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Citizenship education

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Activity 4
  • Activity 5
  • Activity 6
  • Reflection


Many civic skills are involved in working for a sustainable future. These include:

  • A willingness to investigate issues in the local, school and wider community.
  • A readiness to recognise social, economic, ecological and political dimensions of issues needed to resolve them.
  • The ability to analyse issues and to participate in action aimed at achieving a sustainable future.

Developing these skills is the realm of citizenship education. Indeed, active democratic citizenship is one of the defining features of a sustainable society.

Indeed, the importance of citizenship education has been emphasised in several international agreements:

We, the Ministers of Education (of the world) strive resolutely to pay special attention to improving curricula, the content of textbooks, and other education materials including new technologies with a view to educating caring and responsible citizens committed to peace, human rights, democracy and sustainable development, open to other cultures, able to appreciate the value of freedom, respectful of human dignity and differences, and able to prevent conflicts or resolve them by non-violent means.

[I]t is necessary to introduce, at all levels, true education for citizenship which includes an international dimension.

Source: UNESCO Declaration and Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy, 1995.

Member States should promote, at every stage of education, an active civic training which will enable every person to gain a knowledge of the method of operation and the work of public institutions, whether local, national or international; and to participate in the cultural life of the community and in public affairs. Wherever possible, this participation should increasingly link education and action to solve problems at the local, national and international levels. Student participation in the organisation of studies and of the educational establishment they are attending should itself be considered a factor in civic education and an important element in international education.

Source: UNESCO Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1974.

This module provides an introduction to ways in which students can develop the knowledge, skills and commitment for active and informed citizenship. This module also provides an opportunity to consider ways of teaching about citizenship for sustainable futures across the curriculum.

There are links between this and other modules, particularly Module 17 on Sustainable Communities which provides examples of ways citizens can be engaged in local action for a sustainable future. It is also closely related to Module 27 on Community Problem Solving, which provides an eight-step process for educational action by students in their local communities.


  • To develop an understanding of the nature and scope of educating for active citizenship;
  • To provide examples of some school initiatives in active citizenship; and
  • To develop skills for planning across-the-curriculum learning experiences in citizenship education in school, community and settings.


  1. Participating in my community
  2. Citizenship education for the 21st century
  3. Active citizenship in schools
  4. Acting locally – acting globally
  5. Rescue Mission: Planet Earth
  6. Citizenship across the curriculum
  7. Reflection


Associated Schools Project (1997) The Practice of Citizenship, UNESCO, Paris.

Banks, J. (2007) Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Birzea, C., Kerr, D, Mikkelsen, R., Pol, M., Froumin, I., Losito, B. and Sardoc, M. (2004). All-European Study on Education for Democratic Citizenship Policies, Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

Cogan, J.J. and Derricott, R. (eds) (2000) Citizenship for the 21st Century: An International Perspective on Education, Kogan Page, London.

EURYDICE (2005). Citizenship Education at School in Europe, EURYDICE, Brussels.

McDonough, K. and Feinberg, W. (2006) Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities, Oxford University Press, New York.

Peters, M., Britton, A. and Blee, H. (2007) Global Citizenship Education: Philosophy, Theory and Pedagogy (Contexts of Education), Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Reid, A. et al. (2008) Participation and Learning: Perspectives on Education and the Environment, Health and Sustainability, Springer, Dortrecht.

Torney-Purta, J, Schwille, J. and Amadeo, J.A. (1999) Civic Education Across Countries: Twenty-four Case Studies from the IEA Civic Education Project, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Amsterdam.

Torney-Purta, J., Lehmann, R., Oswald, H. and Schulz, W. (2001). Citizenship and Education in Twenty-Eight Countries, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Amsterdam.

Internet Sites

A Curriculum for Global Citizenship

Centre for Civic Education

Citizenship and human rights education – UNESCO.

Civnet: International Resources for Civic Education and Civil Society – CHITS


This module was written for UNESCO by John Fien, Bernie Cox, Angela Colliver and Margaret Calder, using ideas suggested by Michael Singh in Teaching for a Sustainable World (UNESCO – UNEP International Environmental Education Programme).

Participating in my community

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Education for Sustainable Development can help students develop the knowledge, skills and values they need to be active citizens in the local, national and global community.

Read what leaders around the world have said about the importance of citizenship.

