Civic Education Resource Guide

Are you a member with experience or interest in the field of civic education?  If so, please share your knowledge and thoughts with us! 

Resource Guide Summary: 
This guide will provide readers with an overview of the purpose of civic education, different definitions of civic education, and what makes civic education effective.  The guide concludes with some critical questions in civic education. 

Throughout the last few decades, many countries around the world have transitioned to systems of democracy.  Though a democratic system is largely seen as the ideal system of governance the world over, true democracy is a work in progress. Today, many countries operate as largely functioning democracies, while others are struggling to overthrow dictators and achieve this ideal.  Achieving democracy is however, one battle, and maintaining and preserving it, is another.  Moreover, as more and more countries transition to democratic systems, the meaning and essence of what a democracy truly is, is greatly contested. 

However, there are certain features that are thought to be essential to democracy, such as the presence of a legitimate government based on the will of the people, free and fair elections, equality in citizenship, the rule of law, independent judiciaries and constitutionalism.  Preserving these core features relies on the government in power, as well as the citizenry who are guaranteed rights from the state and given responsibilities towards it.

The role of citizens in achieving and maintaining democracy has become exemplified in the struggle that individuals across the Middle East, for example, have faced in thrusting their countries towards this system of government.  Thus, it is critical that citizens are aware of their rights and roles as citizens.  In many countries, civic education can help to raise this awareness. 

What is civic education and where is it taught?

Though civic education has various definitions, (Branson, 1998) defines civic education as “education in self government” and UNESCO (2011) describes citizenship education as one which (among other things) holds the value of critical thinking highly, one which thoroughly prepares youth to participate in the political process, and one which actively incorporates women in critical aspects of the country’s affairs.  Healthy Action (n.d.), defines civic education as “the process of educating citizens on their rights, duties and responsibilities to empower and motivate them to identify what areas of the political and governance processes they can effectively participate in; what they can do to influence political outcomes and thereby improve the quality of governance at both local and national levels.”  Civic education therefore, based on these definitions entails education that raises citizen awareness that empowers them to participate in the political process, and that includes all segments of the society, including those that are often excluded from the political arena. 

In many countries, civic education is often a taught through the school system.  The range, breadth, and content of the curricula varies from country to country and oftentimes the curriculum is structured around the ideals of the regime in power.  This distinction is most clearly pronounced when comparing civic education in a relatively well established democratic country with one that is ruled by an authoritarian regime.  In the case of the latter, civic education has often been used not to create responsible and informed citizens and to promote democracy, but to engender obedience towards the state.  Naturally, this and many other factors have lead to students in different countries displaying vastly different amounts of knowledge on their political system, which raises questions about what and how this knowledge is being taught.   

To fill what often results as a gap in citizen knowledge of democratic behaviors and norms, many civil society organizations in various countries develop or adapt existing international curricula and implement programs aimed at closing the gap in citizen awareness of the key ideas and principles of democracy and democratic governance.  Many of these organizations respond to particular issues that their country has displayed in the past in either implementing a system of democracy or in preserving it.  Moreover, these organizations find ways of making this education relevant to the students, whether it is by teaching them to partake in their local systems of government or by modeling democratic behaviors in the classrooms.  Examples in Egypt, include Tanweer Center for Development and Human Rights and Development and El Sadat Association for Development and Social Welfare.   

What makes civic education effective?

In assessing civic education, whether taught by the schools or by the civil society organizations, there are several factors which are thought to be related to positive outcomes in increased political participation and the internalization of democratic values.  For example, a USAID’s (2002) report concluded that the effectiveness of civic education was found to be highest, when training was recurrent, when teaching methods were engaging and co-operative, and when the students found their teachers to be “knowledgeable and inspiring.” Healthy Action (n.d.) also asserts that effective civic education should be based on the principles of universality, in that it is agreeable to all, the principle of impartiality in that it refrains from utilizing or teaching through partisan lens, and clarity in that the goals of the program are apparent.  

Critical questions in civic education:

Whether taught by the school system or through civil society organizations, two important questions about civic education emerge:  1)  Are these programs actually teaching students to embody democratic behaviors and values and 2) How effective are these programs in instilling democratic values and in increasing political participation? These questions are crucial to understanding the impact and role of civic education in both existing and emerging democracies. 

Civic education has great potential to instill within citizens key values and behaviors to promote the presence and emergence of democracy in countries all over the world.  Moreover, civic education is an important vehicle through which citizens may gain the skills and tools to achieve a country where “democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  (Abraham Lincoln)


Branson, M. S.  (1998).  The role of civic education:  A forthcoming education policy task force  position paper from the communitarian network.  Retrieved on June 30th, 2012 from

Finkel, S.E. (2002).   Civic Education and the mobilization of political participation in developing democracies. The Journal of Politics, 64(4), 994-1020.  

Finkel, S. E.  (2003). Can democracy be  taught.  Journal of Democracy, 14(3), 137-151.
Finkel, S.E.  and Ernst, H.R.  (2005). Civic education in post-apartheid South Africa:  Alternative paths to the development of political knowledge and democratic values.  Political Psychology, 26(3), 333-364. 

