12 Mar 2015

The challenges of Civic Education in a Globalized World

Samira Saleh Usman

Civic education faces many challenges and it is a major concern for those interested in the overall wellbeing of the citizenry in the twenty first century. Effective citizenship includes the knowledge, ability and character to engage peacefully and constructively across cultural differences in order to achieve sustainable human-environmental interactions.  Effective citizenship requires engagement with both national and global values, integrating the two perspectives in mutually reinforcing ways.  Preventing civilization conflict involves a great effort of combining a universal commitment to global values, while also maintaining national character and values. In today’s globalized world we aim to create and raising a patriotic young generation with a strong pride in own identity and citizenship, but also we carry a responsibility not to dismiss the need to establish a global citizen who should understand how their own actions, attitudes and decisions contribute to the larger community. Civic education helps blend in the particular and the universal, the national and the international, the individual and society to develop a global citizen that is able to acquire an understanding of global challenges and changes like globalisation of economic, environmental and cultural problems. The desire for an active citizen does not necessarily produce an effective one; the development of intellectual and social skills is necessary to increase the likelihood that an individual civic behaviour will contribute constructively to society at large[1].

Civic education fosters the skills and virtues necessary for all-encompassing citizenship with modern civic values, critical thinking and autonomous decision making; all of which are vital characteristics for well-functioning individuals. Civic education also requires the community to be accommodating to diverse belief systems, ensuring individuals are able to live without the risk of being marginalized or persecuted. Many scholars have posited civic education as a cure for student cynicism, apathy, and civic disengagement[2]. Cynicism and apathy are commonly linked to civic disengagement[3]. Over the past 25 years we have witnessed an explosion of interests in civic education around the world[4], this comes as the paradoxes of globalization.

Raising awareness of the importance of global citizenship to building a better future for humanity was a key in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), launched in 2012. It is aimed at empowering learners to become responsible global citizens. The Initiative has Global Citizenship Education “GCE” as one of its key education objectives for the next eight years (2014-2021) to make sure that we are “educating citizens” and “training children for adulthood and citizenship[5].”

A similar view on the importance of civic education is recognised in the UAE.  Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed in the “Government Summit 2015”[6] delivered a speech that focused on the importance of an inclusive community, government, citizens and residents of the UAE. In the speech he quoted Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan:

“The new generation should be aware of the suffering of its ancestors. This awareness will provide them with drive, firmness and solidity in order to complete the epic of construction and development initiated by our fathers and ancestors.”

Engaging the younger generation of the UAE in civic education will positively enhance and help develop attitudes towards local and global issues. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a fairly young and modern society with the federation of the UAE was established in 1971, and has experienced a monumental growth since then the UAE has experienced rapid transformation and became a globalized country with a great aspiration to achieve international leadership and global competitiveness. As a result Emirati nationals are exposed to high levels of external cultures, some of which are at odds with Emirati values and create a possible contradiction to the Muslim and Arab culture.  Some may see this as a threat to Emirati national identity and national citizenship for it creates the possibility that the youth are not getting the national focus in their education.  At the same time, the plans for the UAE as set out in Vision 2021 focus on empowerment at all levels. His highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the UAE 2021 vision stating:

As we look to the future and embark on a journey of empowerment at all levels, we must steer a course among challenges on many fronts with confidence, optimism and determination.”[7]

 Education is central to achieving the objectives of Vision 2021 and civic education is going to play a very large part in this development.

Impact of Civic Education:

Civic education (CE) is a broad concept. It can cover specific rights and duties of legal citizens, but usually it is used to indicate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that children are expected to learn to be virtuous and civically productive members of society. These qualities of a citizen, although they can be accrued from a number of resources, are fostered and developed through educational systems. Civic education in school is recognized as an effective way for increasing political awareness and effective participation in the society. Civic Education helps build better citizens via acquiring skills and attitude towards their nation via awareness of current and past challenges and active participation in the society. It works to support citizens who are able to get involved on a global level without compromising their national identity and loyalty. Schools, by choosing programs that fosters classroom discussions, community projects, and informational use of the internet produce favourable outcomes that build over the K-12 level in civic education.

