“We should teach students to think, not what to think.” What does it mean to be a critical citizen?

One of the intended learning outcomes of the EUC curriculum is to educate critical world citizens- but what does this mean specifically? CLI Fellow Ward Vloeberghs delves deeper into what being a critical citizen is, what skills can be taught to develop critical citizenship and how it can be incorporated in courses at Erasmus University.

Both the EUR strategy for 2024, and the EUC curriculum emphasize the importance of critical citizenship. Yet, “neither the strategy, nor the curriculum at EUC have a clear map to indicate what critical citizens are, what skills correspond to critical citizenship, and what skills and actions it really amounts to”, explains Ward Vloeberghs. For his CLI Fellowship project, Ward hopes to achieve two objectives: to map different conceptual approaches to  what people think being a critical citizen is, and to then identify what skills tie in with critical citizenship. Finally, he wants to check to what extent these skills are taught at EUC and EUR.

Characteristics of a critical citizen

At EUC, Ward explains how the need to clarify what critical citizenship entails from the serious debates that both students and lecturers at EUC have been faced with. “From the COVID-19 pandemic, the divestment from oil and climate action, to the war in Ukraine, we are faced with many issues that require our students to critically think about the world around them. In this, students should learn the skills that allow them to analyze and critically assess such issues, and decide what they want to support, and become change agents through action”, which Ward believes is a key aspect of being a critical citizen. “In debates such as these, students often expect institutions, such as their university, to be an ally for the causes they support, and take the side that students support. However, institutions often believe that they are an ally by providing their students with the skills to support the causes they want, not necessarily by taking a side. This causes obvious tension between parties, so this is where we see the importance of defining critical citizenship and the skills that are associated with it.”

Through the CLI Fellowship, Ward and his team will work on stocktaking of the different definitions and associations that people have concerning critical citizenship. From this, patterns will be analysed to group characteristics together, and tie them to related skills that help develop these characteristics.

Co-creation of education

For encouraging and teaching the skills that develop critical citizens, Ward believes that universities, rather than picking a side of a debate which could cause categorization, it should provide a platform for debate. “It is important to provide a voice for all sides -especially neglected sides- of a debate, which is what we want to achieve at EUC courses, for issues that are important to our students. One of the main ways in which critical citizenship is developed at EUC is active learning. In this, at various moments throughout their curriculum, students are involved as co-creators of their learning, and what issues they want to engage with during their studies. “By involving students as co-creators in their education, we think it will encourage them to bring issues to the table that they are passionate about and want to develop their opinions further on.”


With the goal of grouping the conceptions around critical citizenship and the skills that go along with it, Ward hopes to be able to build a toolbox of these skills. “We would ideally want to create something like an online platform, with best practices and activities that can be incorporated into courses.”

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