Children and young people learn about free and fair elections, accessible to all, through games, simulation and competitions
How do we make civic education interesting, understandable and how do we teach children and young people about electoral processes? How could the adults keep up with members of the Generation Z or the “digital natives”, so as to succeed in explaining to them the importance of voting; why any polling station should have an access ramp and why an awareness raising video for voters’ education should be translated into sign language?
In his conversations with the young people and their mentors, Pavel Cabacenco, who led the Center for Continuous Electoral Training (CCET) of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Moldova for three years, referred to “Generation Z”, having highlighted in that way the need of matching different methods and public discourse with the expectations of smallest and young audience of civic and electoral education programmes.
“Democracy does not appear out of nowhere, but is cultivated. To become a genuinely democratic state based on the principles of equality, integrity or equity, we do need citizens with critical minds, well aware of their rights and ready to take responsibility for their and other people’s lives. Therefore, the environment in which a child is raised, as well as the information received and the experience gained are of paramount importance,” says the elections management expert.
Pavel Cabacenco has more than 12 year-long experience in the area of national and international elections while being among the “ice breaking” pioneers, managing to get through to the “minds of children and young people”.
In the beginning… were elections
The CCET started its work seven years ago and, by then, its main objective was to train the electoral officials in the field of elections. “The creation and development of the CCET was encouraged by the example of the Training Centre in Georgia. Therefore, launching the very first civic education programmes was a natural step to taken by the CCET, as trainings were much more effective if done in an environment featuring high political and electoral culture. A good example for us to follow was the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, the authority in charge of explaining to citizens the democratic norms and processes applicable in the country,” says Pavel.
Since 2017, the CCET has been one of the main beneficiaries of the UNDP “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections” project. So, certain ideas were initially piloted and then replicated at the national level.
“Together with our colleagues from UNDP, we managed to get to the next level of quality of civic education programmes. We expanded the array of programmes, which became more diverse and inclusive. Starting with one time activities, implemented as part of information campaigns, CCET has advanced to permanent multidimensional civic education programmes, implemented by the institution or in cooperation with civil society organisations and other state entities,” says the former head of CCET.
Today, thanks to the support granted by the UNDP project, the CCET offers trainings and civic education programmes to young people, women, people with disabilities, people of different ethnicities, and to the inmates enjoying the right to vote.
Back to Generation Z
The CCET has reinvented the principles of civic education to develop child-dedicated programmes. It created dynamic, interactive, attractive products with multiple gaming elements. One of these, rather popular among children and their parents, is the electoral comics and electoral board games.
The electoral comics have been actively used in various countries, including Germany and Sweden, to explain to children and adolescents the way the Parliament and other state institutions work. In Moldova, with the support of the UNDP project, the CCET has, so far, released two editions of electoral comics.
The first of them, 2019 edition of electoral comics, entitled “Arci at the polling station”, explains in an accessible language how the elections are organized and what the general rules are, what multiple voting means, how people with disabilities could vote and what the voting age is.
The second comics, 2020 edition of “Arci’s adventures abroad”, describes the voting procedures for diaspora. Arci is still the main character, only this time it travels outside the Republic of Moldova.
“We decided to use our past experience to create a ‘super hero’ in the electoral field, a Hedgehog, who has a reputation of a wise, hard-working creature, always ready to help other inhabitants of the forest. In fact, the CCET officials have the same reputation in the electoral field in Moldova. That is why Arci (the Hedgehog) has become the symbol of our centre,” says Pavel Cabacenco, one of the authors of the electoral comics.
All three editions of the electoral comics are available in Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz and Romanian. Thousands of copies have been distributed both online and in kindergartens, schools and libraries. During 15 September — 1 November 2020, CCET, with the support of the project, conducts an information and civic education campaign among children, distributing in 50 localities in the country, over 10,000 copies of the third edition of comics, which describe how Arci votes during the pandemic and what are the protection measures for voters.
The campaign was launched with a mini-show in three episodes performed by the actors of the “Guguta” Puppet Theater.
