Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION


1997-1998 Annual Report on the State and Needs of Education

Summary

 

The Conseil's aim in this report is to consider the specific contribution the educational system can make to a "new" citizenship, which has become more demanding, more comprehensive and richer in potential as a result of the complexity of modern democratic societies and the issues at stake in the century that is about to begin. The Conseil has decided to approach citizenship in primarily sociological terms; hence the observation that it should be seen as the ability to live together in a democratic, pluralist  society that  is open to the world and - even more - as the ability to work together to build a just and equitable society. In this perspective, then, citizenship refers to qualities, attitudes, behaviours and knowledge that make it possible to create a civic space in which a respect for differences is reconciled with shared values and in which young people are prepared to become active, responsible citizens.

The annual report entitled Éduquer à la citoyenneté has four chapters.

Chapter one concerns the urgent need for citizenship education in a pluralist society.

This chapter seeks to clarify what the concept of citizenship entails today in various societies, including that of Québec.

In the last few years, the subject of citizenship has been a focus of attention in a number of countries, particularly in Europe and North America. Citizenship is perceived both as a problem and as a solution to many of the social ills of modern democracies. The Conseil has addressed the question in all its complexity, showing how the concept and area of concern have broadened in response to the issues and tensions of modern societies, and describing the principal concerns in democratic countries and their relevance to the mission and activities of educational systems. The Conseil also examines certain problems more particular to Québec.

The first chapter concludes by suggesting some points to consider regarding the development of a renewed citizenship and sense of sharing, and by highlighting certain questions upon which it is difficult to reach a consensus. These questions concern the desirable balance between citizens' rights, responsibilities and participation; the definition and construction of a shared civic space; and access to full citizenship. The school has a pivotal role to play in helping to equalize opportunity for all citizens and preparing them to participate fully in democratic society. This is a difficult mission. The Conseil believes that the conditions for full citizenship require that institutions not only promote social equality for all but adopt policies and practices favouring it.

 

Chapter two is entitled "Citizenship education: updating the schools' educational mission."

The transformations under way in contemporary societies create new challenges and raise important questions about the exercise of citizenship in a democratic and pluralist society. As a response to the loosening of social bonds that these transformations seem to engender, societies are increasingly seeking to revitalize the concept of citizenship. And since experience teaches us that human beings do not emerge from the womb as responsible and democratic citizens, the school is expected to play an important role in the task of citizenship education that democratic, pluralist societies must undertake.

The Conseil supérieur de l'éducation is aware that citizenship education is a widespread concern in contemporary society. Everywhere there is unanimous recognition that the educational system is responsible for transmitting and developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities that citizens require in order to live together and create a common framework for responsible, active citizenship. Efforts of this sort have been undertaken in Europe, the United States and Canada. In Québec, the concept of the school's mission in citizenship education took shape as this culturally distinct North American society changed and opened up to the world. The development was marked by major examinations of the issues such as those of the Parent Commission, the Estates-General on Education and various task forces on curriculum reform, and is reflected in the policy statement, Québec Schools on Course.

From now on, the school will have a duty to educate students to become citizens, aware of the issues facing their society and others, and of their responsibility to preserve democratic society and make the world a better place. Students have to learn to use their critical judgement and to contribute actively to the achievement of a world that is open to differences. Citizenship education is education in the values of democracy, pluralism and social commitment.

Citizenship education is situated at the crossroads of the educational system's three missions, socialization, instruction and intellectual development, and qualification, since it is by educating well-rounded individuals that the school can claim to fulfill its role. It seems important to the Conseil, however, to point out certain dangers that could undermine citizenship education: using it for purposes of political indoctrination, confining it narrowly to the issue of multi-ethnicity, approaching it legalistically, limiting it to the content of compulsory instruction, or underestimating the importance of cooperation by all partners in the educational community.

 

Chapter three presents guidelines for citizenship education.

In this chapter, the Conseil looks at how the educational system can prepare future citizens. Only through a combination of careful, consistent planning of relevant subject content, the use of appropriate teaching practices and the establishment of an educational environment that reinforces what is taught in class can citizenship education be expected to live up to the hopes that are placed in it. This strategy must be implemented at all levels - elementary and secondary education, vocational education, higher education and adult education.