Providing effective civic education is critical for any state wishing to be. A curriculum that fosters a better understanding of fairness, diversity and participation through the integration of lessons and methods that are relevant to young people’s lives ensures the importance of civic education is recognised by teachers and students.  Civic education needs to have a cross-curricular approach, allowing citizenship to be incorporated into other lessons to demonstrate how it influences a wide range of human activity.  Furthermore, civic education needs to provide effective fora for students to talk about events they have seen in the news or have heard being discussed, in a safe and supportive environment.

Citizenship education, political science education, political education, civic education, are all components of social studies education and it all encourages active involvements in the local and global community and provides a constructive extension to what is actually taught in a classroom. Literature as early as 1907 presented the importance of citizens contributing to the society, Arthur W. Dunn wrote[8]: “being a member of the community means that each one of us takes part in and contributes to its life” and Islamic teachings likened the relationship in the society to the body, if one organ complained the rest of the body will suffer and offered mutual love, mercy and compassion as a healing solution for many societal problems. Elizabeth Lynn, from Valparaiso University, explains the importance of civic education in building, a developed society; “It’s aimed at the development of a citizen”_” It’s the person on the school boards, community boards. It’s every person in civic life[9].” Community members are involved citizens with a responsibility and duty that is meaningful and binding only to those who feel the importance of their role in the community. “Empowerment ought to be a significant dimension of education for civic responsibility-particularly in the planning process to establish civic education and community service programs[10]” All forms of citizenship education indoctrinate respect for others, combating all forms of discrimination and recognition of the equality of all human beings; by fostering a spirit of tolerance and peace among human beings. All of that will lead to sustainable living.

American civic experts state that students need to be familiar with the global civic culture, “That familiarity would help Americans recognize their obligations to their own nation and to the planet at large[11].” The 21st century has presented us with opportunities and challenges and requires a different approach. Education should help children and young people acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to adapt and to thrive in a global society and to recognize the importance and value of participation in the increasingly interdependent and globalized world. Education cannot offer immediate remedies to the local and global problems, but it can contribute to solving them.

A global citizen identifies and becomes empowered by their own national identity and roots. As part of fostering global citizenship, school curricula should enrich national identity, culture, and local community values. Ernest Gellner[12], asserts that “The culture in which one has been taught to communicate becomes the core of one’s identity.” The primal ground in which national identity takes root starts in childhood and it does not come naturally. The sense of national attachment is consciously cultivated in them which leads to the assumption that a nation’s schools are places where dominant discourses of national identity and history are promulgated[13].  Education that has national relevance helps inform young people and encourage them to participate in events that are meaningful and gives them an opportunity to show that their identity and community are a source of pride.

Carnegie- Middle East conducted a study, “Review of Citizenship Education in Arab Nations”, that focused on civic text books in the Middle East, including UAE and examined citizenship curriculum, civic education and the way it was delivered to students. The study cited that the failure to use effective teaching methods and practices as a reason behind the lag in citizenship education and accomplishing the goals intended.  Other issues that hinder effective delivery of the principals of civic education are poor classroom practices like: the lack of engagement, rote learning, unqualified teachers who run the informative show with limited or no individual views or group discussions allowed. Authoritarian school environments do not give the students an opportunity to put lessons into practice. Researchers concluded that “many Arab nations’ education programs fail to prepare students to become contributing members of open, pluralistic systems.” Some contradiction in the curricula among the eleven Arab nation was also discussed.  One group seeks to raise religious citizens as its highest priority; another, patriotic nationalists; and a third group desires to graduate youth with two or more identities—ethnic, religious, national, regional, and international. In addition to that, age of students receiving civic education was different among those countries so does the allotted time given to civic education.  The Carnegie study clearly shows that governments need to give greater attention to how civic education is delivered, what is being delivered as part of civic education, and ensuring the expertise and resources are provided to deliver effective civic education.

