Citizenship education has a twofold meaning. First, it comprises the educational preparation for new citizens becoming legal members of a country. The second refers to educating children to be knowledgeable citizens in order to participate meaningfully in the decisions of the society. This type of citizenship education is taught as an academic subject in schools.
In the case of preparing new citizens as part of the immigration procedure, the educational criteria depend on the specific countries. In the United States, toward the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, the U.S. government ran programs to prepare noncitizens for citizenship exams in order to meet citizenship qualification regulations. Some businesses offered the service to their employees and family members; others were assisted by charities.
In the 21st century, immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens still must pass a naturalization test. Unless they qualify for a waiver or exemption, they have to take a civics test and an English test. Educational materials, which are available from the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services, can be found on the Citizenship Resource Center website.
Citizenship education for children to be enlightened and participatory members of their societies forms part of the academic education syllabus in a number of countries. The concept of an individual's human rights and his or her citizen rights civilly and politically are interrelated.
Educational programs include an awareness and knowledge of what it means to be a good citizen from an ethical and moral point of view. Respect toward others; acknowledgment that all human beings are equal; and the non-acceptance of discrimination based on gender, race or religion are paramount. These qualities form a foundation for the behavior expected of citizens in terms of their rights as a citizen and their rights as a human being. The supposition is that educated children will become educated contributing adult members of society.
The main purposes of citizenship education revolve around ensuring that people are educated in aspects of citizenship and human rights by clearly understanding the principles governing the nation or state. Additionally, citizens are required to be aware of their responsibilities as an individual, as well as their level of responsibility toward their communities. Responsibility also refers to the way the individual or citizen conducts himself or herself within the international community. In the move toward developing outstanding citizens, part of the educational strategy involves helping people to utilize their critical faculties and sense of judgment.
There are a number of themes that are attributable to citizenship education. These include the notion of relationships among members of a society and the right to freedom. The rejection of discrimination is a crucial element. Democracy is advocated and, thus, a particular involvement between citizens and the government. The importance of a democratic culture and knowledge of how such a country functions are vital components of citizenship education.
In the 21st century, citizenship education functions on the premise of democracy. Pedagogically, the approach to education is of a nondogmatic nature, allowing discussion and a variety of methods of expression. Citizens of a democratic culture are encouraged to formulate judgments and decisions based on knowledge and choice. While citizens are required to abide by law, at the same time, democracy promotes the creation of improved laws as the need arises. Culture is considered to be alive and dynamic, and as a microcosm of the broader macrocosm, the school system is predicated on this notion of a living, growth-oriented culture, where positive changes are implemented. Dialogue is encouraged, as well as respect and tolerance for each other and the healthy exchange of ideas. This takes into account a respect for multiple cultures.
Citizenship education is not only about the accumulation of knowledge, but also about putting into action the lessons as they relate to good citizenship, democracy, respect, tolerance and valuing human rights.
Historically, the concept of what citizenship education is and its purposes have evolved. Initially considered a means of educating regarding the interrelationship between individual and nation or state, a shared identity and patriotic loyalty were at the forefront of the project. Globalization and shifting views about the definition of citizenship resulted in new ways of tackling the subject. Educationally, this requires a re-evaluation of the school system to ensure an appropriate reflection of democratic, antiracist, multicultural attitudes.
The notion of citizenship itself is discussed by scholars, including the perception of citizenship and meanings attributed to it. With globalization, ideas such as cosmopolitan citizenship arise, as well as being members of an inclusive society. Multiculturalism and the need for an educational system to adapt accordingly have gained heightened focus and awareness. The idea of existing within a global international context is a significant feature of the citizenship education debate today.