Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age 14 in 28
Countries: Results from the IEA Civic Education Study. ERIC Digest.
by Torney-Purta, Judith - Amadeo, Jo-Ann - Lehmann, Rainer
The well being of any democratic society largely depends on its ability
to instill in youth the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for
active, informed citizenship. In many countries educators, researchers,
and the public are concerned about engaging children and adolescents in
civic life. As political, social, and economic structures change along
with technology and access to information, the need to involve young people
seems especially pressing.
What do fourteen-year-old students know about democratic institutions
and processes? What skills do they possess to understand and interpret
political communication? Do they hold concepts of citizenship and democracy
similar to those held by adults in their societies? What role do schools
and other civic organizations play in the civic development of adolescents?
These and other questions were examined by researchers in 28 democracies
during Phase 2 of the 1999 IEA Civic Education Study. The findings provide
a snapshot of what young adolescents know and think about democratic institutions
and processes as well as their attitudes and plans for future civic participation.
This Digest discusses the origin and administration of the 1999 IEA Civic
Education Study, the research design, and the findings of the study.
THE 1999 IEA CIVIC EDUCATION STUDY.
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement
(IEA), headquartered in Amsterdam, is a consortium of research institutes
and agencies in more than 50 countries. Since the late 1950s, IEA has carried
out nearly 20 large, cross-national studies of educational achievement
in various curriculum areas. The 1999 Civic Education Study, the first
IEA study in this subject area since 1971, was ambitious in both concept
and scope. Approximately 90,000 fourteen-year-old students from 28 countries
as well as thousands of their teachers and school principals participated
in the study.
The study was carried out in two phases. In the first phase (1996-97),
researchers conducted qualitative case studies to examine the contexts
and meanings of civic education in 24 countries (Torney-Purta, Schwille,
& Amadeo, 1999). The observations from the national case studies were
then used to develop the instruments for Phase 2 of the study. In this
second phase (1999), nationally representative samples of fourteen-year-old
students from 28 countries were tested on their civic knowledge and skills
as well as surveyed on their attitudes, concepts, and willingness to participate
in civic activities.
The countries participating in the test and survey of fourteen-year-olds
in 1999 included Australia, Belgium (French), Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece,
Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal,
Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland,
and the United States. Canada and the Netherlands participated only in
the case study phase; Israel tested and surveyed an older population of
Three domains were identified as important topics in civic education
across democracies: (1) Democracy and Democratic Institutions; (2) National
Identity; and (3) Social Cohesion and Diversity. Test and survey items
were then written to assess student knowledge and skills as well as attitudes
in these three domains. Specifically, students were tested on their knowledge
of democratic processes and institutions and their skills at interpreting
political communication (for example, interpreting the messages of a political
cartoon and an election leaflet). In addition, students were surveyed on
their concepts of democracy and citizenship, their attitudes toward their
countries and political institutions, the political rights of women and
immigrants, and their anticipated civic participation as adults.
The test and survey were administered to students in the modal grade
for fourteen-year-olds by national research teams in accordance with IEA
technical guidelines and policies. Teachers and school principals were
Broadly speaking, the overall goal of the study was to identify and
examine in a comparative framework the ways in which young people are prepared
for their roles as citizens in democracies. An underlying assumption was
that civic education is complex and involves a variety of cognitive, conceptual,
and attitudinal strands, each of which is important and can be evaluated.
The findings supported that assumption and provided a portrait of adolescents'
Results from the test of civic knowledge suggest that students in most
of the participating countries have a basic understanding of fundamental
democratic processes, values, and institutions. For example, 75 percent
of student respondents in the international sample were able to identify
the reason for having more than one political party, while 69 percent correctly
answered a question on the importance of being able to join a variety of
Most students also were able to answer most questions dealing with fundamental
laws and political rights, and most recognized the importance of basic
democratic processes such as free elections. Their understanding of some
democratic values and institutions, however, was not strongly demonstrated.
For example, only 57 percent of the students could identify the main message
of a political cartoon about a country's wish to de-emphasize problematic
aspects of its history. A similar proportion could infer the possible political
consequences of a large publishing company buying and controlling many
newspaper publishing companies.
