Civic education in the uk

Civic education in the uk

Examine the debate about civic education in the UK and the record so far. Is there evidence of success or failure?


This part of the presentation will address civic education for young people

In order to answer the question of whether civic education is the answer to declining participation, the declining involvement of youth will be addressed, key components of the civic education system in the UK will be outlined, alternative and arguably more effective forms of education will be addressed and I will also take a look at the involvement of young people in other political aspects of the community.

Defining an ideal citizen

The concepts of a 'good' or 'active' citizen are interpretive, altering throughout many demographics within the United Kingdom. The diverse population of the UK, within social class systems, ethnic groups and religious groups for example, mean that many concepts of what constitutes citizenship exist within its population. We must understand the notion of a 'good' or 'active' citizen in order to measure the success or failure of Civic education in the United Kingdom. Although there may be variation within these classifications, an 'active' citizen is one who engages in the political process and engages in broader society.

An ideal active citizen will participate in society in a variety ways. Norris (2002, p216) identifies voting as one of the most common forms of political participation. Turn out for elections is a fundamental element of civic engagement within contemporary representative democracies. Franklin and Van Der Eijk (2009, p1) note that elections allow citizens who vote an opportunity to express their political preferences, which have implications for the conduct of a government and the policies that a government will peruse. If a society is to remain democratic, citizens must have an input within this process. An active citizen may also partake in party membership. Norris (2002, p218) states that parties serve multiple functions:

simplifying and structuring electoral choices; organising and mobilising campaigns; articulating and aggregating disparate interests; channelling communication, consultation, and debate; training, recruiting, and selecting candidates; structuring parliamentary divisions; acting as policy think tanks; and organising government.

An active citizen would use their knowledge of politics and the political system in selecting a party that best represented the interests of themselves and their perceived notion of a wider benefit.

As well as participation in the political process citizens must work towards achieving social capital. This can be understood as the creation of community within society. At its most simple level social capital should be produced through organisations of family, friends, neighbourhoods and schools. Putnam (2000, p19) defines the concept of social capital as;

connections among individuals - social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.

In order to achieve an ideal vision of citizenship, individuals must become involved within the community, as well as within the political process. Norris (2002, p220) claims that Putnam's thesis maybe realised by citizens belonging to environmental groups, sports clubs, volunteering, religious organisations and civic groups such as the parent- teacher association. Putnam (1995, p68) claims that civic engagement leads to trust within society and the realisation of democracy. Civic education aims to create well rounded citizens, the success or failure of such education should be based on these outcomes. Does civic education produce such citizens? Are individuals politically engaged? Do individuals partake in civic activity?

Declining participation in young people

The median young person does not vote and doesn't belong to a political party and has very little trust in political institutions. According to Kisbyet. el. (2009, p2)turnout for the 2005 general election historic low of 37%. Only 10% of young people are said to 'trust' politicians and just 6% trust political parties. This is perceived by Kisby to be due to the increasingly irrelevance of political parties for young people. Mair and Van Biezen (2001, p7) suggests thatsuch disengagement may also be due to the limited opportunity for young people to express their opinions, or party strategies to maximise votes that rationally neglects marginalised groups that are less likely to vote, such as youth, and, the weakening of young people's position in relation to the labour market and the welfare state.

Figure one: Voter Turnout By Age

The figures within this table highlight the argument that the amount of participation in voting from youth has decreased over the past two UK elections.

These issues have been contributing drivers for promoting civic education in schools. Signs of youth disengagement have made civic education high in the agenda for national governments and supranational organisations such as the council of Europe and the European commission. According to Kerr (2009, p18) within a paper by the Institute of Global Ethics other factors include;

  • Concern about weakening political and civic engagement in society or disengagement, particularly among the young;
  • Increased movement of peoples within and across countries and the pressures on community cohesion and inter-cultural relations;
  • The enlargement of supra-national entities such as the European Union (EU);
  • The impact of global events, particularly 9/11 and the London, Madrid and Mumbai attacks, and concerns about combating terrorism and extremism;
  • Issues around the management and future of the planet concerning global citizenship, the environment and the world economy.
  • And finally the lack of trust for politicians and political parties.

Implementing civic education theoretically provides a step towards overcoming these obstacles of modern society in the UK.

The civic education curriculum for adolescent civic education in schools within the United Kingdom

Citizenship education became a compulsory subject in the national curriculum for secondary schools in August 2002 across the United Kingdom. However studies of citizenship in England, Wales, Northern Island and Scotland have all evolved in different ways.

  • September 2007 local and global citizenship became a statutory component of the revised Northern Ireland curriculum

  • In Scotland, Values and Citizenship is one of the five National Priorities in Education;
  • In Wales, Citizenship is part of the statutory provision for Personal and Social Education (PSE) and Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC).

When first introduced to the united kingdom citizenship education has three strands: political literacy, social and moral responsibility and community engagement. Kisby et. el. (2009, p2) state thatthe aims of the course were to teach young people to become well informed, responsible citizens engaged in mainstream political and civic activities, such as voting and engaging in voluntary work, in particular at a local community level. Citizenship education covers: politics and government, the legal system, equal opportunities and human rights issues. New citizenship education has included a forth strand 'identity and diversity: living together in the UK' which teaches children about matters at both a national and regional level. These include ethic and religious cultures and their connections, children are also required to explore the concept of community cohesion. Kisby et. el. (2009, p7)state thata full GCSE was to be made available from September 2009 and an A level in citizenship education is also being devised.

