ICLD’s Erik Nilsson and Anders Falkemo went to Wisby Upper Secondary School to talk about democratic issues and listen to the opinions of the demographic group that makes up half the world’s population – the under-25s. 135 students whose curriculum included social studies came together for 2 hours to hear how ICLD works to promote democracy. Karin Cedergren, a Social Studies teacher at Wisby Upper Secondary School, had invited ICLD to show her students that school and reality are not two separate worlds.
“It’s important to hear a different voice on democratic issues, and I thought this was an exciting opportunity. Schools have a vital role to play in learning about democracy, and not just within the subject of social sciences: there are many aspects of democracy that we can address in schools
16 year olds, Mattias Österdahl, Malva Thaning and Edvin Nilsson from the Sciences study programme took new knowledge away with them, along with a few, “Aha!” moments, and a realisation that local democracy demands personal involvement. “I know what democracy is, but this gave me a deeper insight, more perspectives and nuances. It was good. It was a good talk,” said Mattias and Edvin. “There was a bit of repetition, but it was still good, because it gave us a deeper insight into what democracy is.”
Erik Nilsson and Anders Falkemo described how ICLD works with local democratic development in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and talked about mutual exchanges between municipalities, how they work with education, minority rights, democracy in change, freedom of expression, and much more besides. Karin Cedergren felt that the students learned a lot of interesting facts and gained the information they needed to strengthen their democratic involvement.
“Above all, I think it opened their eyes to how important democracy is, and that it’s not a given,” says Karin.
What was made clear was that democracy involves both rights and obligations, and that democratic work takes courage.
“Yes, you have to have the courage to take responsibility. Democracy is, after all, based on the idea that everyone is allowed to think for themselves and to take a stand. And if no one dares to take a stand, then democracy is dead,” says Mattias.
The students were shown a survey showing the links between democracy and happiness, where happiness is defined, amongst other things, as freedom from violence, educational opportunities, freedom of choice, and support from society.
Malva, Mattias and Edvin pondered this:
“Democracy presupposes functioning human rights, which means more freedom, and then of course you feel happy. Being able to do what you want makes you feel good,” according to them.
Almost half of the world’s population (45%) does not, according to the politically independent research institute, Freedom House, live in a free country. A scary figure that came as a shock to the students.
“It’s terrible that people have to live like that. What can we do about it? We can encourage the country to join a free organisation like the UN and those of us who live in free countries can show them that a functioning democracy is a good thing,” says Mattias, and Malva adds that know-how is an important factor in persuading people to see the value of democracy.
Do you think ICLD is doing a good job in strengthening local democracies?
“Yes, they’re informing people, pointing out problems, and showing how you can work with democracy,” says Edvin Nilsson.
“I’ve gained a better understanding of how little democracy there actually is in the world,” says Mattias Österdahl. “We shouldn’t take democracy for granted – it’s something we have to work for.”
Karin Cedergren is also open to another exchange of experiences in the future.
“I’m very happy with how the day went. I’d like to take this further and think about what we can do for ICLD. Just imagine if the students could write to ICLD and say, “Hi, ICLD! These are our thoughts on democracy.”