Posted by: Principal/Editor | March 20, 2015

How is Civics and Citizenship Education taught? Comparative Perspectives

How is civics and citizenship education taught in different contexts? This piece attempts to answer this question in three parts. The first part touches briefly on the 1999 seminal work of Judith Torney-Putra and her colleagues in which they attempted to map the global situation of civics and civics education. The second part shifts to the year 2010 in which Wolfram Schulz and his team continue the global mapping of the state of civics and citizenship education. The third and final part compares how civics and citizenship education is taught in two very different contexts: Singapore, a city-state where a highly-centralised exam meritocracy prevails and Australia, a vast island continent in which education is decentralised to its states and territories resulting in great variation in terms of the way education is implemented and in its outcomes.

Seminal work on Civics and Citizenship Education: the IEA Comparative Study

In 1999, the landmark study of Torney-Putra et al. identified the state of affairs of Civics and Citizenship education. Supported by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Torney-Putra et al. undertook a comprehensive and comparative study of how 14 year olds from 24 different nations viewed civics and citizenship education. Among the many findings from that seminal work, two points that have a direct impact on schooling are worth mentioning.

The first point refers to the unfortunate but very real issue of “low-status” afforded to subjects related to civic education:

Civic education is a low-status subject and curricular aim in most of these countries. Civic goals are thought of as important, but much less critical than goals in subject areas such as science, for example. For very few students is any civics-related subject part of an important exit or entrance examination.[1]

The other point reveals the hesitancy on the part of teachers to address the more meaningful issues in civics and citizenship education. This second point is also concerned with ways in which civic education can best be taught:

Teachers in many countries are concerned about tackling topics that may be objected to by members of the community, find it difficult to implement changes in pedagogy and are uncertain about their own adequacy when several disciplines are connected in a teaching program. Perhaps civics has to adopt more team teaching.[2]

Today as we march on towards the 21st century, it may be worthwhile to ask whether these two issues raised by Torney-Putra et al. in 1999 are still relevant? Is civic education still seen as a low-status subject? Do teachers still experience hesitancy in addressing the more controversial and more often meaningful issues in civic education?

Revisiting the IEA Civics Comparative Study

Schulz et al. completed another major research undertaking in 2010, and in the process re-visiting the 1999 IEA Civics Comparative Study. Reflecting on the two earlier points raised in the 1999 IEA Study and how these same issues appear a decade later reveals some interesting insights. One of the more interesting findings from the 2010 study, is related to how teachers seem to have progressed in the way that they view how to teach civics and citizenship education:

 Most teachers regarded the development of knowledge and skills as the most important aim of civic and citizenship education. For teachers, this development included “promoting knowledge of social, political, and civic institutions,” “developing students’ skills and competencies in conflict resolution,” “promoting knowledge of citizens’ rights and responsibilities,” and “promoting students’ critical and independent thinking.” [3]

From the hesitancy experienced by teachers in the 1999 survey, the 2010 study sees today’s generation of teachers affirming that the most important aim of civics and citizenship education is the “development of knowledge and skills.” Do these findings resonate with our contemporary experiences in relation to how civic and citizenship education is taught today? Would it be safe to say that the hesitancy of the 1990s among teachers to teach controversial topics is a thing of the past? What about the seeming preoccupation of present-day teachers who view that civic and citizenship education is primarily the development of knowledge and skills? Is there a place for beliefs, dispositions, and actual practices as part of civics and citizenship education?

In relation to the low-status afforded to civics and citizenship education reported in the 1999 research project, the 2010 study reveals a different look in relation to how this subject is seen within the curriculum.

 Civic and citizenship education in the curriculum furthermore includes a wide range of topics. It encompasses knowledge and understanding of political institutions and concepts, such as human rights, as well as newer topics that cover social and community cohesion, diversity, the environment, communications, and global society.[4]

Civics and citizenship education seem to have gained prominence in today’s educational curriculum. The resurgence of civic education is reinforced by scholars who have cited empirical evidence hinting that greater exposure to educational experiences translate to increased notions of civicness[5] and that civic education contributes to the creation of citizens with enhanced dispositions towards learning.[6]

Given the importance of civics and citizenship education – How is the component of Values Education taught in different contexts?

Two contrasting countries that share some striking similarities will be used as the starting points to try to address this question. Australia, a huge land mass of diverse states and territories with a decentralised and highly-varied education system is compared with Singapore, referred to as the little red dot,[7] typified by a highly-centralised education system. Although very different in terms of its location and topography, both nations share a colonial British history. In terms of educational achievements of its students measured  by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), both nations share very similar results:[8]

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 4.23.03 pm

How is civics and citizenship education taught in Australia? More specifically, if one zeroes in on the idea of values education, how is this taught in Australian schools? This Australian video, provides a succinct explanation as to how this subject is taught in a vast multicultural country:

As can be gleaned from the video, teaching civics and citizenship education in Australia is built upon the foundations of inquiry learning. There is a quality of critical reflection in the way it is taught and for individual students – civics and citizenship education are seen to be powerful ways to help students and learners clarify what their personal values are. Do these ideas resonate with what you, as a beginning teacher, envision as your role in teaching components of civics and citizenship education? Do you see yourself as a teacher who would be able to facilitate your students’ need to clarify their personal values?

How is civics and civic education taught in Singapore? To be more specific, how is values education imparted in Singapore schools? This short video provides a glimpse of how values education is taught within the domain of civics and citizenship education in Singapore:

One can argue that Singapore-style of values education is somehow different from how it is taught in Australian schools. Instead of focusing on inquiry learning, it would seem that for Singapore schools, values inculcation, is the initial starting point or foundation of its civics and citizenship education. Do you believe that values inculcation is the pivotal starting point for civics and citizenship education? If you were given a choice, would you adopt the Australian approach that builds on inquiry learning? Or would you adopt the Singaporean-style of values inculcation?


[1] Torney-Putra, Judith., Schwilled, John., & Amadeo, Jo-Ann. (1999). Civic Education across Countries: Twenty-four ational Case Studies from the IEA Civic Education Project. The Hague, Netherlands: IEA Secretariat., p. 32

[2] Ibid., p. 34

[3] Schulz, Wolfram., Ainley, John., Fraillon, Julian., Kerr, David., & Losito, Bruno. (2010). Initial Findings from the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).,p.11

[4] Schulz, Wolfram., Ainley, John., Fraillon, Julian., Kerr, David., & Losito, Bruno. (2010). Initial Findings from the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).,p.31

[5] Dee, Thomas. (2004). Are there civic returns to education? Journal of Public Economics, 88(9-10), 1697-1720.

[6] Seddon, Terri. (2004). Remaking Civic Formation: towards a learning citizen. London Review of Education, 2(3), 171-186.

[7] This phrase is a disparaging remark that can be attributed to former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie who referred to Singapore as a “little red dot” in an interview with the Asian Wall Street Journal on the 4th of Aug 1998. For more information, see Henrikkson, Lars. (2013). Singapore: This ‘little red dot’ has a big plan. MoneyWeek, pp. 1-6. Retrieved from

[8] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2014). Education GPD: The Word of Education at Your Fingertips- Analyse by Country.   Retrieved 18 March, 2015, from


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