Citizenship Education

There has been a notable and recent change in the concept of citizenship education from an approach in which the main priority in teaching was knowledge-based - about the local, regional or national political institutions - to an approach that emphasises individual experience and the search for practices designed to promote attitudes and behaviour showing due regard for human rights and democratic citizenship (Osler et al. 1995).

Formal education programmes traditionally were assigned, as one of their functions, the preparation of citizens, primarily in the social subject's area of the curriculum. Citizenship education was typically an important goal in the courses of study in history and civics in most nations and has, for the most part, focused upon developing knowledge of how government and other institutions in any given state work, of the rights and duties of citizens with respect to the state and society as a whole, and has been largely orientated to a sense of national identity. The overall aim was to teach about citizenship rather than to educate through it interactively: citizenship was usually considered to be the province of a particular low-status, dangerous (teachers could be accused of bias or even indoctrination) subject area, and not a part of the whole curriculum, the task of all educators or the whole school (Lynch 1992, 14). The major teaching strategies employed in such a passive concept of citizenship were largely didactic. This functional concept of citizenship was a product of an education which seeks only to develop knowledge, understanding and behaviours - competence and training for obedience and conformity (Lawton 2000, 11) - in order to enable an individual to participate in society. The approach encompassed a content-based curriculum aimed at developing pupils' knowledge of: legal rights and responsibilities; the electoral system; the workings of national and regional government; the processes of the welfare state, etc. Its purpose was to create citizens who could function in society, performing the roles expected of them by members of that society (Arthur et al. 2000, 27).

There has been a considerable extension of the citizenship education field in both content - given that no aspect of community life is irrelevant to citizenship - and in the educational focus to include, alongside schools, out of school and life-long learning. So the notion of citizens defined in relation to the political authority to which they belong appears to be giving way to citizens being seen as people living in society with other people, in a multiplicity of situations and circumstances, and from feelings of belonging and obedience to collective state-centred rules to one of an individual and his/her rights in which the state forms part of the context. In this approach to citizenship both schools and communities they serve and are a part of, are equal partners in the education of each new generation of citizens. This has resulted in a more sophisticated approach which is multi-dimensional in nature and which includes personal development, and a commitment to thinking and acting in ways that take account of national and global communities and their concerns. It has a temporal dimension in that it is concerned with respect for the heritage of the past whilst also protecting the future, It has a spatial dimension in that it acknowledges the different levels of community which must be considered as we face issues which are local, regional, national and global (Cogan and Derricott 2000, 1). Such active notions of citizenship continue to enable the individual to develop the knowledge, understandings and behaviours necessary for them to function in society but also empower individuals. By engendering a depth of criticality, a future citizen might question, critique and discuss the workings of society. It is hoped that this approach might produce citizens who would lead in offering alternative models of the structures and processes of society, based on participation and sets of values.

According to Lynch (1992, 22-3), a developed sense of citizenship education needs a more varied pedagogy:

  1. a democratic classroom ethos, giving rise to feelings of trust among pupils and teachers
  2. collaborative and co-operative approaches
  3. active participation
  4. emphasis on character development
  5. rational, holistic approaches to knowledge and learning, using methods which appeal to the judgement of the learners
  6. help for pupils in evolving and clarifying their own value system
  7. emphasis on open rather than closed tasks and questions
  8. multiple approaches
  9. linked, supportive assessment methods, oriented to student success

In England and Wales the deliberations about the citizenship area of the curriculum were formalised in the Clegg Report (QCA 1998), which suggested that the subject should be a statutory requirement for all pupils and utilise about 5% of teaching time but could be taught in combination with other subjects. It defined citizenship teaching as:

The knowledge and skills and values relevant to the nature and practices of participate democracy; the duties, responsibilities, rights and development of pupils into citizens; and the value to individuals, schools and society of involvement in the local and wider community ... both national and local and an awareness of world affairs and global issues and of the realities of economic life (QCA 1998, 2)

The Clegg Report outlined the benefits of citizenship education for pupils as 'an entitlement in schools that will empower them to participate in society effectively as active, informed, critical and responsible citizens of our democracy and of the wider world'. The benefits for society were 'an active and politically-literate citizenry convinced that they can influence government and community affairs at all levels' (1998, 4).

The Council of Europe's Education for Democratic Citizenship Declaration of May 1999, further enhances the definition:

  1. constitutes a life-long learning experience of participation in various contexts
  2. equips men and women for active and responsible roles in life and society
  3. aims at developing a culture of human rights
  4. prepares people to live in a multicultural society
  5. strengthens social cohesion, mutual understanding and solidarity
  6. promotes inclusive strategies for all age groups and sectors of society
Civics education Citizenship education
Belonging and obedience to collective rules People living in society with other people
Relation to political authority Individual and his/her rights
Exclusive Inclusive
Elitist Activist
Formal Participative
Content-led Process-led
Knowledge-based Values-based
Didactic transmission Interactive interpretation
Table 1: The characteristics of citizenship education


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Last updated: Wed Jul 10 2002