Developing good citizens through primary schools

16 Jul 2010

“No one becomes an active citizen by accident. Like everything else, it has to be learned. While young children pick up a certain amount of citizenship learning through their families and communities, it can never be enough to prepare them for their active role as citizens in today’s complex, fast-paced and diverse Fiji society. Citizenship experiences need to be connected and built upon as children progress through their formal school education. It benefits children by promoting a safe environment and helps them to develop a positive sense of self to deal with various challenges in their lives. It helps them to learn how to express their opinions and ideas, and understand and make informed choices about their school, communities and the environment. Citizenship education will promote positive behaviour and relationships, support inclusion and equal opportunities, and link schools with parents, neighbours and other stakeholders.

Citizenship education themes

The Fiji In-School Citizenship Education Project based at CDU, Waisomo House is administered by the Ministry of Education, in partnership with UNDP and NZAID. The major underlying themes at the primary school level are (a) equality and consensus building, (b) peace and justice, (c) cultures and beliefs, (d) sustainable development, (e) responsibility and respect for one another.

“The purpose of primary education is to develop all children to their full potential by offering them the essential basic skills, knowledge and attitudes they will need in society. Primary education will build on the education provided at early childhood level and will continue to address the emotional, cultural, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs of all children. It will prepare students for life and ensure that they begin to understand their place in the world as members of a global community.”

UNICEF and SCF Report that “If children are to be empowered as citizens then they need to learn in an environment that recognizes them as citizens; treats and respects them as citizens and provides opportunities to practice and then develop skills which make people responsible citizens.”

Citizenship Education shall be integrated into primary school subjects as a proactive learning perspective and strategy. CE will provide the affective learning dimension to complement cognitive and psychomotor learning in the following primary school subjects and thematic areas:

Positive Expectations for Children

While primary school children may lack knowledge and experience to deal with citizenship issues expressed in adolescent or adult terms, children are capable of making sense of them when presented within familiar contexts, for example, learning about the law, or listening to and discussing a story about a child who breaks a rule, for example.

Citizenship education begins with children’s existing knowledge, skills and understanding, for example with what they think is fair and unfair about the world they live in. Children are exposed to citizenship issues from a range of sources – the family, peers, the community and media as well as the school. Children’s awareness is not restricted to their immediate surroundings. They know about a range of regional, national, and global issues – such as crime, war and natural disasters – and often have a basic knowledge of politics, for example about village chiefs, spiritual leaders, the Prime Minister or the President. For this reason, citizenship education often begins with activities designed to establish prior learning. It builds upon these experiences in the various primary school subjects.

Language is a tool for communication which enhances learning. Definitions are part and parcel of the learning process, and when understood, empower further comprehension. It is therefore imperative to familiarise children with the use of key words like ‘citizen’ and ‘active citizen’ from the earliest years.  One way is through examples, such as pointing to an example of respectful behaviour and explaining ‘that this is how good citizens behave’, or saying ‘this is how citizens decide’.

The Civic Education In-Schools project is being implemented by UNDP through the Fiji Ministry of Education.