Civic education (also known as citizen education or democracy education) can be broadly defined as the provision of information and learning experiences to equip and empower citizens to participate in democratic processes. The education can take very different forms, including classroom-based learning, informal training, experiential learning, and mass media campaigns. Civic education can be targeted at children or adults, in developed or developing countries, and at the local, national or international level. As such, civic education is an approach that employs a range of different methods, and is often used in combination with other participatory governance tools.
What is it?
The overall goal of civic education is to promote civic engagement and support democratic and participatory governance. The idea behind civic education is to promote the demand for good governance (i.e. an informed and engaged public), as a necessary complement to efforts to improve the practice of good governance. Civic education has been used to address a wide variety of political and governance issues (e.g. corruption, civic apathy or post-conflict reconciliation) as well as important social issues (e.g. domestic violence, drug abuse, and HIV/AIDS). Civic education is concerned with three different elements: civic knowledge, civic skills and civic disposition. Civic knowledge refers to citizens’ understanding of the workings of the political system and of their own political and civic rights and responsibilities (e.g. the rights to freedom of expression and to vote and run for public office, and the responsibilities to respect the rule of law and the rights and interests of others). Civic skills refer to citizens’ ability to analyze, evaluate, take and defend positions on public issues, and to use their knowledge to participate in civic and political processes (e.g. to monitor government performance, or mobilize other citizens around particular issues). Civic dispositions are defined as the citizen traits necessary for a democracy (e.g. tolerance, public spiritedness, civility, critical mindedness and willingness to listen, negotiate, and compromise).