It is more than just an intellectual game — it is a generation of future conscious voters
Since 2017, the CCET, supported by the project, hosted the Intellectual Games in the electoral field, entitled “What? Where? When?” More than 900 young people from high schools and gymnasiums all over Moldova participated in the competition. This interactive game complements the civic education classes at schools. When playing “What? Where? When?”, students make use of their knowledge about democratic processes and personalities that have left an imprint in elections field. As a result, the competition makes them even more interested in searching for information, learning new things, reading about role models and success stories, which cultivates the civic spirit and emphasizes the importance of electoral processes and their impact throughout the history.
“The game creates an atmosphere for healthy competition of knowledge, encouraging young people to study and learn more about the electoral field. At the same time, the game is a team competition in which the answer to the question must be found in a short time, in just one minute. So, youth learns to cooperate, to find a consensus as a team, to be able to choose and to take responsibility for the choice made,” says Pavel Cabacenco.
Young researchers on the CCET Open Talks stage
If in a kindergarten it is about play, then at school it is about a competition for knowledge, while at the University, the civic education applies through research. When graduating from the university or already taking masters’ degree, the challenge is to think like an expert, an analyst, who understands the electoral processes, to be able to explain it in minor details to others.
Hence, the CCET Open Talks, the 2019 edition, offered an opportunity to five students and master’s degree applicants from different universities to go behind the curtain of democratic processes and learn how these actually work. With the support of the UNDP project, the CCET offered scholarships to young people to encourage them to develop their own research.
Victor Solomon has studied the role of the civil society in enhancing civic education and electoral participation of citizens. “In a consolidated democracy, the activity performed by the NGOs has a major impact and could significantly and objectively influence many things, including the elections’ results. That is because the NGOs are, as a rule, engaged in monitoring the entire electoral process. They are also the one to inform the voters, thus paving their access to equidistant and impartial information,” says Victor. In fact, Victor came to such conclusion after having researched the impact of informing and educating different groups of voters, and namely, that compulsory voting would further stimulate the accountability and ownership of elections by each and every voter.
The young man was further inspired by the example of other democratic states where the voting is compulsory while the absenteeism is punishable.
“When you say I’m not interested in politics, you are cheating. That is because engaging in politics is what we do on a daily basis, even in discussing different issues with our family or friends. Hence, the voters need to understand that the responsibility for electing those who would lead the country in the future belongs to them. Therefore, I believe that the obligation to vote would motivate people to participate in elections and, especially, if there would be also a symbolic or a bit more than symbolic fine, then the motivation would be even stronger,” notes Victor.
Tatiana Matran researched the access of people with different disabilities to polling stations, and hence, to public institutions.
“These are not just a few. We are talking about 180 thousand people… And the problem comes from the population that does not experience these challenges with mobility and accessibility and therefore does not empathize. We need to create conditions so that all citizens can participate in the social and political life on equal grounds. I am glad that I have managed to contribute a bit to the improvement of equal access for all to polling stations,” says Tatiana, for whom this topic was a strange one until she started her research. She never paid any attention to door thresholds, countless stairs and how the ramps were built. Now, she says that every time she walks into a public institution or even in the building where she lives, she get always struck by the lack of ramps, narrow front doors, elevators that are often out of operation. Her first thought was: How would a person with disabilities cope with it?
“The results of the research have been used by the CCET in planning its future civic education programmes and, hopefully, have also been picked up by civil society organisations acting in this domain. Yet another goal of the programme was to create a scientific platform whereby the young interested researchers and young people could demonstrate their attitude, get involved and contribute to shaping up the electoral culture in Moldova,” believes the former head of the CCET and promoter of CCET Open Talks .
The youth research scholarship programme will continue throughout 2020. Bearing on the results obtained last year, the CCET decided to finance the scholarship programme from its own budget.
The CCET Open Talks is a civic education conference held at the end of each year starting with 2017. It has a modern and free format, to which the CCET invites as participants and speakers the representatives of beneficiaries of all civic education programmes carried out during the year, sharing with the public their expertise and lessons learned, thus inspiring others people.
These are only part of CCET activities conducted over the past three years.
“The success of the CCET training and civic education programmes is recognised by the fellow organisers of elections in the region and around the world. The example of CCET has inspired our neighbours in Ukraine that have recently created their own Training Centre, Albania and Kyrgyzstan that have made study visits to the CCET and are in the process of building up their training centres,” concludes Pavel Cabacenco.
Access undp.md/electoral-support to learn more about the interactive activities carried out by the CCET with the UNDP Project support.