UAE and the 2021 Vision: Developing and investing in citizens

Analysis of the school curriculum in the UAE[14], highlighted in social studies textbooks the civic principles of social responsibility, self-reliance, ethical behaviour, and volunteering and community service in social organizations. The Carnegie study proves that a great deal has been given to developing the school curriculum and courses with emphasis on national civic issues, including the meaning of citizenship and homeland; law and government; rights and duties of citizens; citizenship skills needed for public life; economic and natural resources of the UAE and foreign relations, with an emphasis on relations with other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.  These aspects are a strength, but one that needs continual improvement in line with the UAE’s desire to be a global leader.

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum envisioned an ambitious nation, who is vigilant and able to analyze current situation and further foretell emerging regional and international changes. In the first theme of the 2021 vision titled “United in Ambition and Responsibility”, via preparing a generation of confident and socially responsible Emiratis, it is expressed

“Emirates will be confident citizens, steadfast in carving out their future in a spirit of entrepreneurship and responsibility, engaged in the course of their nation and embracing moral values for richer fulfilment” (Vision 2021, 2010).  The Vision statements continue to say, “They will prove that the route to success lies through personal commitment, dedication, and a strong work ethic. Satisfaction and motivation will reward their self-reliance and initiative; their appetite for risk-taking will be fuelled by a vigorous entrepreneurial spirit”.

Building an inclusive and cohesive society where multiculturalism is a source of strength and pride, is one of the goals under the theme of “Strong and active communities”. A well-knit Emirati community engaged and open towards other residents (Vision 2021, 2010)… Enhancing tolerance and embracing the civic values of a society in which people are treated equally, fairly and share a set of core civic values including tolerance, and personal responsibility.  These elements are key factors in civic education and can be mutually reinforcing.

Preserving the identity as a strong and influential nation is a main objective under the second theme” United in Destiny” His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, The President of the UAE “He who has no identity, does not exist in the present and has no place in the future”. Civic education will reinforce that common destiny is a national priority and global prospective. Awareness of global challenges is as important because global threats have no borders.

The UAE challenges stem from the fact that it has the lowest percentage of nationals among Arab countries and it is inhibited by a widely diverse, multicultural population. The huge economic progress and the flux of many international companies which led to inking the country to the global economy and forcing the Islamic Arab tribal culture of the local society to adapt and to face an increasing pressure to integrate into a global culture that embraces a wide range of civic values, such as human rights and active participation in politics.

The UAE Government has also adopted the “National Document for the United Arab Emirates for 2021,” which is composed of four components: “the self-confident, responsible Emirati”; “united in destiny”; “united in knowledge and innovation”; and “united in prosperity.” And much has been emphasized in public schools on the national education and “safeguarding the cultural identity of the Emirati society as an Arab-Muslim society” and the “expression of loyalty and belonging to the state.” Security and safety are basic elements that lead to stability and prosperity, UAE Government continues to overcome adversity and protect its citizens and thrives to help build a resilient nation through upholding values of justice and fairness.

UAE nationals are a minority in their own country and rely on expats in most businesses so promoting national identity and patriotism of nationals is a cause for concern. This is problematic due to the fact that about 40 percent of schools in the UAE are private, and many of them teach a diversity of international curricula.  At the same time, this can be seen as a strength for the UAE as it brings together the national and global views on civic education.

