or not representing the citizens’ opnions, since at the end of the day we do not do anything with it, but only cry over its sad political truth.”

The results of the studies of political literacy of graduates should not be offensive, explained Dragan Bagić, a member of the Research Council and a sociologist at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, in the case of questions of the parties making up the ruling coalition and the Prime Minister, who is known by 27% of high school graduates. As noted, these results have nothing to do with the political cycle because they are very similar to the responses to similar questions raised five years ago. When it comes to political attitudes and values, Bagić noted that seniors have a negative attitude towards totalitarian systems, with which we have had experience, but it is disconcerting that nearly half of high school graduates cannot decide whether the NDH was a fascist state or not. “It shows how easily seniors fall under the influence of general public opnion and the general social atmosphere—in the last 15-20 years this is exactly the question most relativized in public space, and today there are initiatives that are considered to be qualified before what is unquestionably considered a symbol of the fascist character of NDH—greeting ‘Ready for'”

Youth between the ages of 18 and 29  are somewhat more tolerant than those of other age groups of those who wish to overthrow the government by force, said Anja Gvozdanović, a researcher with the Institute for Social Research, presenting the results of research in perceptions and attitudes of the respondents on citizenship: “As for participation, it is relatively limited—respondents mostly just signed the petition, a quarter of them participated in fundraising for social and political activities, participants in other activities that require a little more serious engagement were poorly represented, and more than half of the respondents did not show interest in such activities except for signing the petition.”

“The results show that people who have passed the education system during the so-called period of single-mindedness may have had more of a developed competence in democratic citizenship than those who in the last 25 years have grown up in a democracy,” said Nives Miošić from GONG, adding that the previous research shows that the Church is the only instituion working on instilling values in society, typically through religious education in schools. Although a positive trend is assessed through increased participation, on the other hand: “When in these processes people are involved in subjects they do not know about, or could have critically thought about again, then it is potentially very dangerous. We as a society have to take responsibility—not so young people have attitudes imposed on them through education, but to give them a chance to acquire the skills to analyze critically, think, and argue.”

Although research shows that there are differences between younger and older citizens, these are not drastic, said Vlasta Ilišin, who is with the Institute for Social Research: “Our citizens evaluate acceptance of constitutional values very highly, but the lowest among them is the democratic multiparty system and the acceptance of this value declines with age. In addition, as noted, there is confusion over the understanding of democracy and democratic rules and principles. The policy is taken very harmoniously, but if there’s no place for harmony, then we have a totalitarian system.” Finally, Ilišin pointed out that research has shown that things are going in a worse direction because it is obvious that living in a liberal democratic society is not contributing to the development of a democratic consciousness. “You set all the agents of political socialization—parents, political actors, the media, and educational system—which is the actor that can be targeted in order to bring about changes.”

Pointing out that the debate and that reserach results are incporporated into a complete curricular reform was a personal request of the Minister of Education Vedrana Mornana, its leader, Boris Jokić said that education can help, but it’s not a panacea that will solve all problems. “We do not need to raise moral panic about these results. For example, in 2010 the state exam in mathematics at the elementary level, 48% of the students knew how to answer the question of “28 divided by 3.” In the 2011 state graduation exam in biology, 32% of students knew how to answer the question “Name two ways to combat sexually transmitted diseases.” The percentage of students who could enumerate the 10 Commandments on the religion exam wasn’t much larger. He concluded, “Most of the work on the reform will be the training of educational workers, and it will be essential to increase the autonomy and responsibility of teachers.'”