b) Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices (2005)
(Adopted at the Fourth Meeting of Ministers of Education within the framework of CIDI, 11 August 2005)



Throughout the Hemisphere, increasing attention is being paid to the importance of promoting a democratic culture to strengthen and sustain democracy. Underlying a society’s democratic culture are “shared values, attitudes, knowledge and skills, always developing, never complete [that]constitute…  citizenship competencies.” [1]/ Democracy requires an aware, involved, and active citizenry with democratic values and practices. 

While electoral democracy now characterizes all 34 member governments of the Organization of American States (OAS), there are many troubling signs. Voter turnout has fallen dramatically in many nations, with voting rates among young voters alarmingly low. Support for democracy is weaker among the young: only 40.1 percent of those aged 16 to 29 hold “democratic” views and attitudes, 28.7 percent are “non-democrats,” and 31.2 percent are ambivalent. [2]/ Numerous studies indicate that citizens have low levels of trust in their governmental institutions, political parties, and in each other. And in some countries, corruption and high levels of violence are prompting both governments and civil society groups to design new strategies for promoting a culture of tolerance, respect, and peace.  

In Latin America, the past two decades have seen the return and consolidation of democratic institutions, as elections, respect for human rights, free press, and the rule of law returned following decades of authoritarian rule. [3]/ Yet severe economic hardship and income distributions among the most unequal in the world strain citizens’ faith in democracy. A well-respected opinion poll found that while the vast majority of citizens would prefer democracy to the alternative, 50 percent would be willing to accept an authoritarian government if it could solve their country’s economic problems. According to one observer, today “democracy is suspended somewhere between stability and crisis. It is neither consolidated nor in imminent crisis.” [4]/

In the Caribbean, some countries have enjoyed a relatively stable democratic period while others have been continually challenged with political and economic turmoil. The nations of the Caribbean are vulnerable to the effects of global economic and political processes that can either undermine or fortify democratic institutions. Some of the most pressing of these challenges today include: combating the drug trade, growing violence, high levels of unemployment, an increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS, and promoting the social inclusion of increasingly diverse populations. In addition, political parties in the Caribbean face the challenge of promoting racial and cultural diversity within their ranks and developing capacity to respond to the demands of their general population.

In North America, recent events and polls point to a deficit of democratic engagement, among other things. The U.S. ranks 20th out of 21 in voter turnout among established democracies, and participation in presidential elections has declined by roughly a quarter over the last 36 years. [5]/ In Mexico, while voter turnout has increased from 49 to 64 percent in the last three presidential elections, citizen opinion polls show a decline in the proportion of citizens that view democracy as the preferred political system. [6]/ Beyond electoral participation, polls in the U.S. indicate a decline in political knowledge and in interest in current affairs over the past few decades. [7]/ Nonetheless, studies also show that young people continue to be very engaged in efforts to participate in and improve their schools and communities.

Schools are among the most powerful institutions for promoting the development of democratic values and practices. However, the task of educating and forming democratic citizens is the responsibility of a myriad of sectors and institutions. Recent corruption scandals throughout the Hemisphere demonstrate a need for a more proactive role by civil society, political parties, governments, and international organizations in strengthening the rule of law, promoting a culture of transparency, and developing democratic values and practices in the citizenry. Indeed, schools cannot effect change alone; they need support not only from their administrative hierarchies but also from families, social and political institutions, the media, and the communities in which they function.

This proposal is designed to identify ways to strengthen education for democracy and citizenship in the Americas, through cooperative actions at various levels and in both the formal and non-formal sectors.


The Charter of the Organization of American States embodies the firm commitment of the member states to upholding democratic and representative government in the Hemisphere, making clear that the promotion and consolidation of representative democracy is one of the essential purposes of the Organization. Recent OAS General Assembly resolutions [8] reaffirm the importance of promoting a culture based on democratic principles and practices, bearing in mind that democracy is a way of life.