Developing future productive citizens via effective Civic Education  

Although civic values and habits are relatively easy to influence at a younger age and within a school environment, we need to acknowledge that civic education takes place at all stages of life and in many venues other than schools. Davy[15] wrote in “learners without borders: a curriculum for global citizenship”, building a global awareness require a focus on several elements which include  cultural and prospective awareness, multilingualism, international mindedness, developing critical thinking skills and a combination of research and IT skills. In “The Role Played by the Family in Shaping Early and Middle Adolescent Civic Responsibility[16]”;  family has a great responsibility because learning civic value extends  beyond curriculum, some of these values and civic responsibility are a result of positive association between the parents’ local civic responsibility and the adolescents’ responsibility toward the local community and it also an outcome of parental encouragement of civic action and parent-youth closeness were positively associated with the adolescents’ civic responsibility. Civic responsibility had a stronger influence on youth civic responsibility when the parent-child relationship was characterized by medium or high levels of closeness.[17] A study of 4,057 students from 52 high schools in Chicago finds that a set of specific kinds of civic learning opportunities, fosters notable improvements in students’ commitments to civic participation.[18]

The Carnegie Middle East study of civic education and citizenship in 11 Arab countries reported in general the goals of citizenship education fall into three categories: raising religious citizens; developing patriotic nationalists; and fostering multiple identities.  These curricula do vary in how certain aspects of civic education are presented.  For example, many tend to ignore the impact of the international human rights movement and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, they present the rights and responsibilities of citizens such as citizen’s rights; family rights; brotherhood rights in Islam; and rights to housing, education, health, security, work, and respect for other people’s ideas.  Furthermore, the study shows how there is a lack of practical engagement through extracurricular activities, participation in school decision-making, and community engagement. The classroom environment is often disconnected from social and political realities and ignore controversial topics that takes place in the community and the society, some of the reasons cited by Saif Al Maamari[19] is the deficient academic and pedagogical preparation of the social studies teachers who teach civic education.  These areas need to be addressed to ensure that civic education not only support the development of effective global citizens, but also to ensure that effective national citizens are fostered.

Basic elements of civic education are a factor in the construction of an informed and engaged citizenry. Activities that are centred around individual discovery and hands-on learning like class elections, school representation and student body elections enables students to gain the civic understanding, self-confidence, analytical reasoning, and necessary communication skills in addition to dialogue and mediation as ways to resolve conflicts; are vital for tomorrow’s leaders. Civic education centred values and elements, rooting them in the younger generation will guarantee the continuity of the legacy passed on to us from the founding fathers of this nation. Security and safety are a mission of every individual in the nation and the responsibility in becoming a vigilant, active citizen and resident is a mandatory commitment and duty, and it can all be developed through a well thought civic education program that implemented in k-12 education and continues to higher education.

What can be done to enrich a culture of civic society with global citizenship?

The issues of poor knowledge and limited engagement in civic education is also examined in countries around the globe and efforts to bring solutions is detrimental to creating a sustainable living. The Carnegie Corporation of New York[20] focused on school-based civic education in the United States. The study showed how school-based practices can lead to increased civic knowledge and engagement of students. Practices that will help bring awareness and understanding like: Better emphasis on formal instruction in government, law, history, incorporation of  discussion of current events-local, national and international – and especially those that students perceive to be important to their lives, into classroom discussions, providing  students with opportunities to apply formal civic learning in the classroom to community service projects connected to the curriculum and offering extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for students to be involved in their schools and communities.

Individuals don’t automatically become good and responsible citizens, but they must be educated. The UAE should capitalize on young people’s idealism, along with the nation’s technology resources, to build a tradition of citizen involvement in a new and innovative ways.  Educators should focus on what happens in or near the classroom to enrich a better understanding of the importance of being an involved citizen. Service-learning advocates are part of the equation to creating global understanding of citizenship with the focus on service and volunteering in addition to creating opportunities and programs that will encourage and reward public service among youth. Engaging young people in civic education can only be positive for the future of any nation.  Schools fostering positive trends on youth civic engagement, including awareness about the importance of public service and the increase in the number of young people involved in community service and volunteering and in the percentage of young people who are tolerant and committed to free speech can only promote a stable and peaceful living and stable society.

