Why Should Young People Study Citizenship in Schools?

Why Should Young People Study Citizenship in Schools?


The aim of this essay is to explore the reasons why Citizenship should be taught to young students and highlight its significance in terms of cognitive learning. The paper intends to critically analyze arguments that are given in favor as well as against citizenship education in schools, however, the major focus will be on the importance and benefits of such an academic course. The discussion will begin with a brief review of factors that has motivated educationalist to introduce citizenship education in learning institutions and it will be followed by a comprehensive account of elements that makes such an education vital for young people. In addition to this, arguments presented by those who oppose this trend in academics will also be outlined in the essay.
Political socialization and the promotion of skills and knowledge for democratic contribution is at the core of citizenship education. However, there exist strong contentions among curricula designers regarding the form that citizenship and political education should take and also whether or not it should be introduced as a separate subject in schools. The root cause of such contentions is the vast differences in conceptions about politics and political empowerment, understanding of the social order and of the potential of education to create a social change (McCowan 2006, p. 57). The issue of giving political education to students has been a heatedly debated topic for last 40 years. A number of steps were taken either directly under the name of ‘political’ or indirectly under the banner of human rights, peace or social development. The chief purpose of all these efforts was to enable young people to develop skills and aptitude for effective and active political participation and to make them contribute in the establishment and sustenance of a democratic society. But such initiatives were faced with immense criticism largely because of their ideological nature and their secondary significance in a curriculum that was already overloaded.


Development of Citizenship Education

Citizenship education has a long but unsteady history in England. With the introduction of education as a compulsory subject in the early nineteenth century, material regarding civic education was produced on the demands of school teachers and private school boards, a trend that was adopted rapidly. By the start of the twentieth century, a movement calling for adopting citizenship education and making it compulsory in learning centers began to take shape. As a result of this, the Association of Education in Citizenship was formed in 1934 following huge pressure from its advocators. However, this movement was sidelined during the Second World War and the belief that religious education is sufficient for creating responsible citizens gained dominance (Democratic life 2010, p.3).
The subject again gained wide-scale attention in the 1980’s and 90’s as concerns grew among the academic circles regarding young people’s civil apathy. The introduction of citizenship education as a subject in educational institutions, which was finally implemented in 2002, provided an official presence to the teaching of political issues (McCowan 2006, p. 57) but at the same time sparked debates over the need of the subject and the ways by which it should be implemented and taught.

The Importance of Citizenship Education

According to the definition of Citizenship as given by Gearon, L (2009, p.3), ‘It is the practice of ensuring people the entitlements essential to the exercise of their freedom and rights and citizenship is about making continuous effort to make freedom real and not just a package of good intentions’. And citizenship education is about building a relationship between state and its citizens. Teaching citizenship to students involves exploring dominant moral and political current debates. It also includes promoting fundamental civic values and character traits that are considered vital for building a responsible national community.
Education for citizenship has been enforced as a separate subject because educationalist and scholars believe that such an academic training will aid students in their development as a responsible and contributing citizen (Jerome 2002, p.1). The National Curricula for citizenship education has been designed in order to enable students to; (1) deliberate and respond to political, social and national issues with enhanced confidence, (2) understand their duties as a citizen, (3) acquire a better understanding of the dramatically change political dynamics and social structures, (4) get enhanced understanding of the political and state forces that influence their lives, (5) discover their potential for collective and individual efforts, (6) be motivated for actively participating in the wider community, (7) be fully aware of their rights and duties towards other, (8) acquire the values and attitudes which are essential if they are to live in a culturally diverse society. With all these aims at its heart, it is not difficult to understand why citizenship education is of immense importance. If these teaching objectives are achieved, schools can bring about a social transformation. These objectives will be discussed in detail in the following paragraphs.