The Heads of State and Government of the Americas have also pledged to promote education for democracy through the Summits of the Americas process. The Plan of Action of the Second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile (1998), states that governments should:

“Include in educational programs, within the legal framework of each country, objectives and contents that develop democratic culture at all levels, in order to teach individuals ethical values, a spirit of cooperation and integrity. To that end, the participation of teachers, families, students and outreach workers will be stepped up in their work related to conceptualizing and implementing the plans for shaping citizens imbued with democratic values.” [9]

The Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted by the ministers of foreign affairs of the Americas on September 11, 2001, emphasizes the importance of promoting democratic values and practices to establish a democratic culture and to teach new generations to commit themselves to those values and practices. It also reflects an integral vision of human development in which the social, economic, and political dimensions are inextricably linked. This vision recognizes the fight against poverty as essential for the consolidation and strengthening of democracy. Poverty breeds insecurity, violence, and corruption, which all weaken democratic institutions. These institutions have been challenged as inequities have risen sharply in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this context, the governments have turned their efforts to education as a means of fighting poverty and strengthening democracy.

Education as a means of strengthening democracy is mentioned twice in the Charter, reflecting two separate goals: (1) providing education for all; and (2) providing specific instructional opportunities in citizenship education. Article 16 states that:

“Education is key to strengthening democratic institutions, promoting the development of human potential, and alleviating poverty and fostering greater understanding among our peoples. To achieve these ends, it is essential that a quality education be available to all, including girls and women, rural inhabitants, and minorities.” 

Section IV of the Charter emphasizes the promotion of a democratic culture. Article 27 adds that:

“Special attention shall be given to the development of programs and activities for the education of children and youth as a means of ensuring the continuance of democratic values, including liberty and social justice.”  

Echoing the mandates of the OAS General Assembly and the Summits of the Americas, the ministers of education of the Americas have committed themselves “to emphasize nonviolence and a culture of peace within the educational initiatives that form and reinforce our national and sub-regional values, and also promoting the construction of a Continental Program for Values in Education for 2003.” [10]/ At the Third Meeting of Ministers of Education, in Mexico, the ministers requested that the Inter-American Committee on Education “organize a meeting before the end of the year to share our programs in values education in order to strengthen the decision we made in Punta del Este to promote education for peace and against violence.” [11]/

In response to these mandates, in April 2004 the Permanent Council of the OAS held a joint meeting with the Inter-American Committee on Education, on the “Promotion of a Democratic Culture through Education,” with the technical assistance of the democracy and education units of the General Secretariat. The two-day meeting analyzed the topic and proposed guidelines for the creation of an inter-American program, taking into account both formal and non-formal education.

The present proposal is based on the initial recommendations presented during the working sessions of this special meeting with the Permanent Council and on subsequent input received from the member states through virtual and on-site consultations. This proposal embodies the desire of the member states to coordinate their efforts to promote education for democracy through the Organization of American States and the inter-American meetings of ministers of education. The proposed Program would be coordinated, subject to available financing, by the OAS General Secretariat, through the Office for the Promotion of Democracy of the Department of Democratic and Political Affairs, and the Office of Education, Science, and Technology of the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development.


There is a growing body of literature to support the need for promoting a democratic culture. [12]/ Yet, continued research and investigation is needed to strengthen policy and practice in this field. 

Recent studies, such as the 2004 Latinobarómetro; the 2004 United Nations Development Programme report, “Democracy in Latin America”; and the OAS-commissioned analysis of the study on civic competencies conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) highlight citizens’ views and knowledge of democracy. These studies are of particular interest because of their findings, methodologies (all large-scale cross-national surveys), and policy implications. For example, the 2004 Latinobarómetro report found that support for democracy in Latin America declined from 61 percent in 1996 to 53 percent in 2004.  While support for authoritarianism was not high (18 percent in 1996 and 15 percent in 2004), the percentage of people interviewed who expressed indifference to any particular form of government rose from 16 to 21 percent from 1996 to 2004. The level of confidence in political parties declined as well from 20 percent in 1996 to 11 percent in 2003. The survey also indicates that between 30 and 40 percent of the population believes that voting does not make a difference. It also shows that Latin America has the lowest levels of interpersonal confidence of any region in the world.

