Political education in a school context: the path of civic audit mediated by digital technology

Carla Aragão

PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education,

Federal University of Bahia (GEC/UFBA and CoLab/USP)

Gisele Craveiro

Professor at the Graduate Program of Social Change and Political Participation (EACH - USP)

Lilian Bartira Silva

PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education,

Federal University of Bahia (GEC/UFBA)

There is a certain consensus, in the educational field, that citizenship is strengthened by educational and participatory processes that privilege the political dimension and, consequently, favor a democratic culture. Paulo Freire, one of the exponents in the defense of this perspective, presents the school as one of the main locus of the experience of the democratic model of the State, an idea reinforced by Coppi (2021), who sees schools as main allies in facing challenges in democracies, as it “mimics the society in which it is inserted” (p.119). Considering the current context of a serious democratic crisis, we ask ourselves in this text, how has the overcoming of "democratic inexperience" (FREIRE, 1967) occurred in the school context? And how do these experiences dialogue with the process of digitization of society and, consequently, with the impacts of digital on the exercise of democracy?

Our reflections are anchored in two starting points. The first one is an alignment with discussions that are being guided by a research network in the area of ​​Political Education and related topics. Currently, dozens of researchers dialogue, formulate and research experiences of Political Education, with the objective of disseminating contents that are fundamental to the maturation of democracy and the political exercise of citizens. In common, many works focus on challenges, characteristics and experiences that address young people's relationships with politics and other relevant aspects for the realization of this type of content in school daily life.

The other point of the discussion that we propose is the civic audit experiences developed by public bodies with a focus on participatory monitoring mediated by digital civic technologies in the school context. This selection was chosen for at least two reasons: the need to strengthen discussions on these initiatives, whose research is still incipient, especially in the educational field; and the understanding of their impact, considering the innovative nature of the proposals and the commitment to the reinvigoration of the democratic regime, based on the expansion and qualification of the social participation of students and teachers in the public network.


But what is Political Education, after all?

The premises of basic education, in several countries and also in Brazil, are based on the relevant role that Education has in strengthening democracy, through the formation of citizens, supporting them in their emancipatory processes and favoring the development of competences, skills, attitudes that allow them to participate critically in the social, political and economic life of their countries. However, the way these assumptions are translated into educational projects, programs and policies, and especially how they reach the school floor, varies as much as the concepts that are used to support them.

In the case of Political Education, also presented as Civic Education, Education for Democracy, Education for Citizenship, among other concepts (ARAGÃO and CRAVEIRO, 2021; DANTAS, 2017; SCHMITZ, 2021; JARDIM, 2017), in addition to the polysemy around the concept, there is a lack of consensus on its definition. In general, Political Education is presented as necessary for citizens to “develop the capacities that allow them to analyze and act on socially complex problems, so that they identify what their rights and duties are, develop criticality in the face of economic, political, cultural, among others” (KRAHENBUHL; DANTAS, 2021).

Freire (1987) states that the participation of subjects in the construction of society implies the "experience and knowledge of the public thing (public administration)" (p. 1112), that is, of the functioning of institutions and political mechanisms that guarantee life in society and democracy. This understanding by citizens about the public, the common, permeates the promotion of experiences that allow, in addition to access to content, the awareness of subjects for engagement and a sense of belonging (KRAHENBUHL; DANTAS, 2021, p. 97) “Making democracy work requires schools to take seriously a fundamental commitment: to educate and nurture people's civic, social and political engagement for well-informed and democratic citizen practice” (Kahne & Westheimer apud Krahenbuhl and Dantas, 2021, p. 172).
Foto from Adam Winger in Unsplash
So, how can we think of training for political exercise, understanding the impacts of living in a world immersed in digital culture, and, consequently, influenced by digital democracy? We take the definition of Gomes (2018) to position ourselves on this concept: "[digital democracy] is not a type of democracy, but the use of technologies to reinforce, correct or improve existing democracies. (...) it is simply the set of resources, tools, projects, experiments, experiences and initiatives in which technologies are used to produce more democracy and better democracies" (GOMES, 2018, position 1826).