Increased Acceptability of Differences

If children are given citizenship education from an early age, they are likely to be more accustomed to dealing with their differences in a rational way and will accept these differences as something normal. Citizenship education helps individuals to learn to respect people with different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities and cultures (Citizenship Foundations n.d). As societies continue to grow into multicultural diverse communities and people from all parts of the world migrate to developed countries in search of better opportunities, a significant rise in prejudicial attitudes and stereotypical behavior towards people of different nationalities has been observed, which has also given rise to several psychological, social, judicial as well as political problems. If citizenship education is imparted in primary schools and if it successfully meet its goals, then such biased attitudes can be prevented to a great extent (Kerr 1999, p.2).

Awareness of Rights, Responsibilities and Duties

Civics or citizenship education is interpreted generally to involve the preparation of young mind playing their role effectively in the society and this is accomplished by making them conscious of their social and moral duties and responsibilities as a citizen of a democratic society (Gearon 2006, p.64). The main objective of the curricula designers’ efforts to develop and implement citizenship education courses is provide a broad knowledge to pupil about their rights and duties as a citizen and to enable them to wisely demonstrate their understanding of personal and collective responsibilities through engagement in various community-based activities (Jerome 2002, p.42).

Enhanced Understanding of Political and Social Elements

Teaching of citizenship courses in schools is aimed at enhancing children’s and adolescents’ understanding of certain socio-political elements that shape their lives. These elements encompass economic and legal system, roles and forms of government, civil and criminal justice, contribution of the volunteer sector, political machinery, community cohesion, human rights and other essentials of a democratic state. If taught in a well-planned and effective manner, citizenship education is likely to help students develop their analytical skills, challenge social injustice, bias, discrimination and inequalities and critically discuss various political, social and moral problems prevailing in the society.

Scope of Citizenship Education

Citizenship education is a term which has been distinguished from civics education but it incorporates wide range of subjects including social sciences, civics, social studies, moral education, life skills and world studies. In addition to this, it also has strong association with subjects such as religious studies, economics, history, law, environmental studies and geography (Kerr 1999, p.2). The diversity of subjects and the link with wide variety to topics depicts the importance, scope and complexity of the issues that are addressed in this field. The significance of Citizenship education has grown dramatically in last four decades and continues to increase as nations are faced with newer socio-economic and political challenges and they seek to better prepare young people to efficiently overcome these challenges of the swiftly changing world. Many countries today are introducing educational, or to be specific, curricula reforms and citizenship education is an integral part of the restructuring process (Kerr 1999, p.2). It highlights the fact that world’s democracies, both major ( such as U.S or U.K) or comparatively weaker ( such as Hungary, Pakistan) are steadily responding to global changes taking place in the area of schooling and academics and hence, the need to train young people to become good citizens has been realized by all.

Values, Beliefs and Disposition

Citizenship education serves to develop the key values and fundamental beliefs that play an important role in the establishment of a healthy democratic state. As stated by the Ex-Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair ‘We should not shy away from teaching people the responsibilities, values duties and rights of citizenship to make sure that all the different communities fulfilled their duty to integrate’ and his successor Gordon Brown also strongly advocated the idea of teaching citizenship in schools in order to ‘re-enforce the concept of Britishness and its true meaning’ (Tonge et.al 2012). Such a course equips young minds to critically engage with diverse values, ideas and beliefs they share as citizens and to better understand how the global society is changing (National Curriculum 2007).