The 2004 United Nations Development Programme report on democracy in Latin America concludes that individuals from countries with more equality tend to be more partial to democracy. In addition, lower levels of support for democracy are associated with lower levels of education, reduced prospects for social mobility, and mistrust in democratic institutions and politicians. Conversely, citizens who participate more tend to be better educated and have higher economic status.

Looking specifically at the views of young people, in 2002 the Organization of American States commissioned an analysis of the findings of the IEA study of civic competencies and engagement of 14- and 17-year olds in the three countries of the Americas. [13]/ The analysis shows that students in all three countries understand basic ideas about democracy and citizenship; however some fail to grasp the threats to democracy, such as corruption, nepotism, and media control.  Most students belong to at least one organization in their school or community. This school involvement is a positive sign given the fact that research suggests that youth organizations provide places to develop citizenship competencies. In all countries and in both age groups, school factors such as an open classroom climate for discussion, confidence in school participation, and learning in school to solve community problems were related to students’ expectations that they would participate in political and social-movement activities as adults. This finding points to the crucial role of teachers in promoting a democratic environment in their classrooms. One of the most significant predictors of both the 14-year-old and 17-year-old students’ expectations of participating in civic activities as adults was the frequency with which they read the newspaper. This finding emphasizes the importance of introducing media education into the classroom and into curricular reform.

Research and analysis on teaching democracy and citizenship in schools is crucial to better understand how to promote a democratic culture through the educational curriculum and pedagogy. For example, a recent study of discrimination in one Latin American country found that many teachers had intolerant views and a limited understanding of democracy. [14]/ In the early 1990s, a survey of 15 Latin American countries found that no country in the region had a curriculum that focused explicitly on education for democracy. Most countries had a curriculum on civic education or citizenship education, but these curricula included such a mix of topics–from the study of family structures to sex education to the rights and responsibilities of social institutions--that very little, if any, emphasis was given to the effective functioning of democracy. [15]/ In the last 10 years, there has been a shift toward curricular inclusion of democracy and citizenship education, which merits further investigation. Recent research on citizenship formation indicates that a transversal approach across all disciplines and across the grades and levels of the education system may be the most effective. Research indicates the importance of developing these competencies at the earliest levels of education. For example, critical thinking skills that are fundamental for a critical and proactive citizenry can be developed through education in science, language arts, social studies, and other disciplines at the primary level.

Studies are ongoing in the non-formal education sector which also provide important insight for policy-makers. [16]/ For example, meaningful connections may be drawn between formal and non-formal learning that can help people learn to participate effectively in deliberation and public decision-making and to better balance their self-interest and the common good. [17]/ The teaching of these citizen skills, which is often included in the formal curricula in schools, can be fostered further through non-formal training activities which emphasize social and political skills that affect a person’s everyday life. Studies on adult and civic education also offer important lessons on teaching democratic values and practices, such as tolerance and peace-building. This also suggests that non-formal and education sectors need to work more closely in order to nurture and develop individual attitudes and psychological qualities that are necessary for good-quality citizen participation.


The relationship between education and democracy is complex, and education for democracy is “much more than educating young people on the merits of representative democracy, rather it is premised on the need to form civic and ethical values in order to become free, informed and critically minded citizens. [18]/ Education for democracy involves developing the ability to think critically and independently, express views, and take part in constructive actions to strengthen communities. It involves learning to live with others in a diverse society.

The values and practices of formal and non-formal education institutions as well as the content of what they teach mold the skills and attitudes of young people. This can have a negative effect if the actions of school systems, universities, social organizations, and political parties do not convey democratic values and practices.  