Thinking about a Political Education that generates "engagement", "participation", "belonging", as many authors propose, implies recognizing technological mediation as a structuring cultural element, whose daily life and sociability were profoundly altered by its various appropriations. The intensive use of technologies has modified and enhanced experiences, languages, creativity, narratives, consumption, art, science and communication in all its dimensions (MARTÍN-BARBERO, 2014).

The extrapolation of digital technological artifacts to the various dimensions of life and their real importance for the functioning of society does not give them the ability, by themselves, to resolve questions about education, participation or deliberation, but the understanding that they can contribute to the deepening of political rights and freedoms. It is at this point of intersection between education, policy and technologies that experiences of adopting civic digital technologies to promote civic auditing in the school context are inscribed. Civic technologies, "an expression of political innovation", according to Hendler et al. (2016), can be “any technology used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient and effective” (p.7). Rumbul (2016) defines them as all types of application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to promote civic engagement and citizen participation in favor of the common good.

Young people at Protests in Berlin. The organization of this events and the movement itself was articulated in Social Media.

Foto von Mika Baumeister auf Unsplash
These initiatives promote the monitoring of public policies and services combined with problem solving by students and collaborative production of data that point to innovative possibilities in the context of political and citizen education. One of the examples is the Projeto Controladoria na Escola, promoted by the Sub-Controllership of Transparency and Social Control of the Controllership General of the Federal District, with support from the State Departments of Education and Finance, in partnership with the Public Ministry and the Social Service of the Industry of Federal District (SESI).

Developed between 2016 and 2018, the Controllership in Schools focuses on promoting active citizenship of students and teachers in the school environment through the dissemination of knowledge and practices of participation and social control. The civic audit methodology, the backbone of the project, favors the survey of existing problems in the school environment, the identification of their causes and implementation of solutions. The civic audit methodology is presented by Ziller, Freitas et al (2020) as a social control tool that "basically consists of involving citizens in the supervision of the execution of public policies" (p. 2) through the "completion of a checklist that verifies the existence and quality" of public services, generating at the end a report containing recommendations to public managers, with "measures to be taken to solve the identified problems".

The civic audit begins with a diagnosis, made by the students, to collectively assess and record the situation of the school, with the support of the guiding teacher, using the Monitorando a Cidade platform. The application allows you to create monitoring campaigns, which consist of a series of questions, arranged in a form that can be accessed by smartphones or tablets, about a particular environment, structure or service provided by the school. Photos, GPS locations or answers to questions are collected and fed into a database. After the systematization, audit reports are generated by the control bodies and the information is presented in public activities at the school to help the school community take the next steps. From there, the priority problems are chosen and how they will be addressed and solved by the school itself, with the support of families or by activating competent bodies.

Banner in a public school in the Federal District of Brazil: "The school is public, so it belongs to us! We take care of it, we conserve it, we monitor it! Civic Auditors of CEF02 .

Author: CGU
The Controladoria na Escola project is an initiative that presents some results of scope, impact and maturity, offering a series of elements that can contribute to the debate in the educational field, where the discussion about education, from the perspective of monitoring with the use of digital technologies, is almost null in Brazil. Soares, Braga and Pereira (2021), in a study focused on the same case, point out other important elements, such as the alignment of the proposal with the National Policy for Social Participation and the Law on Access to Information, as well as efforts to prevent, control and fight against corruption.

As we stated earlier, other similar experiences are underway in the country. Santos, Craveiro and Reiser (2021) carried out a survey of the various initiatives to use Monitorando a Cidade for monitoring and data production in the school context and concluded that “this civic tool enhanced and innovated the processes of participation and social control (.. .) constituting itself as an alternative for overcoming barriers to the use of digital technologies in the monitoring and evaluation of public policies” (p. 38).

We understand that there is still a long way to go in the experimentation and research of the initiatives we discuss in this text. What we have been able to observe so far indicates that the engagement of schools, the scale of data production based on diagnoses made by students, the identification of problems and the joint implementation of solutions through inter-institutional articulation point to an arrangement to promote participation, mediated by digital civic technology, with the potential for political-citizen formation through engagement in concrete actions within the school context.

