Ideas, Concepts & Questions

Democratic Citizenship is...

  • Openness to cultural otherness
  • Opennes to other beliefs
  • Openness to other world views and practices
  • Valuing diversity
  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Flexibility and ambiguity
  • Skills of listening
  • Skills of observing
  • Empathy
  • Civic-mindedness (beyond yourself)
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Co-operation skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Knowledge and critical understanding of the self

We find all these admirable and necessary qualities, and several more, in the famous ‘butterfly model’ of the Council of Europe’s widely respected Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Citizenship (RFCDC).

The CANDIICE project is researching how artistic encounters and creative activities can help in the learning and reinforcing of these qualities

There is now no general consensus understanding of democracy or how well it is working across Europe. Citizenship education has, for years, been rooted in principles of human rights, freedom of speech, the rule of law, respect for the rights of minorities and accountability of people elected to power to justify their decisions. In some countries, however, extremist populist politicians are gaining influence and power, assisted by the unregulated flow of information and propaganda on social media combined with sophisticated techniques of ‘micro targeting’ messages. We can no longer assume that those basic principles remain unchallenged or that all democratically elected politicians will defend them. This changing context accentuates the responsibility of the education system in general, and citizenship education in particular, to emphatically promote the fundamental principles of plural democracy and establish the learning of competences for democratic citizenship as a central entitlement for all learners across Europe and beyond. The CANDIICE Project takes the Council of Europe’s Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Citizenship as an essential guide and our central aim is to increase the range and effectiveness of learning materials that support its implementation.

How do we teach democracy?

The CANDIICE Project asks whether the established ways of teaching democracy, (through a description of constitutional electoral processes, lobby groups, protest and representation through party politics) are adequate education for tomorrow’s citizens. How much has political discussion, reporting and campaigning migrated to social media? Have our curriculum models kept pace? Do different age groups now access completely different news sources? Who are the significant ‘influencers’ who shape our understanding of citizenship? What are the connections between globalised sources of wealth, large political donations, generously funded lobbying processes and transparent national decision-making? In addition to the RFCDC, what pedagogies and ‘habits of mind’ will equip learners to navigate, and even create a ‘new democracy’ in the post pandemic age?

In rising to these challenges, present and future citizens will need highly creative civic-mindedness and confident ‘out of the box’ thinking that create shared visions and aspirations and work collaboratively to achieve them.

“Creativity is as important as literacy” - Sir Ken Robinson, 2016

Teaching to Develop Learners' Creativity...and Teaching Creatively

Teachers can do more to encourage creativity:
Creativity is essential for the economy – and so much more. We want learners to explore their creative selves and gain confidence to be creative in many aspects of their lives. This does not happen by accident; it requires planned provision across the curriculum. Unfortunately, in recent years, curriculum developments in many countries have favoured easily measurable outcomes over creativity.

Creative activities can expand learning depth and breadth:

Including more creative activities opens up new learning territory: Through creative activities, learners may come to new understandings and find alternative ways of seeing, leading to new ideas and original expression.

Broader range of learning activities = more inclusive curriculum:

Educators using a greater variety of modes of learning, verbal and non-verbal, open doors to allow a wider range of learners to enjoy success in learning thus achieving more inclusive programmes.

Professor Anna Craft did extensive research into conditions that promote creativity in learning. She developed the concept of encouraging ‘possibility thinking’ in children. There are many references to her work online. Here are links to two of her papers:

We recommend this article in Impact, the journal of the Chartered College of Teaching by Peter Gregory ‘Valuing the Arts in Education’. It has this useful section:

Eisner (2002) expanded on connections between the arts and learning, articulating 10 key lessons:

  1. The arts enable children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships
  2. Problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer
  3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives (there are many ways to see and interpret the world)
  4. In complex forms of problem-solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity
  5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know
  6. Small differences can have large effects
  7. The arts allow us to think through and within material
  8. The arts allow us to say what cannot be said (a work of art can allow a release of poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job)
  9. The arts give us experiences we can have from no other source and, through such experiences, allow us to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling
  10. The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolises to the young what adults believe is important.