Political Awareness

Citizenship education was initially introduced in schools on the philosophy of building a strong vertical relationship between the state and citizens by means of democratic participation and social renewal (Tonge et.al 2012). However, concerns over the political involvement of youth and the continual emphasis on the need to enable them to socialize better gave way to stress on the need to redefine national identity and the sense of belonging. In UK particularly, these concerns were driven largely by the riots in Bradford and Oldham and gain intensity with the 2005 London attacks. In the recent years, increasing efforts have been made to tune citizenship education with the right political knowledge that could bring about civil renewal and ensure active citizenship. As argued by Blunkett (cited in Tonge et.al 2012) education for citizenship would provide youth the skills to respond responsibly and justifiably to the changing social and political climate, suggesting that such academic programs have a great potential to shape the attitudes of youngsters towards racism and the growingly complex multi-cultural society. It has also been argued that making citizenship a part of school curriculum, a more tolerant, civic and more demanding sense of nationalism can be generate (Tonge et.al 2012).
Citizenship not only lays stress on the social and political dimensions but also takes into account the impact of historical context. Such an education will facilitate students to make sense of today’s world and to equip them for facing community changes and challenges. As they are taught about their right to freedom and justice, they are also provided with an in-depth knowledge of how parliament and government machinery works, how laws that influence citizens’ lives are made and also how individuals can effectively take part in the electoral and democratic process to make their contributions in the local and national decisions.

Social Researches and Their Findings

Numerous small-scale as well as large-scales social researches have been conducted for determining the effect of citizenship education in schools. The National Foundation for Education Research carried out an empirical study in 2001 to investigate the influence of citizenship education programs on the learning outcomes and experiences of individuals (Keating et.al, 2001). The main objectives of the study were to evaluate the short-term as well as the long-term effects of citizenship education on youth, to find out whether different teaching processes can have different outcomes and finally, to highlight any potential changes that can be made to improve the effectiveness of such courses.
The findings of the research showed that citizenship practices of young people have significantly changed over time in terms of their efficacy, attitudes and attachments, however the results are mixed. While there has been a clearly visible rise in the youth’s civic sense and political participation, there has also been an evident increase in hard attitudes towards society and equality, a fading attachment with communities and instable levels of trust and efficacy in the politics (Keating et.al, 2001). The factors that are mainly responsible for such fluctuating attitudes and learning outcomes include individual’s age, background factors, life-stage, previous citizenship results and the level of citizenship education received. The research suggested that citizenship learning should be begin at school level and must go beyond college level in order to improve its effectiveness. It was also recommended that certain changes in the teaching procedures need to be adopted for enhanced political literacy (Keating et.al, 2001).

Opposing Arguments

Ever since the need of introducing citizenship education has gained attention, there has also been much opposition to this trend. Initially when the education for citizenship movement started in the early 20th century, the major opposing viewpoint was that introduction of such a subject will be an extra burden on students and study and exam stress would undermine the true purpose of citizenship learning. However, the nature of arguments against this subject changed with the passage of time. The challengers claim that the guiding material has been extremely inadequate as it does not take into account the fact that citizenship is fundamentally a contested topic. Furthermore, the aims and objectives of such courses involve complicated practical and educational issues that can’t be resolved, especially in the changing political scenario (Beck 1996).
There has also been growing concerns about the way the subject should be taught as it has a highly sensitive nature and if not handled by an unbiased specialist, it can transfer adverse concepts that can ultimately give rise to negative or extreme beliefs about immigrants and people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Several reports have underlined the assessment, resource and pedagogic problems encountered in introducing the subject in school curriculum because little or no consideration has been given to bias or inequalities in the quantity and quality of education which could have affect its teaching in schools and can have severe consequences in terms of contrasting political and economic opinions and policies.
Many argue that participative and enlightened citizenship, and the principles and ethical values that encourage its progress, are best served by a democratic, classless ethos which promotes justice and social attachment in education and the larger society. Even rigid supporters of the slogan, ‘no responsibilities no rights’, claim that citizenship education may be unsuccessful if it lacks morality in the context of active search for social justice and educational equality.


In spite of all the above mentioned misunderstandings and opposing arguments, the importance of having citizenship education implemented in schools cannot be denied. It has been argued by theorists and practitioners that citizenship education provides for enhanced learning and understanding of duties and rights of citizens, indicating that citizenship classrooms can be best platforms for moving people from ‘choosers and users’ to being ‘creators and shapers’ of a fundamentally democratic society. Education for citizenship in schools not only tends to empower young people by making them aware of their rights as a citizen but also motivates them to play an active role in the political field and in the society at large.


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