Adding Citizenship Skills to the Curriculum

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Happening Now Wednesday, April 29, 2015 View Count = 5078

Adding Citizenship Skills to the Curriculum

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360 blog series

In this Democracy 360 post, People for Education Executive Director Annie Kidder describes the importance of linking low voter turnout, level of political discourse and a general decline in social responsibility with how we educate our young people. 

It continues to surprise me how little we tend to connect the dots between the health of the country and the health of our public education systems.

We worry about things like low voter turnout, the level of political discourse, and a seeming decline in our general sense of social responsibility, but we don’t necessarily link these things with how we’re educating our young people. In fact, we leave most conversations about education to those directly involved in the system.

But maybe it’s time that we all took a look at the source: Where are we “growing” Canada’s future citizens and politicians? And how can we do a better job?

Ninety-five percent of Canadian kids go to publicly funded schools. It is in those schools that we educate the next generation of society – the future voters, the burgeoning “everyday political citizens” (as Samara refers to them) – as well as our future public servants and political leaders. But currently there is very little “space” in our education systems to focus on developing the broad range of citizenship skills that could make a difference to our communities, provinces and country. The goals we set for our public schools remain, for the most part, narrowly focused on literacy and numeracy. We set targets for scores in reading, writing and math, but what about all of the other skills young people need?

There is no question that the 3 R’s are important, but by focusing on narrow goals, and targeting improvement in a narrow set of measures, many vital skills and competencies are being squeezed out. What is measured, matters, and the narrow measures we use to judge our schools has led to a narrowing of the very definition of education.

Citizenship education is a perfect example. We pay lip service to the idea that public education is the cornerstone of democracy, and most school systems require students to take at least one civics course, but few systems set goals for, or measure their success in, building the broad range of skills that young people need to support active citizenship.

I work with an organization that is proposing to change that. We think that by articulating a new set of goals for our schools, and by broadening our measures of success, we will ensure that we are providing the next generation with the broad range of skills they need, both for long-term success, and to play  an active role in our democracy.

Over the next four years – working with a range of partners and experts from across Canada – People for Education is going to develop a set of measures and performance standards for schools that include indicators for the broad range of skills that graduates – and our society – really need. The new domains to be measured include creativity and innovation, physical and mental health, social-emotional skills and citizenship.  

Because what is measured is a key driver of policy and funding, and because schools tend to focus time and attention on success in those measures, this initiative is a vital first step in providing more support for building students’ citizenship skills. And it’s important to recognize that those skills include not just the knowledge of government and civics students acquire through the curriculum, but also the things they learn outside the classroom through active participation in their schools. Broad citizenship skills are built by fostering schools where students develop the capacity to express themselves, where they experience having a voice, and where they learn how to deal with multiple points of view.

Our goal is to create a set of reliable, valid measures that are publicly understandable and educationally useful. The new set of measures for school success will allow politicians, policy-makers and educators to set clear goals in a broader range of areas that are more aligned with goals articulated by post-secondary institutions, employers and Canadian society in general.

We hope that everyone will get involved in this vital conversation. What we do in our schools has an impact on all of us – it’s time that we all connected the dots.

Annie-official-web-200Annie Kidder is the Executive Director of People for Education.

Annie was born in Quebec and has lived in Labrador, British Columbia and Ontario. Her father was in mining so her family moved frequently. As a result, Annie attended 12 schools between kindergarten and grade 12, which may have been how she acquired her passion for public education.

Annie is the recipient of numerous awards for her advocacy work, including awards from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario Principals’ Council, the Toronto Community Foundation and the Ontario Teachers’ Federation. She has spoken at conferences across the country and is regularly quoted in the media as an expert on education issues.

To read more from the Democracy 360 blog series, head here.

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