Pogledaj Full Version : Approaches to Civic Education: Lessons Learned

ˇeljko Zidarić
27th-May-2012, 11:47 PM
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June 2002
Technical Publication Series
Office of Democracy and Governance
Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance
U.S. Agency for International Development
Washington, DC 20523-3100


Over the past decade, civic education has become a major component of USAID democracy programming. By the end of the 1990s, Agency spending on civic education had reached roughly $30 million a year, with the total for the decade approaching $232 million. In spite of heavy investment by USAID and other international donors, relatively little is known about the impact of civic education programs on democratic behaviors and attitudes, particularly in developing countries.

In order to better understand how and under what conditions civic education contributes to the development of a more active and informed democratic citizenry, the Agency initiated a major multi-part study designed to measure the impact of both adult and school-based civic education programs on participants’ democratic behaviors and attitudes. Beginning in 1996, USAID’s Center for Democracy and Governance (now its Office of Democracy and Governance) managed the study, which looked at adult and school-based civic education programs in the Dominican Republic, Poland, and South Africa. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, this study represents a pioneering effort, both as a research initiative and as a practical application in managing for results in the democracy sector.

The results of the study show that civic education programs for adults can have a significant, positive impact on certain key aspects of democratic behaviors and attitudes. In particular, civic education appears to contribute to significantly greater rates of political participation among program participants, especially at the local level. It also leads to more moderate, but still significant, differences in participants’ knowledge about their political system and about democratic structures and institutions in general, and it also tends to contribute to a greater sense of political efficacy. However, civic education programs appear to have little effect on changing democratic values, such as political tolerance, and in fact, appear to have a negative impact on some values, such as trust in political institutions. Additionally, the study found that men tended to receive greater benefit from civic education than women and that, while women showed gains in a number of important areas, civic education tended to reinforce gender disparities in the political realm.

The findings for school-based civic education programs mirror those for adult programs, although the impact of civics training was generally weaker and more inconsistent for students than for adults. In addition, school and family environment were found to be powerful forces affecting the behaviors and attitudes of students, forces that need to be taken into account in designing programs for students. By far the most important finding to emerge from the study, one that applies equally to adult and school based programs, is that course design and quality of instruction are critical to the success of civic education programs. In addition to this more general finding about the importance of course quality and design, the study found that civic education programs are most effective when

Sessions are frequent. There appears to be a “threshold effect” in terms of number of courses, where one or two sessions have little to no impact, but, when the number increases to three or more, significant change occurs.
Methods are participatory. Breakout groups, dramatizations, role-plays, problem solving activities, simulations, and mock political or judicial activities led to far greater levels of positive change than did more passive teaching methods such as lectures or the distribution of materials.
Teachers are knowledgeable and inspiring. Not surprisingly, teachers who fail to engage their students have little success in transmitting information about democratic knowledge, values, or ways to participate effectively in the democratic political process.

On the basis of these and other findings, a series of recommendations and lessons emerged for designing
more effective civic education programs. These are

Be aware of, and try to design around, obstacles to frequent participation: Even when programs are explicitly designed to meet frequently and have the funding to do so, there are often obstacles to regular participation. To the extent possible, groups conducting civic education should assess possible barriers to participation and try to address them before implementing a program.
Use as many participatory methods as possible: The evidence shows that role-plays, dramatizations, small group exercises, and group discussions are all far more effective tools for imparting knowledge about democratic practices and values than more passive methods.
Build opportunities for participation directly into the program: One of the surest paths to greater local political participation over the longer term is to tap into or build opportunities for political participation directly into the civic education program, whether through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or meetings with local government officials. This involves more than simply using the types of participatory methods mentioned above. Rather it involves building opportunities for direct political engagement into the program.
Focus on themes that are immediately relevant to people’s daily lives: In designing civic education projects, program managers should work to identify an audience’s primary concerns, and then show how democracy and governance issues relate to those concerns. For example, if a community’s priority is halting environmental degradation, one approach may be to “piggyback” civic education components, such as the importance of participatory decision-making at the community level, onto initiatives designed to address environmental concerns.
Invest in the training of trainers: Given the importance of course design and teaching method, the training of trainers is a good investment. It is crucial that trainers feel comfortable with a broad range of teaching methods, and have the flexibility to adapt both method and course content to the immediate concerns of program participants.
Target voluntary associations: Since people who already have extensive social networks appear to benefit more from civic education than people who do not tend to join social, economic, or political groups, group membership may be a useful screening device for recruiting participants into civic education programs.
Pay attention to gender issues: Women generally face greater obstacles to participation than men in terms of resources and cultural barriers, particularly in the developing world. Programs that address these deeper barriers to participation may be required over and above civic education to reduce the gap between men and women.
Avoid inflating expectations: In light of the fact that civic education appears to reduce participants’ trust in institutions, program leaders should be aware that there is a risk of setting standards too high and of creating unrealistic expectations about what democracy can and should deliver. To this end, programs may want to focus on specific short-term goals, in addition to broader issues of political or constitutional reform.
Bring parents, teachers, and school administrators into school-based programs: School environment and family beliefs and practices are powerful influences on the democratic orientations of children and young adults. Unless civic education programs take account of these forces, they are likely to overwhelm any new messages that are taught.