The Conseil believes that efforts should focus mainly on the elementary and secondary levels, and that suitably adjusted programs are a condition for effectiveness. It suggests that citizenship education programs should include the following areas:

  • a solid intellectual education that develops the capacity for critical thinking and structured thought
  • a broad, deep cultural background
  • a mastery of French, the language of public life
  • a knowledge of the history of Québec
  • familiarity with political institutions, the basis of democratic life and the charters of rights
  • a knowledge and understanding of the international situation
  • the ability to discuss and debate issues in an appropriate manner
  • democratic values and attitudes of sharing and solidarity

But the Conseil stresses that the content of citizenship education programs should not remain theoretical. Schools should devote as much energy to educating as to informing. This means that they should emphasize active teaching practices that encourage student participation, and that the same participatory approach should be applied to all areas of school life. The Conseil is convinced that citizenship education can only yield tangible results if the students can experience concretely, in their own school environment, the values, rights, responsibilities and participation they learn about in class.

In higher education and in vocational education, the contribution of programs of study to citizenship education will be less direct, and greater reliance should be placed on teaching strategies and an institutional environment that gives students many opportunities to acquire first-hand experience of participation, personal involvement and the exercise of democracy.

The Conseil proposes the following guidelines for the various levels of education:

  • At the elementary and secondary level, the aim should be to achieve a balance between knowledge, skills and attitudes in order to foster the students' ability to live and build a future together.
  • At the college level, program revision provides an opportunity to introduce a citizenship education perspective.
  • At the university level, the approach should be to consolidate the learning achieved at the previous educational levels, with particular emphasis on openness to the world. The Conseil calls on the universities to formulate educational objectives that take into account the need to develop students' social conscience and sense of commitment, and to encourage teaching strategies that develop attitudes and skills likely to enhance participation.
  • In adult education, the Conseil believes that promoting full citizenship will require several different approaches, given the various situations of the adult student population, which includes literacy learners, students seeking professional upgrading, and those who want as broad and as culturally oriented an education as possible.
  • With respect to popular education, the Conseil advocates increased cooperation between the educational institutions and the popular education groups.

The third chapter concludes with the description of various citizenship education activities that are already taking place.

 

Chapter four describes measures that will ensure real citizenship education.

This chapter of the Conseil's annual report has four themes: creating the necessary conditions, recognizing what is already being done, making citizenship education a pivotal element in the school's educational project, and encouraging the emergence of a revitalized citizenship.

Citizenship education requires the creation of appropriate conditions. The Conseil includes among these the active support of all participants in the educational system, particularly teachers, who will have to work together more, and school administrators, who will have to play a leadership role and provide appropriate support for their staff. A further condition concerns the preparation of school staff, especially teachers, who will be expected to teach certain subjects from a new perspective for which they received no direct training in the course of their education. School administrations, the Ministère de l'Éducation and the universities also face a challenge, because each has a major role to play, providing teachers with information, training and professional development. When programs are revised, for example. In addition, the Conseil stresses the importance of affirming the school's commitment to citizenship education in its educational project, in order to establish an educational environment that supports the teaching and practice of active, responsible citizenship. The report also mentions the need for evaluation that takes into account the objectives pursued by citizenship education. Finally, the report observes that the success of the undertaking depends on the teachers' own exercise of citizenship, their openness to the world, expertise and involvement in the educational community.

The educational system cannot shoulder the entire responsibility for preparing active citizens with a strong commitment to democratic principles. Citizenship education should be part of the development of a political culture that goes far beyond the schoolyard, affecting all aspects of life in society. In this spirit, the Conseil invites all educational institutions to cooperate more actively with other groups or institutions, which also have a contribution to make to the citizenship education process, and calls on the political decision makers to promote the principles and values underlying this vision of society. In particular, the Conseil considers it the role of the Minister of Education to take the lead in supporting the idea of citizenship education and providing the means for its implementation in the schools. The Conseil calls on the Minister to take the initiative in establishing cooperation with the other ministers in order to make government policies and measures more consistent with a common vision of citizenship.

In this chapter, the Conseil indicates other locuses of citizenship education, such as the family, the union movement and educational television, and gives examples of measures carried out in collaboration with the educational milieu or by community groups.

In short

The Conseil chose to focus on citizenship education in its annual report because it wanted to explore citizenship education in relation to the mission of the educational system and look at the roles of the various players involved.

This is a difficult undertaking, given the ongoing debate on the concept of citizenship and the context of globalization and changing relationships among states. We do not claim to have clarified all aspects of the issue nor to have answered every question that citizenship education raises for our entire educational system.

Given the relevance of the matter, however, and the desirability of making citizen education part of the schools' educational mission, the Conseil considered it appropriate to provide some guidelines for those concerned by the inclusion of citizenship education in the mandate of Québec schools. The schools' existing responsibilities in this area need to be reviewed and updated. The proposal in the educational policy statement Québec Schools on Course to the effect that a citizenship education course be implemented at the elementary and secondary levels by September 1999 made it imperative for the Conseil to state its views immediately, even though it intends to continue examining the issue over the next few years.


Document complet - in French (PDF)

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