The idea of ‘citizenship’ is said to be as old as settled human communities. Indeed, the English word ‘citizen’, like the French word ‘citoyen’ is based on the Latin word ‘civitas’, which means “people united in a city or community”.

Thus, while we often speak of global citizenship – and this is very important as we saw in the statements of the world leaders (and will also see in Activity 4) – citizenship has its roots in the idea of active participation in the local community.

Therefore, a common definition of citizen is:

A citizen is a person furnished with knowledge of public affairs, instilled with attitudes of civic virtue and equipped with skills to participate in the public arena.

Source: Heater, D. (1990) Citizenship: The Civic Ideal in World History, Politics and Education, Longman, London, p. 336.

Q1: Describe your home (or school) community to show the type of conditions under which your students can learn to practice their citizenship skills.

Q2: Identify five issues that affect the quality of life and environmental conditions in your home (or school) community.

Q3: Rank these issues in order of their likely impact on achieving a sustainable future.

Q4: Weighting the issues: Your community has many resources to help overcome the problems posed by these issues. Assume that these resources all add up to 100 units. How many units would you allocate to working on each of the five issues?

Strategic Questioning is a technique for planning how to be an active citizen about these issues. Use the six sets of questions involved in strategic questioning to investigate the most serious issue in your community.

Citizenship education for the 21st century

This activity invites you to explore alternative meanings of education for active citizenship.

There are three steps in the activity:

  • Answering a series of questions to explore the meaning of, and different approaches to, citizenship education.
  • Reading an article on ‘Citizenship Education for the 21st Century’.
  • Using insights from the reading to expand your answers to the questions about citizenship education.

Active citizenship in schools

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Schools can offer students a range of opportunities to develop their skills for participating more fully in society.

Two examples of citizenship education projects for Year 6 students illustrate this:

Citizenship Education at Lyneham Primary School, Australia

In an attempt to create a positive approach to local and global citizenship we introduced our Year 6 students to two projects: Peer Support and supporting a foster child overseas. These two programmes address citizenship through active involvement, and provide a framework for programmes that were already established in the school.

Peer Support trains Year 6 students to lead groups of approximately 12 students from Year 1 to Year 5 in social skills such as making friends, helping and caring for others and coping with peer pressure in a variety of situations. The purpose is to develop understanding, attitudes and skills to live a safe and healthy lifestyle, to realise their own potential and to contribute positively to society. This fits well in the Society and Environment, Health and English Language curriculum areas, and addresses cross-curriculum perspectives of gender equity and multicultural education.

Leaders are trained at two 2 day training camps. We award individual certificates at a special school assembly to reinforce the importance of the training. We invite our Senator attend the ceremony, and talk about her personal experiences and the importance of leadership and responsible citizenship.

Throughout the year pairs of students lead younger groups on a weekly basis from a planned programme. Positive relations are developed across the multi-age environment of the school, and Year 6 leaders become responsible and caring in relation to other students, particularly those in their groups. Feelings of trust and respect are developed, and the self esteem of the students improve considerably. Most noticeable is the way the Year 6 students see their role in a new, positive and purposeful light.

For six years now, students have contributed to the education of Barthelemy, a student at a school in Africa. Barthelemy exchanges letters with our Year 6 students. As well as learning about life in Barthelemy’s country, Year 6 students elect a committee to organise the annual fundraising of the $360 sponsorship. This democratically elected committee has often raised almost double the required amount. The students’ organisational skills, including the creation and running of smaller committees, have been remarkable. These students are becoming global citizens, caring for and participating in global action to help someone else.

Source: Ros Manley, Lyneham Primary School, Australia.

Q5: What do you think of student projects like these ones?

Q6: Identify the opportunities your school offers students to be involved in active citizenship projects?

  • Make a list of projects similar to the case study examples which have been conducted in your school.
  • What are the opportunities for increasing the number of such projects in your school?
  • What barriers might need to be overcome to increase these opportunities?

Strategies for Active Citizenship in Schools

Many strategies can be used to teach students how to participate as citizens in the school community. For example, students can be involved in such activities as:

  • Negotiating school rules and policies
  • Participating in school and community organisations
  • Developing skills and knowledge in school subjects
  • Decision-making in different setting within the school

Q7: Using these strategies as examples, describe the style of decision making in your school.

Q8: Analyse the pattern you described. What are the implications for citizenship education of this pattern?

Acting locally – acting globally

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Acting Locally

Most action at the local community level is organised by non-government organisations (NGOs).

