Citizenship education: The feasibility of a participative approach

Guerin, L. J. F., van der Ploeg, P. A. & Sins, P. H. M., 1-Dec-2013, In : Educational research. 55, 4, p. 427-440 14 p.

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  • Citizenship education the feasibility of a participative approach

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Background:European and national policies on citizenship education stimulate the implementation of a participative approach to citizenship education, fostering active citizenship. The reason given for fostering active citizenship is the decline of participation in political and social life jeopardizing democracy. Schools have to implement a participative approach through stimulating participation within school and its direct environment, while fostering a certain kind of political literacy, critical thinking and analysing skills, certain kind of values, attitudes and behaviours.Purpose:The purpose of this article is to problematise the participative approach of citizenship education advocated by policy makers and several researchers. In order to do so, four different categories that citizenship education has to cover will be theoretically and empirically analysed: political knowledge, critical thinking, values, attitudes and behaviours, and active participation. The practical implications for educational practice will be discussed.Source of evidence:Two types of documents have been analysed: The 2005 and 2012 Eurydice reports and the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) research reports. These documents are exemplary of the mainstream idea of citizenship and citizenship education held by policy makers and many researchers on citizenship education. The Eurydice reports have analysed citizenship education in more than 30 countries while promoting a certain concept of citizenship education, namely active citizenship. The ICCS has researched pupils' competencies on citizenship education and school practices in 38 countries. It is an interesting source because it had to define and operationalise the different constituents of citizenship education.Main argument:In jurisdictions where citizenship education is compulsory, schools have to implement this participative approach and account for it. We suggest that this educational approach to citizenship education may be problematic because each aspect - political literacy, critical thinking and analysing skills, values, attitudes and behaviours, and active participation - presents challenging demands on the curriculum, head teachers and teachers. We argue three kinds of constraints that make the implementation of such a participative approach unrealistic: (1) insufficient specialist knowledge on the part of teachers and head teachers, (2) time and budget constraints and (3) an overcrowded curriculum. We demonstrate that the broad range of themes that political literacy has to cover demand specific knowledge on the part of teachers regarding each of the themes. Then we argue that critical thinking skills are hard to learn and demand continuous practice. Implementing and sustaining active participation structure within school and in the direct environment, again, require specific skills and curricular organisation. The demands made by values, attitudes and behaviours on teachers and pupils could not be explored because of the lack of conceptual clarity in the documentation under scrutiny.Conclusion:The feasibility of a participative approach to citizenship education has been questioned through theoretical and empirical critical analysis. On this basis, we suggest that the scope of the citizenship education curriculum should be reconsidered or that teacher and head teacher should receive the necessary and adequate training, and support to implement such a participatory structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-440
Number of pages14
JournalEducational research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2013


  • civic education, citizenship, citizenship education, participation, active participation, CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS, CONTEXT, DISPOSITIONS, METAANALYSIS, NETHERLANDS, STRENGTH, OUTCOMES

ID: 5991027