Citizenship: European pupils have a strong knowledge in civic education

Civic education, which includes an understanding of citizenship and democracy at national and European level, is part of compulsory education in EU Member States. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) has conducted its largest study in the field of international civic education. The results of this study showed that European students have better results in civic knowledge than the international average. In addition, students have a strong sense of European identity and democratic values such as equality and freedom of movement within the EU, although they are more interested in domestic issues than European political or international.

The International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS2009), organised by the IEA and co-financed by the European Commission, tested over 140,000 lower secondary pupils from 5,300 schools in 38 countries in 2008-2009, measuring knowledge about the European Union and attitudes toward EU-related policies and values such as citizenship, European identity and freedom of movement. It also collected data from over 62,000 teachers, as well as from school principals and national research coordinators.

Key results of the study

The study found large differences in pupils’ levels of civic knowledge, both between and within countries.

• Pupils in European countries scored higher, on average, in civic knowledge than the international average. They also scored highly in knowledge of basic facts about the European Union, but there was greater variation in their in-depth knowledge about EU laws and policies. Pupils from Finland and Denmark were among those showing the strongest results overall in the civic education tests.

• Most pupils endorsed democratic values, gender equality, and equal rights for ethnic or racial groups and immigrants, as well as freedom of movement of citizens within Europe. Large majorities of pupils in Europe had a strong sense of European identity. Most pupils also expressed pride in the fact that their country was an EU member.

• In general, pupils were more interested in domestic political and social issues than in European or international politics.

• 75% of pupils in the EU reported that they could understand or communicate well in languages spoken in other European countries. Most also said that their schools provided opportunities to learn about other European countries, though few had participated in activities or groups directly related to European integration.

The EU’s Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action programmes support citizens in developing their civic knowledge. Actions such as Youth for Europe are dedicated to enhancing young people’s active citizenship.

Twenty-two EU Member States, as well as Norway and Liechtenstein, participated in the study. (The Member States which did not were Germany, France, Romania, Hungary and Portugal). The European Commission is co-financing the IEA study from 2007-2010, with a grant of € 1.6 million from the Lifelong Learning Programme.

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