The following factors are considered as a framework for this Program:

1. The socioeconomic dimension, which ensures equal access for all to quality education (preventing drop-out; promoting student achievement, multiculturalism, multilingualism, vulnerable groups).

2. The institutional dimension to transform administrative and organizational configurations in order to create democratic environments and relations within classrooms, schools, and the broader educational system.

3. The pedagogical and curricular dimension, which focuses on promoting development of the cognitive and affective competencies required to exercise citizenship, including both rights and responsibilities. This dimension addresses issues such as the hidden curriculum, the development of democratic attitudes and values, and the development, practice, and evaluation of citizenship competencies.

4. The social dimension, which involves bringing schools and communities together in order to provide opportunities for students to develop skills and attitudes that enable them to become proactive citizens. This dimension includes programs in citizenship education that involve important actors, such as political parties, the media, and civil society groups.

In sum, creating policies, programs, and practices that promote democracy through education must consider that democratic citizenship formation requires an integral approach that encompasses all levels and subjects within the education system, and incorporates the efforts of actors both within and outside schools.  Therefore, beyond the fundamental responsibility of parents, citizenship formation is a responsibility of numerous governmental and nongovernmental institutions and actors working in the fields of formal and non-formal education. At the international level, several organizations and bodies are working to promote education for democracy, civic action, human rights, and peace. These include, among many others, the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), and the Andrés Bello Agreement, as well as the OAS and its Inter-American Committee on Education (CIE). At the national level, member states are in the process of designing and implementing a variety of programs aimed at promoting democratic values and a culture of peace. Some are “top-down” programs taking direction from the highest levels of government; others are “bottom-up.”  Some of these programs are described in the OAS permanent portfolio of Strategies and Programs for Promoting a Democratic Culture through Education. [19]/

In addition to the formal-education system, the private sector, political parties, civil society organizations, and the media are actively promoting programs for civic education, education for democracy, and education for human rights and peace. For nearly 10 years, the OAS has worked with such institutions to strengthen and promote democracy-training programs for young social and political leaders. Yet many of these efforts and their results at the international, national, and local levels continue to be isolated, poorly funded, and not well known.

One of the critical needs is to strengthen the coordination of programs, projects, and research carried out by a broad range of organizations, particularly those of nongovernmental organizations, universities, and local authorities, with the ministries of education that design and carry out policy and provide services that reach the majority of the populations. This coordination is one of the main objectives of this Inter-American Program. It is also a task that the Organization of American States, through its Office for the Promotion of Democracy and its Office of Education, Science, and Technology, is well suited to undertake, given its role in convening ministers of education and the Inter-American Committee on Education.

Greater cooperation and coordination among the many and different actors involved in the multidimensional aspects of education for democracy would be highly beneficial. It would help build a greater body of knowledge, strengthen policy and practice, and involve a much broader cross section of society in fruitful discussions. Open discussion is needed on the whole range of related topics, such as on how to promote active citizen participation and how to help students learn and act on key concepts, such as justice, liberty, tolerance, respect for human rights and minorities, shared responsibility, gender equality, and peaceful conflict resolution.

New research and development is also needed to promote advancements in the field of education for democracy. Furthermore, fostering and strengthening linkages between formal and non-formal educators create new synergies and opportunities for learning from different experiences and proven methodologies.

The goal of the Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices is to strengthen education for democracy in the Hemisphere, by pursuing the following objectives:

1. Promote research, analysis, and debate to strengthen a democratic culture through education, both formal and non-formal, and to facilitate dissemination of the findings of these activities.

2. Promote the development and strengthening of curricula, pedagogy, materials, and evaluation systems to assist in the teaching and learning of democratic values and practices, both within and outside the school system.