According to Kisby et. el. (2009, p6)the aim of citizenship and values education is no longer just about encouraging formal political participation in civic society, but also now about preparation for informal participation in civil society; acquisition of a greater understanding and appreciation of issues of identity and belonging, community cohesion, diversity and inclusion in society; and development of a sense of citizenship in a global context, particularly around issues of sustainable development and also the environment. According to Andrews et. el. (2007,p11) the school system often teaches students citizenship promoting 'compliance' and 'authority' instead of autonomy. A problem with the courses seem to be the descriptive nature, lacking analytical and critical element, making the content a shallow introduction to the realities of various political processes.

Alternative forms of civic education for youth

Civic education is part of the curriculum, in which civic ideals are taught in a traditional format, however civic studies may be received better by students if taught in alternative ways. Kisby et. el. (2009, p6)suggest that schools can act as mini-polities. In this format students will learn to be effective citizens if there is importance placed upon the democratic nature of, and opportunities for expression in schools. Andrews et. el.(2007, p11) claim that schools provide formative arenas for expression and civic engagement, for practice in social relations and in dealing with authority. This may be a more effective format of citizenship as it is an interactive experience that relates to students own experiences, and allows them to participate in and reflect upon the wide spectrum of democratic politics. This concept may be understood as experiential learning.

Experiential learning is learning through reflection of doing, for example a child may learn about animals better at a zoo rather than reading about animals in a book. In doing this the child is making their own discovery and not learning second hand. Kolb et. el. (2005, p199) state thatexperiential learning requires no teacher it does however require the learner to be willingly involved in the learning experiences, the learner must be able to reflect on their experiences, must possess and use analytical skills to grasp the experience and finally the learner must also possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained form the experience.

Civic education is believed to be most effectively taught through such an interactive approach. Kolb et. el. (2005, p200) suggests that experiential learning connects learning to students past experiences and promotes the notion of students actively and collaboratively engaging in participation activities that address issues relevant to their own lives. This learning style leads to the development of knowledge and skills facilitated through performance and games. Kolb et. el. (2005, p199)claims thatthis participation in work-based learning concerned with achieving public goods, and emphasises the importance of participants reflecting on and analysing the activities undertaken. Citizenship lessons, through the 'community involvement' strand, encourage students to engage in participative activities. According to Kisby et. el.(2009, p7)research in the united states shows that 'educating democracy' can and should employ a variety of educational practices: learning through 'discussion and deliberation', 'political research and action projects', 'speakers and mentors', 'placements, intern-ships and service learning' and 'structured reflection'. This is however believed to push young people in the direction of volunteering and not voting. However, knowledge, participation and deliberation are all vitally important elements that must be linked together in citizenship lessons, if it is to be active citizenship rather than just volunteering that students are engaged in.

Youth engagement in the political process

Youth participation and engagement concerning politics in the United Kingdom remains low, suggesting a failure of citizenship studies. This conclusion can be assessed in relation to the participation of young people in the political process after civic education was made compulsory in schools across the United Kingdom in 2002. Research conducted by the Hansard Society provides analysis of current political attitudes, gained from face-to-face survey data. The audit of political attitudes and participation combines regular questions which measure underlying trends on public

engagement from year to year, as well as special sections focusing on particular issues or

sections of the population. This research is funded by the House of Commons and the Ministry of Justice. From this data we are presented with details of young peoples attitudes towards the political process in 2009, long after the implementation of civic education throughout schools in the United Kingdom.

It appears that civic education in the United Kingdom has failed to engage youth in the political process. Interest in politics remains low among youth. The Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 6 (2009, p48) displays that only one third (35%) of those aged 18-24 say they are interested, compared to over half of people for all age groups above the age of 25. It can be assumed that without interest in politics, other forms of political participation will, in turn, be low.

Evidence of youth holding political knowledge appears low despite of civic education. According to data calculated by the Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 6 (2009, p50) perceived knowledge appears to correlate with age, with 32% of 18-24 year olds saying they know at least ‘a fair amount' about politics increasing steadily to 60% of 65-74 year olds, though only 49% of the 75+ age group say the same.
As displayed in Figureoneyouth turnout appears to be declining. Voting is seen as a fundamental factor of active citizenship, contributing to a successful democracy. The Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 6 (2009, p48) shows that only 24% of youth ages between 18-24 claim they would vote in an immediate general election compared to the average of 53%. The self proclaimed likeliness to vote in general elections appears to increase with age as displayed in the findings below.

Civic education aims to teach students about ideal citizenship in a democratic society. However this lack of willingness to vote and lack of engagement with the political process shows that civic and political theory taught with civic education may not be put into practice after class.