[1] This articulation was born from the initiative of the Escola do Congresso de São Paulo and a group of researchers linked to the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Goiás (FAPEG) to measure the impact of the Students of Attitude project on schools in the state of Goiás. Recently, members of this network participated in the II Challenges of Political Education Seminar, held between June 20 and 22 of this year, online. During the event, issues 16 and 17 of the magazine Parliament and Society were released, both focused on the theme.
Available at: https://www.saopaulo.sp.leg.br/escoladoparlamento/publicacoes/parlamento-e-sociedade/ Accessed: June 25, 2022.

[2] History of Controladoria na Escola - The first edition of Controllership in Schools was held in 2016, when the pilot project was carried out in 10 public schools in the Federal District (DF). In 2017, the target set was 100 schools, which implied the redesign of the pilot and the creation of the “1st School of Attitude Award”, which, through a public notice, sought to mobilize schools for voluntary adhesion to the project. The process was gamified and, with each activity performed, the participating schools received points. At the end of the project, the top 10 with the best scores received cash prizes to invest in improvements to the school itself. The 2017 and 2018 editions involved approximately 200 schools from Elementary to High School, involving approximately 8,500 students and 700 teachers. The 2017 edition campaign counted 7,500 questionnaires, 3,468 interviews with students and 899 with teachers. The project is presented by the CGDF as an initiative for “primary prevention of corruption”, with a focus on “educating conscious and participatory citizens”, which gave it, among other awards, recognition by the National Forum to Combat Corruption as one of the 22 educational and awareness-raising projects mapped by the #TodosJuntosContraCorrupção campaign.

[3] Central body of the internal control, correction, transparency and ombudsman systems, part of the Direct Administration of the Federal District Executive Power, in Brazil.

[4] The authors present this definition in the article entitled Students of Attitude: Fostering Social Control, Innovation and Gamification, in which they describe the experience they are developing at the General Controllership of the State of Goiás, in partnership with the State Department of Education. The Students of Attitude project, whose pilot was carried out in 2019, is inspired by the experience of the Controladoria na Escola, which was implemented during the management of both when they worked at CG-DF. The initiative consists of forming groups of students, teachers, employees and the community, coming from public schools, with the objective of carrying out a civic audit in the school environment.

[5] Originally named the Promise Tracker by its creators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Civic Media (CCM-MIT), it is "a monitoring platform designed to help communities, individuals and civil society organizations monitor commitments from public authorities and, in this way, demand greater civic responsibility from managers and politicians” (MONITORANDO A CIDADE, 2017).


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  • Carla Aragão

    PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education, Federal University of Bahia (GEC/UFBA and CoLab/USP)

    Researcher, educator and journalist. Doctoral student in Education at the Federal University of Bahia (PPGE/UFBA). Master in Social Development and Management from CIAGS/UFBA and graduated in Social Communication (UFBA). Member of the research groups Education, Communication and Technologies (GEC/UFBA) and CoLaboratory for Development and Participation (CoLab/USP). E-mail: aragao.carla@gmail.com | LinkedIn.

  • Prof. Dr. Gisele Craveiro

    Professor at the Graduate Program of Social Change and Political Participation (EACH - USP)

    Advisor and Professor at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP, accredited in the Postgraduate Program in Social Change and Political Participation. Leader of the Collaborative Research Group in Development and Participation (CoLab-USP). PhD in Systems Engineering from USP, Master in Computer Science from Unicamp. E-mail: giselesc@usp.br | LinkedIn

  • Lilian Bartira Silva

    PhD Candidate the Faculty of Education, Federal University of Bahia (UFBA)

    Doctoral student in Education at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Master in Communication from the Graduate Program in Communication at the Federal University of Ceará (PPGCOM-UFC). Graduated in Social Communication from the State University of Southwest Bahia (UESB). Member of the research group Education, Communication and Technologies (GEC/UFBA). Email: lilianbartira10@gmail.com | LinkedIn.

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