Blog: Strengthening civil society through education: the experience of the EU in Azerbaijan
February 20, 2023

Blog: Strengthening civil society through education: the experience of the EU in Azerbaijan

Civil Society is one of the key foundations of democracy. Usually, by this term, we mean those bodies, such as Non-Governmental Organisations, that protect the interests of society and contribute to the decision-making process within government. Civil society is a connecting element between government and society. A strong civil society can make a difference by ensuring the rule of law, economic development and the existence of a modern country.

On the other hand, education provides us with knowledge and the ability to apply it. With education, a country raises its citizens’ awareness, changing their perspective. By ensuring quality education, governments develop not just academic knowledge, but an understanding of many things beyond the strict curriculum, including the importance of gender equality, by making women know their rights and protecting them, or protecting the environment and understanding its significance. These are a few examples of what we can achieve with the power of education.

The importance of education

Now, the main question is how we can connect the role of education with civil society?

There are many reasons why civil society is under-developed in many countries. A healthy civil society needs individuals who have the critical thinking, are solution-oriented, and are ready to make an impact and not wait for someone to do it.

But how can this be nurtured? To answer this question, we must go deeper into the role of education. A person begins to develop into an individual within the school system, this is where we all start. That’s why countries have begun to improve their educational policy so that people can develop their way of thinking, comprehend their knowledge and express it. Via the educational approach, we can improve the development of each individual, and therefore ensure the representation of a future stable civil society that can fulfil its duties.

How the EU is using education to support civil society in Azerbaijan

The European Union finances a number of educational projects that can ultimately contribute to the development of a strong civil society.

A prominent role is played by the experience of young people benefiting from the EU’s Erasmus+ projects. In 2019, Erasmus+ supported 325 Azerbaijani University students to gain experience in European countries, while a number of young Europeans have had their Erasmus+ exchange in Azerbaijan. And those young people can continue the connection through the “Erasmus Students Network” (ESN). Another educational opportunity comes in the form of Erasmus Mundus scholarships for pursuing a master’s degree at European universities. The programme covers travel, tuition, and accommodation.

The EU’s support for education also includes projects related to Vocational Education and Training (VET). One project implemented in partnership with the UNDP supports inclusive education and unites art teachers, special services providers, and deputy manages of vocational schools. These vocational education activities take place in the Azerbaijani regions of Sheki and Ganja and will continue until 2024.

To develop the leadership skills and the potential of youth from the Eastern Partnership countries, five Eastern Partnership Youth Forums have been organised since 2017. The Civil Society Fellowship Programme is another opportunity that supports young civil society leaders from Eastern Partnership countries to develop their leadership skills.

Another way of using educational policy is by improving youth skills and ideas in the field of social entrepreneurship for the improvement of civil society and capacity-building. The ‘Entrepreneurship for Youth’ project was implemented in 2018 and connected 150 teachers and 3,000 students of vocational and secondary schools.

All of these projects create the base for improving civil society through education. As a result, many individuals who profit from these projects can develop their critical thinking abilities, step out of their comfort zone, connect with people from European and Eastern Partnership Countries, and use their knowledge and experience to impact their communities. These youth are the future decision-makers of their countries.

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