The integration of higher, secondary, and primary education systems to develop civic responsibility is profoundly critical to developing well rounded citizen who is able to lead the UAE to global competitiveness. In his book “Civic Responsibility and Higher Education”, Thomas Ehrlich[21], an authority in the field of civic education explains and gathers literature that emphasizes on the importance of civic education, even in higher education to prepare students for lives of civic engagement, citizenship development, and community involvement for students and institutions in the digital age[22]. A well- rounded and engaged citizen is a key product of learning and practicing elements of civic education, supporting individuals to become confident and ready to take on the responsibilities of society. Active members of the society play a positive role and they are self-directed, given the knowledge and experience with the basic elements and understanding of the pillars of civilized society. Anticipating the problems of tomorrow is the key to preserving and enhancing the lives of those who enjoy freedom and peace in this land and it is a collective responsibility that a civic citizen will proudly take on.

In today’s world we need to ensure we have proud national citizens who are able and willing to engage with the world as global citizens. The development an education curriculum with emphasis on the importance of promoting education that contributes to social integration, national belonging, civic participation and promoting concepts of national identity and civic responsibility among students is necessary. The UAE needs to continue to explore how civic education is delivered in both public and private schools to ensure it supports citizens that are aware of their own identity and able to celebrate their own heritage, while at the same time understand their contributions to the local, national, and global communities of which they are a part.

[1] Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (2005d). Teaching students to be peacemakers (4th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction

Book Company

[2] Ehrlich,Thomas,ed. 2000. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education. Phoenix, AZ: American Council on Education and oryx Press.

[3] Jones, Ellis,Ross Haenfler, and Brett Johnson. 2001. The Better World Handbook: From Good Intentions to Everyday Actions. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society.

[4] Stevick, E. Doyle, and Bradley A.U. Levinson, eds. 2007 Reimagining Civic Education: How Diverse Societies Form Democratic Citizens. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[5] Citizenship Education for the 21st Century http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_b/interact/mod07task03/appendix.htm

[6] Government summit 2015:https://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates-international/1395276302230.html

[7] UAE Vision 2021: http://www.vision2021.ae/sites/default/files/uae-vision2021-brochure-english.pdf


Review by: C. B. Coleman. The Indiana Quarterly Magazine of History, Vol. 4, No. 2 (JUNE, 1908), pp. 99-101

[9] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/12/the-import-of-civic-education/

[10] Barber, Benjamin R., “A Mandate For Liberty: Requiring Education-Based Community Service” (1991). Special Topics, General. Paper 18. http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcestgen/18


[12] Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983

[13] Koh, S. (2010). National identity and young children: A comparative study of 4th and 5th graders in Singapore and the United States. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/78918

[14] http://carnegieendowment.org/files/summaries_final.pdf

[15] Davy, I (2011) learners without borders: a curriculum for global citizenship, International Bacalaureate Organization , http://www.godolphinandlatymer.com/_files/IB/B309322691ABF031CB793E9DDA47FE3A.pdf

[16] Michela Lenzi, Alessio Vieno, Massimo Santinello, Maury Nation, Adam Voight (2013 ) The Role Played by the Family in Shaping Early and Middle Adolescent Civic Responsibility

[17] Michela Lenzi, Alessio Vieno, Massimo Santinello, Maury Nation, Adam Voight (2013 ) The Role Played by the Family in Shaping Early and Middle Adolescent Civic Responsibility

[18] Joseph E. Kahne , Susan E. Sporte. Developing Citizens: The Impact of Civic Learning Opportunities on Students’ Commitment to Civic Participation American Educational Research Journal September 2008 45: 738-766, first published on June 10, 2008 doi:10.3102/0002831208316951

[19] Promoting National Identity in a Multicultural Society: The Case of UAE Citizenship Education Saif Al-Maamari, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/summaries_final.pdf

[20] The civic mission of schoolshttp://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Publications/PDF/CivicMissionofSchools.pdf

[21] Ehrlich,Thomas,ed. 2000. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education. Phoenix, AZ: American Council on Education and oryx Press.

[22] http://carnegiehighered.org/book/civic-responsibility-and-higher-education/#sthash.bFxUI27g.dpuf

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