3. Promote dialogue and cooperation among different international, national, and local institutions and actors working in education for democratic values and practices, encouraging linkages where appropriate between formal and non-formal education sectors.


The Inter-American Program will contain three mutually reinforcing components in order to accomplish the above-mentioned objectives. The activities mentioned below are illustrative.

1. Research component: The Program would promote research activities designed to attain a better understanding of the different dimensions of education for democracy in the Americas. The research could be comparative in nature and would be coordinated by the OAS General Secretariat in partnership with the ministries of education, academia, political parties, the private sector, and organizations and civil society groups. Knowledge generated by this component could serve as input for other components of the Program. Activities could include: 

a. Fellowships or grants for experts in member states to undertake research and development in the field of education for democracy.

b. Commissioned papers or studies on specific policy-relevant topics in which a gap in knowledge is identified.

c. Seminars, debate, workshops, and videoconferences to disseminate and analyze research results [20]/ and policy implications.

d. Participation in cross-national studies by countries in the region and/or analysis of the results of such studies.

2. Professional development and educational resource component: This component could involve activities such as:

  • An Inter-American Seminar for Education for Democracy. This annual seminar would include participation by ministries of education, political parties, media and civil society organizations, academic institutions, the Organization of American States, and other international organizations.
  • Specialized professional development and training programs [21]/ for teachers, university professors, and administrators from the ministries and departments of education, as well as trainers in democratic values and practices.
  • Specialized training programs [22]/ for young leaders and opinion makers on democratic institutions, values, and practices.
  • Opportunities for educators to develop guidelines or instructional materials to work in this field based on exemplary materials developed by others.
  • Specialized workshops for curriculum specialists on designing democratic competencies for primary and secondary levels.
  • Exchange programs and technical cooperation selected by countries according to their needs and interests, based in part on information developed under component 3.
  • An Inter-American Seminar for Young Leaders from governments, civil society, political parties, and academia.

3. Information exchange component: This component, mainly involving virtual or online information exchange, could involve the creation of an online observatory or clearinghouse within the current Inter-American Network of Portals for the exchange of information on education for democracy. The aim of this network would be to facilitate horizontal cooperation in formal and non-formal education through:

  • The identification and documentation of promising international, national, and local programs and practices in the formal and non-formal education sectors.
  • An online database on formal and non-formal teaching resources, including curricular and pedagogic materials and tools for education for democracy.
  • An online database on empirical and qualitative research and evaluation in education for democracy.
  • An online forum for dialogue on policies, programs, and issues in education for democracy.
  • Online and distance education and training courses in education for democracy, with targeted audiences that might include educators as well as political leaders, media figures, and others. [23]/
  • Publication or reprint of documents in the field, including studies and reports, magazines, posters, videos, CDs or cassettes, and the like.
  • An active Web presence, such as a portal linked to key Web-based resources on education for democracy in the Americas.

The OAS General Secretariat, through the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development - Office of Education, Science, and Technology, and the Department of Democratic and Political Affairs - Office for the Promotion of Democracy, will jointly serve as the secretariat for the Program. A board of experts, consisting of persons of renown in the field of formal and non-formal education for democracy will advise the secretariat in the design and implementation of the Program’s initial Plan of Action. The members of the Board of Experts will offer their services without compensation; however, should it be necessary for the Board to meet, the travel expenses of these experts would be paid. Existing programs of the General Secretariat that support the objectives of the Inter-American Program will form part of the program.


Each activity will incorporate, from its inception, a plan for the evaluation of its implementation and results. In addition, the overall Program will incorporate: (a) biannual reports submitted by the General Secretariat to the Inter-American Committee on Education and to the Permanent Council; (b) evaluations completed by the participants in each program activity; and (c) a periodic external evaluation of the overall outcomes of the program. [24]/


The Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices will be financed primarily from sources external to the OAS Regular Fund budget.  A plan of action and budget for the initial two-year period (2006-2007) will be developed in consultation with the Board of Experts and other interested parties, for consideration by the member states through the Inter-American Committee on Education and its authorities.