Eisner’s work is crucial in recognising the reasons why art forms should be taught to young people – it isn’t necessarily to achieve the highest standard of representation but rather to ensure that the processes of learning itself are facilitated. Too often today, teachers (who themselves may have had a poor experience in arts education; Gregory, 2005) may concentrate on the physical outcome of the arts rather than being able to utilise the processes to develop cognition

See: Eisner EW (2002) The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale: Yale University Press.


The CANDIICE project exploring ways that arts stimuli can be used to enhance citizenship learning. We are researching and developing various activities in which learners are encouraged to respond to one or more encounters with works of art, objects, texts or other stimuli. Responses may be instant and intuitive or slower structured interrogations; we are interested in how reactions and reflections may be deepened, shared with others and used to widen and link thought processes, possibly leading to new perceptions, insights and creative expressions of personal meaning. We have produced a couple of ‘Idea Papers’ with practical examples to trigger further investigation. We would value your feedback.

Some encounters with some kinds of art can trigger unsettling confusion, or ‘disquietness’. This may open routes to creative thinking. Sometimes, from this state emerges a slightly different way of seeing, thinking… or being. This may be profound or slight, brief and quickly lost; but it may tap into senses and emotions that remain undisturbed, possibly unknown, at other times. Listening, seeing or otherwise absorbing some artistic stimuli may bypass language and definition completely and arouse emotions or instincts which can enable a deeper perception and learning. A response that causes questioning, or the rattling of previously secure assumptions may allow new connections, open new perspectives and lead to creative responses. How can citizenship learning programmes use these possibilities?

We like this quote from

“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? …people who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.” — Pablo Picasso

Picasso has a point. Art can't be explained adequately in words, because it's influence on people is so personal and speaks to the nonverbal parts of our existence. Therefore, art is an experience. You must let go of your need to put things into words, and let the artwork take you somewhere... even lift you into higher spheres.

You have to 'understand' abstract art with a different part of you, one that you may not normally use or be familiar with. Essentially, you must:

Accept that it is what it is. Don't try to pinpoint an exact meaning for an image


The CANDIICE project is exploring the conditions and activities which encourage deeper learning. Simple activities which slow down the race to an answer or pre-determined end-product, and allow uncertainty, nuance or subtle responses to emerge and linger. Experience of this more open-ended type of thinking may reduce the preference for easy answers and instead encourage acceptance of complexity uncertainty and compromise. Resisting the jump to conclusions may have parallels with resisting the resort to tribal, polarised and rigidly divided attitudes on social and political issues.

Can learning reach deeper, different places if we give learners time to think? How much schooling is a race against the clock to reach the pre-determined right answer via the predestined route? Even in a cluttered curriculum, can we create and protect some breathing spaces: oases to nurture listening curiosity, investigate nuance, mystery and complexity, foster wild exploration, accept contradiction and celebrate uncompetitive productivity?

The CANDIICE project aims to contribute to debates about how educators can promote flexibility and creativity in thinking and taking responsible social action.

The Council of Europe ‘Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Citizenship’ Implementation Guide offers a useful model for learning:


Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick say this of REFLECTION as a thought process in their book ‘Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind’:

Reflection involves linking a current experience to previous learnings (a process called 'scaffolding'). Reflection also involves drawing forth cognitive and emotional information from several sources: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. To reflect, we must act upon and process the information, synthesizing and evaluating the data. In the end, reflecting also means applying what we've learned to contexts beyond the original situations in which we learned something

The process of reflection is also central to ‘transformative learning’ – a concept originally discussed by Jack Mezirow and subsequently developed by many others. For example, Edward W. Taylor offers the following conditions as precursors to transformative reflection:

Three teaching approaches are central to fostering emancipatory transformative learning (Freire and Macedo, 1995). First is the centrality of critical reflection, with the purpose of rediscovering power and helping learners develop an awareness of agency to transform society and their own reality. Second, a liberating approach to teaching couched in “acts of cognition not in the transferal of information” (p. 67) is a “problem-posing” (p. 70) and dialogical methodology. Third is a horizontal student-teacher relationship where the teacher works as a political agent and on an equal footing with students.