Students demonstrated moderate skill in interpreting political materials.
For example, 65 percent of the respondents were able to identify the position
of a party that had issued an election leaflet.
Interestingly, there was little difference between civic knowledge scores
of male and female students. When other factors were held constant, female
students scored slightly lower on the civic knowledge test than did males.
When the gender comparison was made without holding other factors constant,
however, there was a sizable difference in only 1 of the 28 countries.
A promising finding was related to the students' willingness to vote.
Eighty percent of the respondents indicated they plan to vote as adults.
This finding, however, seems paradoxical in light of actual voter turn
out rates. That is, in many of the participating countries, there is a
substantial gap between the number of fourteen-year-olds who say they plan
to vote and actual practices reflected in voting statistics.
In all of the countries, the more students knew about democratic institutions
and processes, the more likely they were to plan on voting as adults. In
addition, the more strongly students perceived that their schools teach
about the importance of voting, the more likely they were to indicate that
they will vote. Through the curriculum and in providing an open classroom
climate for discussion and inquiry, schools seem to be effective in promoting
both civic knowledge and engagement.
Although students are willing to vote, they seemed skeptical about other
traditional forms of political engagement. Four out of five students in
all countries responded that they do not plan on engaging in conventional
political activities such as joining a political party, running for office,
or writing a letter to a newspaper about a social or political concern.
They were willing, however, to engage in other forms of civic engagement,
such as collecting money for a social cause or participating in a non-violent
protest march. They thought it is important for adult citizens to participate
in groups benefitting the community and preserving the environment.
Finally, with respect to attitudes, the IEA results indicate that students
are supportive of the political rights of women and immigrants. Almost
90 percent of the students agreed with items about women having the same
rights as men and being entitled to equal pay. In addition, 90 percent
of the students agreed that immigrants should have the right to equal educational
opportunities. Here, unlike in the case of the knowledge score, there were
gender differences. In all countries females were much more likely than
males to support rights for women, and in many countries females were more
likely than males to support immigrant rights.
The most important overall conclusion of the IEA Civic Education Study
is that schools can make important differences in the civic education of
youth. They can help students acquire knowledge about fundamental democratic
processes and skills in interpreting civic-related information. Further,
by providing opportunities for open and respectful discussion of opinions
in the classroom, teachers can prepare their students for responsible and
effective engagement in a democracy. For more information, visit the study
Web site: www.wam.umd.edu/~iea/.
Copies of "Citizenship and Education in Twenty-eight Countries" (which
includes cross-national comparisons in the test and survey) can be obtained
from the IEA Secretariat. Herengracht 487; 1017 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
Telephone: + 31 20 625 3625; Fax: + 31 20 420 7136; E-mail: [email protected]
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS).
For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite
110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400
and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly
in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial reprint services.
Lutkus, Anthony and Others. NAEP CIVICS REPORT CARD FOR THE NATION.
Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 1999. ED 435
Niemi, Richard, and Jane Junn. CIVIC EDUCATION: WHAT MAKES STUDENTS
LEARN? New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ED 431 658.
Niemi, Richard, and Mary Hepburn. "The Rebirth of Political Socialization."
PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE 24 (Winter 1995): 7-16. EJ 515 395.
Torney, Judith and Others. CIVIC EDUCATION IN TEN COUNTRIES. New York:
Halsted Press of John Wiley, 1975. ED 132 059.
Torney-Purta, Judith, John Schwille, and Jo-Ann Amadeo. CIVIC EDUCATION
ACROSS COUNTRIES: TWENTY-FOUR NATIONAL CASE STUDIES FROM THE IEA CIVIC
EDUCATION PROJECT. Amsterdam: IEA, 1999. ED 431 705.
Torney-Purta, Judith, Rainer Lehmann, Hans Oswald, and Wolfram Schulz.
CITIZENSHIP AND EDUCATION IN TWENTY-EIGHT COUNTRIES: CIVIC KNOWLEDGE AND
ENGAGEMENT AT AGE FOURTEEN. Amsterdam: IEA, 2001.