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Author:Maitles, Henry

Education for citizenship raises key questions--what is education for? What is the role of the school in developing positive attitudes amongst young people? How can controversial issues be raised in the classroom? How do we develop critical citizens? Citizenship is a compulsory element in most democracies throughout Europe, North America and the Pacific (Crick, 2000; Ostler & Starkey, 2005; Print, 2007; Kiwan, 2008). Research suggests that political education in schools in western democracies emphasizes political institutions, rights and responsibilities of citizens, debates on current issues and moralism in various combinations (Borhaug, 2008).

The largest international survey, the International Civil and Citizenship Education Study/International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (1CCS/IEA) study (Schultz et al., 2010), involved some 140,000 students (about 14 years of age) and 62,000 teachers in 38 countries. In terms of content areas, the topics that the ICCS countries most frequently nominated as a major emphasis in civic and citizenship education were human rights (25 countries), understanding different cultures and ethnic groups (23 countries), the environment (23 countries), parliamentary and governmental systems (22 countries), and voting and elections (20 countries). Topics less frequently nominated as a major emphasis were communications studies (14 countries), legal systems and courts (13 countries), the economy and economics (12 countries), regional institutions and organizations (12 countries), and resolving conflict (11 countries). Only five countries nominated voluntary groups as a major emphasis. However, another finding of note is the significant decrease in civic content knowledge scores between 1999 and 2009 in a number of countries that had comparable data from both civic education surveys: only one country had a statistically significant increase in civic content knowledge among lower secondary students over the past decade. This is worrisome as the decade was meant to be one permeated by education for citizenship and, in that context, we might have expected an increase in this kind of knowledge and understanding.

Students were far more likely to report school-based civic participation than involvement in activities or organizations outside of school. On average, across participating countries, 76 per cent of ICCS students reported having voted in school elections and 61 percent reported voluntary participation in music or drama activities. About 40 percent of students said that they had been actively involved in debates, taken part in decision-making about how their school was run, taken part in school assembly discussions, or been candidates for class representative or the school parliament. Involvement in groups helping the community and in charity collections was the most frequent form of participation among lower secondary school students across the ICGS countries.


Academics and commentators continue to question the motives behind the introduction of citizenship education. Yet, most would agree with Hahn (1998 and 1999) and Print (2007), who believe that it is the responsibility of schools to teach about democracy and prepare students to be effective democratic citizens. Kerr and Cleaver (2004) point out that many teachers view citizenship education as a politically fashioned quick fix. Rooney, (2007) takes this issue further urging us to be wary of citizenship education which he states can be viewed as a programme of behaviour modification and that it is not the responsibility of teachers and schools to solve political and social problems or issues of low voter turnout and political apathy. Indeed, he points out that citizenship education has thus far failed to reconnect young people to the political system or improve participation rates. Several authors (Lister et al., 2001; Whiteley, 2005; Kiwan 2008) highlight the fact that there is no empirical evidence of a direct correlation between citizenship education and formal political participation.

Whiteley (2005) points out that the expected improvement in civic engagement with the introduction of citizenship education is offset by other factors including the widespread feeling that governments don't deliver on promises and scandals involving corruption and cynicism from many leading parts of society.

Further, while there is general agreement as to the desire to have a politically aware citizenry, it must be noted that there is no universal agreement as to the value of citizenship, political literacy, activism or pupil voice in schools per se (Lundy, 2007; Whitty...

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