[1]  Fernando Reimers and Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, "Educating Democratic Citizens in Latin America,” in Developing Cultures: Essays on Cultural Change,” eds. Lawrence Harrison and Jerome Kagan (Routledge, 2005), p. 117.
[2]  Reimers and Villegas-Reimers, “Educating Democratic Citizens.”
[3]  Judith Torney-Purta and Jo-Ann Amadeo, Strengthening Democracy in the Americas through Civic Education:  An Empirical Analysis Highlighting the Views of Students and Teachers (Organization of American States, 2004) pp. 2-3.
[4]  Marta Lagos (2001), “How People View Democracy: Between Stability and Crisis in Latin America.” Journal of Democracy, 12 (1), pp. 138-145.
[5]  See www.fairvote.org  and Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
[6]  Secretaría de Gobernación, Mexico (2001), Programa Especial para el Fomento de la Cultura Democrática.  Distrito Federal, Mexico:  Secretaría de Gobernación.
[7]  Putnam.
[8]  AG/RES. 2119 (XXXV-O/05), AG/RES. 2045 (XXXIV-O/04), AG/RES. 2044 (XXXIV-O/04), AG/RES. 1960 (XXXIII-O/03), AG/RES. 1907 (XXXII-O/02), and AG/RES. 1869 (XXXII-O/02).
[9]  The Declaration of Quebec City, adopted at the Third Summit of the Americas (2001), and the Declaration of Nuevo León of the Special Summit of the Americas (2004) recognize the fundamental importance of the values and practices of democracy; and the Declarations of these Summits recognize that education is key to strengthening democratic institutions.  Most recently, the Declaration of Nuevo León states the importance of promoting a culture and education for democracy.
[10] Declaration against Violence, Second Meeting of Ministers of Education within the Framework of CIDI, Punta del Este, Uruguay,  2001.
[11] Resolution CIDI/RME/RES. 10 (III-O/03), Third Meeting of Ministers of Education, August 2003.
[12] See a suggested bibliography at www.oest.oas.org/colombia.
[13] The OAS Permanent Council encouraged further analysis of this type, encouraging the incorporation of evidence from other countries of the region.
[14] See Fundación en este País. 2003. Congruencia y Comportamiento Institucional. Encuesta a Maestros de Educación Pública. Mexico, Mimeog. 2005.
[15] See Eleanora Villegas-Reimers, Can Schools Teach Democratic Values (Washington, D.C.: USAID, 1993).
[16] See Steven E. Finkel (2000), “Can Tolerance be Taught:  Adult Civic Education and the Development of Democratic Values” (Paper prepared for delivery at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., August 31-September 3, 2000). 
[17] David Schugurensky (2002), Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics:  The Pedagogical Dimension of Participatory Democracy and Social Action, in Expanding the Boundaries of Transformative Learning: Essays on Theory and Praxis, eds. E. O’Sullivan, A. Morrell and M.A. O’Connor (New York: Palgrave), pp. 59-76.
[18] Torney-Purta and Amadeo, Strengthening Democracy, p. viii.
[19] The portfolio is continually updated as member states submit programs. It may be viewed at http://www.oas.org/udse/english/cpo_educ_democr.asp.
[20] Such studies may include the OAS study “Strengthening Democracy in the Americas through Civic Education:  An Empirical Analysis Highlighting the Views of Students and Teachers”.
[21] Technical assistance may be provided by the OAS Office for the Promotion of Democracy’s Program for Democratic Leadership and Citizenship and the Office of Education, Science, and Technology’s program for knowledge sharing and training, “CONARED/KSAN.”
[23] This could include current initiatives like the OAS Regional Online Course for Teachers on the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Teaching of Democratic Values and Practices.
[24] The scope of this external evaluation is contingent upon the amount and source of funds executed by the Program.