Schools wake up to citizenship;Research Focus;Briefing;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
THE JAPANESE do it. The Swedes do it often and with great rigour. The English, North Americans and Dutch, on the other hand, are a bit diffident about it.

Nevertheless, citizenship education is attracting worldwide attention. An international study carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research showed that citizenship is now a major topic among the 16 countries surveyed.

In most countries, citizenship education influences not only the curriculum but extra-curricular activities. In some US states, teenagers cannot graduate from school unless they have undertaken "service learning", which involves community service.

In Singapore, schools run community-involvement programmes and "learning journeys", where students visit important community institutions. All children also have classes in civics and moral education at primary and secondary level.

But the survey also reveals worrying gaps between policy and practice, and inadequate teacher training and resources. In some countries, teachers sometimes adopted a narrow, knowledge-based approach.

In Switzerland, for example, secondary teachers saw citizenship education as essentially about national history and politics, to be delivered in a didactic, non-controversial way. Teachers in Hungary, Japan and Korea shared the Swiss reluctance for debate.

But as two smaller-scale studies at the University of Reading illustrated, teachers' world-views often guide their classroom practice. Questionnaires and in-depth interviews with 26 teacher trainees revealed widespread disillusionment with the political system. But while one group rejected involvement in politics, the other veered towards grass-roots activism and even radical political action, such as anti-roads protests, that could lead to breaking the law.

When asked what citizenship means, those who were disengaged tended to mention paying taxes and obeying the law. The others took a broader, more abstract view of what being a citizen involves, and discussed attitudes and values.

Teachers' personal attitudes towards citizenship education were analysed in a companion study. Twenty-five primary teachers were asked about their aims and practice in teaching about the developing world in geography lessons. Twelve of the teachers had worked in a developing country with Voluntary Service Overseas; the others had no experience of developing countries.

The two groups had polarised attitudes. While all the teachers fulfilled their curricular aims in geography, those who had worked with VSO combined them with education about global citizenship.

The authors of both studies conclude that teachers need better training if they are to be confident about what citizenship means and how it should be taught.

Citizenship Education: an International Comparison by David Kerr, National Foundation for Educational Research. E-mail: Education for Critical Citizenship: the impact of teachers' world-view on classroom practice in the teaching of values, by Helen Walkington and Chris Wilkins, School of Education, University of Reading. Tel: 0118 987 5123

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