The Challenge

How to teach forbidden topics, such as democracy and human rights, in politically hostile environments and how to promote critical thinking globally, and what can we learn in the process?

Restrictive political environments, which monopolize information-channels and limit internet-access, can effectively curtail people’s understanding of world affairs and manipulate their value-preferences. In these circumstances, international teaching collaboration is a challenge. Democracy is not an exportable set of conditions. It is an ever-developing ethos, which is fostered with awareness and critical thinking. These in turn can be taught by using proper methods. To develop them, we combine two approaches.

1. Student-centred pedagogy

According to socio-cultural theory / social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1991), learning is based on interaction of the members of the community and knowledge is the outcome of this joint ‘construction’ (Vygotsky 1978; Lave, Wenger 1991, Wenger 1998). Interaction between teachers and students can be furthered by discursive and co-operative learning methods. For this purpose problem-based and phenomenon-based learning (Savin-Baden 2000, 2006; Hmelo-Silver 2004) are valuable.

2. Intercultural encounters

Building intercultural bridges is essential in exchanging ideas. Intercultural awareness is necessary for understanding different perceptions and challenging preconceived ideas – only this way we are able to develop new insights (Hofstede 2001; Holliday 2010; Holliday, et al. 2004). These insights help us to invent new methods to overcome the gaps between different societies and political systems. Dialogue opens up also new ways to reflect on democracy.


Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch J. (1991). Voices of the mind: A Sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.