Citizens' Assembly for a better education

19. September 2021
Elke Hanisch

One week before the Bundestag elections and the state elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning brought its issues to the German capital. For the first time, one hundred randomly selected people from all over Germany came together on 18 and 19 September 2021 to discuss 50 proposals developed in a citizens' and youth forum.

The aim was to make concrete recommendations to education policy at the local, federal and state levels. Parallel to the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly, the child ambassadors from school workshops also met: ten pupils between the ages of 8 and 16 from several federal states and types of schools compiled the ideas worked out so far, selected the most important ones and presented them to the Citizens' Assembly. In this way, the recommendations of the children and young people flew into the further work of the Citizens' Assembly. At the end of the event, the participants presented their initial demands at the State Library Unter den Linden and met for the first time for a brief exchange with politicians.

New, sustainable impulses

The Citizens' Assembly "Education and Learning" wants to bring new, sustainable impulses and ideas from a broad public into education policy. It was launched by the Montag Foundation Denkwerkstatt. The aim of the new participation format is to enable all people, including children and young people, to participate socially in educational issues. In this way, the integration of citizens' everyday practical experiences with the education system is intended to complement academic expertise as well as political decision-making competencies. In a multi-stage dialogue-based opinion-forming process, the participants are to jointly develop solutions and ideas for an education policy that is equal opportunity and sustainable for the future, and give these as recommendations to those responsible for the education system at all three levels involved: federal, state and local.

The participants of the Citizens' Assembly are made up of randomly selected citizens who represent a cross-section of society in a so-called "mini-public" and come to joint results. The Citizens' Assembly is implemented and moderated by the cooperation partners IKU_Die Dialoggestalter from Dortmund and ontopica from Bonn on behalf of the Montag Stiftung Denkwerkstatt. Both partners bring extensive experience from the design of nationwide face-to-face events and digital participation processes. Wider Sense GmbH advises and accompanies the actors in the process. The Montag Stiftung Jugend und Gesellschaft also supports the Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning with its many years of expertise in education and pedagogy.

Three-year initiative

The initiative of the Montag Stiftung Denkwerkstatt, initially planned for three years, has been prepared for some time in consultation with various organisations, associations as well as education and participation experts and has become more topical due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. "In recent months it has become clearer than ever where the weaknesses of the German education system lie and where there is an urgent need for action: Educational success in Germany is still strongly dependent on social background and family resources. A lack of digitalisation in schools and insufficient knowledge and experience of educators with virtual learning meet very different preconditions and support possibilities in the living environments of children and young people. The political pressure on the educational landscape is growing," said a press released on the start of the Citizens' Assembly.

Additional advisory basis for educational policy decisions

The process of social participation is linked to the vision of not only changing the education system and social life, but transforming them. Based on the mission statement "Acting and shaping in social responsibility" and the basic attitude "Every person is gifted", the Montag Foundations particularly want to promote diversity of perspective. This means including different experiences, backgrounds, ideas and assumptions - with the aim of reflecting in a democratic opinion-forming process on what can remain and what needs to change in order to shape a long-term sustainable education for all.

In this way, the Citizens' Assembly counters the omnipresent filter and opinion bubbles with the discussion of many perspectives. In this context, the Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning is not a substitute or competitor for the bodies of parliamentary democracy at the federal and state levels. The results of the Citizens' Assembly, the recommendations of the citizens, can be understood as an additional basis for consultation for good educational policy decisions.

Online Dialogues and Forums

The Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning consists of several interrelated basic elements and was launched on 13 October 2020 with an initial online participation. Interested parties found background information on the rest of the process, on the topics of education and learning, on the organisers and supporting organisations on the Citizens' Assembly website and, as it progressed, up-to-date reports from the participation process. Everyone was invited to participate online in the moderated discussion of ideas on the topics of digitalisation, school construction, inclusion, equal opportunities education and other current issues. The online dialogue ended on 28 February 2021.

An important milestone of the Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning took place on 28 and 29 May 2021 with a citizens' and youth forum. A good 400 randomly selected people had come together here online to put the topics for the Citizens' Assembly into a new form. Since June 2021, workshops have also been taking place with different schools from all over Germany to also reflect the perspectives of children and young people under 16.

"A reflection of a multi-layered society"

"For me, the key experience was that the Citizens' Assembly is itself united in its diversity and then also in the focal points," participant Dieter Schulz from Bad Zwischenahn said. "Because we give image to a multi-layered society. What particularly impressed me is that the young people and children have similar thoughts."

Five participants from each of the four major regions, North, South, East and West, were randomly selected to formulate the Citizens' Assembly recommendations in a citizens' report. They met in Fulda on 8 and 9 October 2021. The recommendations were published on 14 December 2021.

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