Within youth the understanding of what constitutes a good citizen and implementing such beliefs are not linked. This is evident in relation to civic involvement in political parties. The Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 6 (2009, p57) details that joining a political party is seen by the smallest proportion of the public as an important behaviour of a good citizen: nearly 63% of those surveyed say it is ‘fairly unimportant' or ‘not important at all'. However joining a political party is more likely to be seen as important by the younger population. 42% of surveyed 18-24 year olds believe joining a political party is essential or important in order to be a good citizen, compared to 34% of the public as a whole. Yet there is a contrast evident between the large number of people who think something is important and their willingness to actually do it. According to the audit of political participation, just 1% of 18-24 year olds have paid a membership fee or made a donation to a political party in the last two or three years. Political participation appears to be unchanged by the implementation of compulsory civic education throughout the United Kingdom. However youth appear to becoming engaged in different ways.

Involvement of young people in civic activity

Civics education is seen to have an impact on the involvement of youth in wider society.According to Pattieet. el. (2004, p173)through access to civic education young people are becoming increasingly involved within the community, both locally and global in different ways. Kisby et. el. (2009, p3) claim thatwhile trust for politicians and political parties is seen to be decreasing around a third of young people trust certain non government organisation's like the amnesty International and Greenpeace.
From the above data, from the Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 6 (2009, p58) we can see that 24% of youth aged between 18-24 donated to charity or campaigning organisations, compared to the very low 1% of surveyed youth who contributed to political parties. By donating to Charity and non government organisations youth may believe that they are contributing to bettering a situation close to their heart, in which their contribution will actually make a difference. These issues, usually of global significance make youth contributors to a wider, global society.

Is civic education having a positive effect on civic engagement and political participation for youth?

Youth participation should not be divorced from broader developments in society given that participation depends as much on class, income, educational attainment and regional location as it does on age. citizenship education is just one element of addressing the demand side of trying to positively influence young people's civic attitudes. It is hard to isolate civic education as the sole contributor to creating active young citizens. Other factors may engage young citizens. Park et el. (2004, p33) emphasise the role of socio-economic class in civic engagement as they claim young people from more advantaged backgrounds are significantly more likely than those from less advantaged house holds to engage in politics. Motivation may also arise for young people from the political climate Kisby et. el. (2009, p323) claim that this wasseen to some extent with the success of Barack Obama in the US.

Young peoples participation in politics and engagement with the political process appears to be unaffected by civic education. However it is evident that young people are interested and engaged in alternative ways. From this observation it appears that while students are gaining an understanding of what it means to be a good citizen, few are practising many aspects of it.

According to data accessed from UCAS a number of students taking A-levels and enrolling for politics degree programmes has increased over the past decade. There were a total of 5239 applicants to politics degrees in 2008 according to the facts and figures of the UCAS, compared to 2692 in 1996 long before civic education was made compulsory.

This may highlight a success in the civics education program. It seems that civic education studies have motivated youth to gain further education on politics and the political process. This sharp incline of applicants to politics programs across the United Kingdom may also be the result of an influx of applicants across all university courses.

According to reference citizenship lessons are likely to have a positive impact on pupil engagement in society in the longer term. However, contrary to this belief, Milner (2002, p118) suggests that it uncertain of whether or not children retain the information received in civic education studies at school throughout their adult lives. Park et el. (2004, p33) claim that young people living with adults who show an interest in politics are more likely to become interested in politics themselves, to identify with a political party and believe and understand that it is everyone's civic duty to vote. This suggests that an engaged adult population who practice politics and contribute to society would result in a more engaged youth. Therefore some form of adult education is required to uphold an engaged citizenry.

Adult civic education

Similarly to civic education within schools, Boggs (1991, p81) defines civic education for adults as a purposeful and systematic effort to develop within adults the skills and personal requirements needed to function as citizens within their community. Adults have greater roles within the community then youth of school age, it is important for them to understand the requirements of a citizen within a democracy. Milner (2002, p117) suggests that there is good reason to believe that , when it comes to civic literacy, the content of what is learned as an adult is more important than that learned in schools during youth. Adults over the age of 18 are able to partake in elections, most have an income enabling them to contribute to society, political decisions appear to affect them more directly then young people. Adults need civic knowledge to protect their interests within elections and to contribute to their community. It is for these reasons Milner (2002, p 119) believes that it is fundamental that civic education is reinforced throughout the lives of adults in order to produce citizens effectively engaged in society and the political process. Without refreshing political ideas in adult minds disengagement will occur, as opinions and values become outdated. Engaged adults lead to greater engagement within younger cohorts of the electorate, meaning that an interest in the political process and in activities relating to civic engagement will be perpetuated. There does however appear to be a lack of civic education courses for adults in the United Kingdom. In order for the true potential of civic education to be realised, civic education must be aimed at both school aged youth and adults alike.

Difficulties in assessing civic education's success or failure

The success or failure of civic education can be assessed by the political and social activities partaken in after engaging with study. Therefore isolating the success or failure of civic education is difficult. Other factors play a part in the engagement of citizens in the political process and in society more generally. Participation is marked by socio-economic status, ethnicity, age, gender and income as well as education. The role of education in creating 'good' and 'active' citizens is hard to assess when many aspects play a part in the outcome.

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