An NGO is a community-based group that is not part of a government or a business. NGOs can include environmental groups, women’s associations, human rights groups, trade unions, farmer co-operatives and tenants’ associations.

There is great variety among NGOs. They con be large or small, secular or religious. Some are local, some national. Some work at the regional or international level. Some meet the needs of their own members. Others try to serve those who need help.

NGOs create change by organising their members in citizen action campaigns. However, organising a citizen action campaign takes a lot of work and careful planning.

Student participation in local action projects, perhaps in partnership with a NGO, is a key way of teaching citizenship skills.

Teachers have a responsibility to ensure that citizenship projects are carefully planned. The following list of questions can be used to guide the development of student citizenship projects.

  • Is there sufficient evidence to warrant action on this issue?
  • Are alternative actions available? What are they?
  • Is the action that the group has chosen the most effective one available?
  • Are there legal consequences of this action? If so, what are they?
  • Will there be social consequences of this action? If so, what are they?
  • Will there be economic consequences of this action? If so, what are they?
  • Do the personal values of members of the group support this action?
  • Does the group understand the beliefs and values of others who are involved in this issue?
  • Does the group understand the procedures necessary to take this action?
  • Does the group have the skills needed to complete this action?
  • Does the group have the courage to take this action?
  • Does the group have the time needed to complete this action?
  • Does the group have all the other resources (other than the above) needed to make this action effective?
  • What do parents think of this action?
  • What educational benefits will be obtained?

Ten important steps in planning a local action campaign with students include:

  • Identify issues and goal(s)
  • Identify your target audience
  • Recruit supporters
  • Recognise student interests
  • Analyse the situation
  • Build a coalition
  • Keep members happy
  • Choose strategies and tactics
  • Media exposure
  • Evaluate your efforts

Acting Globally

Human rights is an important area – one of many – in which students can learn to be active global citizens. This activity provides a case study of one group, Amnesty International, which students might learn about – and possibly join as members.

Sadly, many thousands of people around the world have been imprisoned, tortured or killed for what they believe in. Amnesty International reports on human rights violations such as these and launches Urgent Action Appeals – usually about 1000 every year – to assist people under threat of torture or execution.

Globally-minded citizens participate in Amnesty International campaign to achieve:

  • The unconditional release of prisoners of conscience;
  • Fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners; and
  • An end to the death penalty and torture in all cases.

Study the characteristics of Amnesty International and its global citizenship work.

Visit the Amnesty International website to learn more about its activities.

Q9: List the moral, political, social and/or economic principles that you think underlie the work of Amnesty International?

Q10: What skills, attitudes and knowledge does a citizen need to be an active member of a group such as Amnesty International?

Rescue Mission: Planet Earth

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Young people are engaged in many examples of active citizenship projects all around the world.

One project, called ‘Rescue Mission: Planet Earth’ was sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme and Peace Child International.

In this project, young people from around the world contributed their ideas about ways of building a sustainable future. These were published in a book, Rescue Mission: Planet Earth.

A few years later, another group of young people wrote a book and contributed to an Internet site called Pachamama: Our Earth – Our Future. Pachamama is a young person’s guide to the Geo-2000 Global Environmental Outlook Report.

Q11: Identify the school subjects where you think these young people would have learnt about the issues that have interested them – and developed their skills for taking action.

Citizenship across the curriculum

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Citizenship education can be taught in all subject areas; it is a cross-curricular concern.

Module 6 described two ways in which Education for Sustainable Development can be integrated into many subjects across the curriculum:

  • Process integration – through attention to general educational objectives, especially skills, attitudes and values.
  • Content integration – through attention to topics in the content of different subjects.

Q12: Identify examples of ways in which active citizenship can be integrated into the teaching of different school subjects through process and content integration.

Q13: From these examples, what can you conclude about:

  1. the possibility of any one subject being able to teach active citizenship by itself?
  2. the implications of this for curriculum planning at the syllabus level?
  3. the implications of this for curriculum planning at the school level?

See sample answers to Question 13.


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Q14: What can you as a teacher, do to encourage student involvement and participation in active citizenship in your school?

Q15: What skills are needed and used by active student citizens working on a school or local issue?

Q16: Identify one or more groups working for sustainable development (e.g. social justice, human rights, conservation etc.) in your community.

Q17: Into which topic in your teaching programme could you incorporate learning about the work of these groups and developing citizenship skills in your students?