Yes! The old fashioned idea that creativity is a magical talent only found in a few special people who might become artists, novelists, film-directors or inventors…. Is ridiculous! This foolish notion is supported by education systems that box learning up in strictly separated ‘specialist’ subjects and only encourage creativity in safely contained corners of the curriculum. There is little space for creative thinking in the other ‘more important’ learning which must concentrate on absorbing the pre-digested knowledge and skills needed to get correct answers in examinations. Everyone who works with very young people knows that nurseries are buzzing with natural creativity.

The future is diverse. In our communities, people of different cultures, creeds, colours and customs must collaborate to cohabit. Education is for everyone; it must be the glue that builds social cohesion. Citizenship education is responsible for creating shared visions for each community’s future. Teaching must constantly evolve and improve to ‘welcome in’ all types of learners and help them participate, collaborate and ‘belong’. Citizenship education must work for all social and ethnic groups and for all abilities; effective democracy depends on all participants – not just the academically successful.

One aim of the CANDIICE Project is to find as many ways as possible to interest and engage learners, tapping into creative and imaginative modes of thought, utilising left brain and right brain, offering tasks which stimulate lateral thinking and non-verbal experience and activating less academic routes to feeling, understanding and expression of individuality and meaning. We believe that varying learning in these ways will result in more productive fun for more learners (and teachers).

Creative ideas can be produced when two or more previously unconnected ideas are made to connect – maybe generating a spark, a clash, a conflict or a random new reality. Edward de Bono  developed this idea by suggesting a thinking technique using the word ‘PO’ to connect two or more elements. He explained it as follows: 'po' is thinking word; a word that signals a provocation - an idea which moves thinking forward to a new place from where new ideas or solutions may be found. The term po was created as part of a lateral thinking technique to suggest forward movement, that is, making a statement and seeing where it leads to. It is an extraction from words such as hypothesis, suppose, possible and poetry.

Deep learning does more than shape knowledge and skills, it helps humans to grow, take new directions and inhabit their lives differently. Educators may not be magicians or life-coaches… but can we open a few doors to new possibilities, take a few risks and create opportunities for more reflective and transformative learning?

Jack Mezirow’s original concept of transformative learning was based on his work in adult education in the 1970s. He suggested that an experience causing disorientation can lead to significant changes in assumptions and self-perception. What can we learn from this concept to create interesting directions for all other age groups and sectors?

The perspective transformation is explained by Mezirow as follows:

  1. Disorienting dilemma
  2. Self-examination
  3. Sense of alienation
  4. Relating discontent to others
  5. Explaining options of new behaviour
  6. Building confidence in new ways
  7. Planning a course of action
  8. Knowledge to implement plans
  9. Experimenting with new roles
  10. Reintegration

Many others have taken Mezirow’s ideas and expanded them. For example, Edward W. Taylor offers the following conditions as precursors to transformative reflection:

Three teaching approaches are central to fostering emancipatory transformative learning (Freire and Macedo, 1995). First is the centrality of critical reflection, with the purpose of rediscovering power and helping learners develop an awareness of agency to transform society and their own reality. Second, a liberating approach to teaching couched in “acts of cognition not in the transferal of information” (p. 67) is a “problem-posing” (p. 70) and dialogical methodology. Third is a horizontal student-teacher relationship where the teacher works as a political agent and on an equal footing with students.

Did the global health crisis give new meaning to community awareness and care for marginal people? How can we focus learning on the values underpinning these changes? Is there a new understanding of ‘local citizenship’? When learning had to go online how did that change the choice of learning activities? Were there new opportunities for independent work? Did learners have more time, unlimited by timetables and need to move to next lesson? We saw some great examples of exciting learning using the collaborative possibilities of digital technology. For example How can these digital ideas and opportunities be built into future learning?  We’d love to hear of any examples you can share.

Some argue that the Pandemic has altered our perceptions of civic responsibility, government by edict, democratic freedoms and national democracy versus local democracy. Is democracy changing? How could it change as we move out of the Covid crisis? How should we help learners to participate as active citizens in the digital post-pandemic age?

Options for creation, expression, communication and collaboration through digital platforms are changing daily. How can educators use the growing range of technologies – to stay relevant, keep up with their learners and engage with the issues facing young people – in the spaces and media where young people learn and, increasingly, ‘live’?

Find links to interesting ideas on a website called ‘Ditch That Textbook’ run by Matt Miller, an expert on using computers in your teaching: