Citizenship education, a part of the National Curriculum in England, provides to pupils in the UK with the knowledge, awareness and understanding of democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld. According to the UK Government, citizenship education involves equipping pupils with the critical thinking skills to engage with political and social issues so that they can weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments. Citizenship programmes for Key Stages 3 and 4 should ‘develop pupils’ understanding of democracy, government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens’.
These are big asks for a fairly underestimated part of the school curriculum. For many people, this may be the only chance they get to learn about how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government. And so, we need to make sure that our pupils will get the best chance to learn about how they can be involved in the politics and laws which impacts their lives. Telling pupils at their age is key to make sure they don’t give up on engaging in their communities, the Parliamentary system, or voting in later life.
In the national curriculum, it states that pupils should be taught a variety of issues in their citizenship education, ranging from the power of government, the role of citizens and Parliament in holding those in power to account, and the different roles of the executive, legislature and judiciary and a free press. These are all vitally important, especially in teaching that citizens have a right to hold their governments accountable to their actions and decision-making. But we need to make sure that this is something that school aged pupils can relate to. We need citizenship educate to show that young people can act and engage now, not only in their adult life.
We need citizenship education to not only be about facts, but to stress that citizenship rights and activities are a lifelong entitlement for all young people regardless of their ability or background. The key to a healthy and equal democratic society is with “active, informed and responsible citizens; citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and their communities and contribute to the political process”. This means we need the national curriculum on citizenship education to stress that young people are welcome to being active in their communities and are capable of having an influence on the world.
If we can achieve this, then the Accountability Advocates can meet our aim of getting more young people to hold our government to account. Our citizenship education could mould a new generation of active global citizens in the UK, all of whom strive for sustainable development, gender justice, and peace. British Council’s Active Citizens programme is shown to be doing just that. So let’s push for a new kind of citizenship education, where young people can understand that they have a voice and influence in their communities and wider society.