Healthy Action.  (n.d.).  Civic Education.  Retrieved on 03 Dec. 2012. a href="">>.

UNESCO.  (2011).  Democracy and renewal in the Arab world:   UNESCO in support of transitions to democracy.  Roundtable, UNESCO headquarters. 

USAID, Office of Democracy and Governance.  (2002).  Approaches to civic education:  Lessons learned.  Washington, DC:  Author.  Retrieved from


Civic Education Resources Inventory:  The Civic Education Resource Inventory provides information on civic education resources from around the world. The inventory contains citations of over 588 resources related to school-based civic education. The original request asked contributors to submit citations of the most important print resources published in their respective countries related to civic education. As a user generated resource, the inventory is dependent on the submissions of contributors. While the Center for Civic Education sought submissions from educators in all regions of the world, some areas are more heavily represented than others. Whenever possible, the Center has provided citations in English. However, some titles and abstracts may appear in other languages when English translations were unavailable. Finally, while the Center edits all submitted entries, because this resource inventory is user-generated the language, style and detail of citations will vary. If you see information you believe is inaccurate, please notify our web manager at

Center for Civic Education: The Center is dedicated to promoting an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy in the United States and other countries.

Res Publica: A Framework for Education in Democracy:  Res Publica: An International Framework for Education in Democracy represents an international effort to develop a resource that can be used in the creation of curricular programs designed to develop educational programs to prepare young people and adults for citizenship in a constitutional democracy. The Framework is being developed in the belief that there is a need among educators in democratic nations for a resource that attempts to survey the field of education for democratic citizenship and to set forth comprehensively its principal content. Begun in 1996, previous drafts have been commented upon by reviewers in every inhabited continent.

The Center for Civic Education welcomes any individual or organization to comment freely and critically on this Framework on a continuing basis. (PDF Version)

Human Rights Education Associates:  Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is an international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning; the training of activists and professionals; the development of educational materials and programming; and community-building through on-line technologies. HREA is dedicated to quality education and training to promote understanding, attitudes and actions to protect human rights, and to foster the development of peaceable, free and just communities.

International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achieve...:  The IEA Civic Education Study is the largest and most rigorous study of civic education ever conducted internationally. This research tested and surveyed nationally representative samples consisting of 90,000 14-year-old students in 28 countries, and 50,000 17- to 19-year-old students in 16 countries throughout 1999 and 2000. Questionnaires were also administered to teachers and school principals. The content domains covered in the instrument were identified through national case studies during 1996-1997 and included democracy, national identity, and social cohesion and diversity. The engagement of youth in civil society was also a focus.

Street Law, Inc.:  We’re Street Law—a nonprofit organization that creates classroom and community programs that teach people about law, democracy, and human rights worldwide. Street Law program participants benefit from “real-life” lessons and insights, which they can use to effect positive change for the rest of their lives. Our accessible, engaging, and interactive programs empower students and communities to become active, legally-savvy contributors to society.

Suggested IEA Publications and Reports:

Amadeo, J.A., Torney-Purta, J., Lehmann, R., Husfeldt, V., and Nikolova, R. (2002). Civic knowledge and engagement: An IEA study of upper secondary stu....Amsterdam: IEA.

Executive Summary of Citizenship and Education in Twenty Eight Coun...

Executive Summary of Citizenship and Education in Twenty Eight Coun...

Torney-Purta, J., Lehmann, R., Oswald, H., and Schulz, W. (2001). Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: civic knowledg.... Amsterdam: IEA.

Steiner-Khamsi, G., Torney-Purta, J. and Schwille, J. (1999). New paradigms and recurring paradoxes in education for citizenship. Amsterdam: Elsevier Press.

Torney-Purta, J., Schwille, J. and Amadeo, J. (1999). Civic education across countries: Twenty-four national case studies from the IEA Civic Education Project. Amsterdam: IEA.


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Tags: citizenship, civic education, civil society, democracy, political participation


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Comment by Romina Kasman on April 27, 2014 at 12:37pm

Thanks for sharing this! I also recommend this publication by the OAS Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices which also contributes to promote the discussion about the definition of civic and citizenship education, "EDUCATION AND CRITICAL THINKING FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF CITIZENSHIP: An Investment toward Strengthening Democracy in the Americas. To access the document, click here,

Comment by Maha Hilal on December 13, 2012 at 12:53pm

Thank you for your feedback Uli!  I'm glad you find this guide helpful!  And Romina, thank you for your comment as well and for this great list of resources from the Inter-American Program for Domestic Values and Practices-I'm sure other members will find them to be very useful! 

Comment by Romina Kasman on December 12, 2012 at 9:48pm

Thank you for this great overview. I would like to share you this website,, I'm the coordinator of the Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices, which is coordinated by the Office of Education and Culture of the Organization of American States (

The Program was adopted by OAS Ministers of Education at the IV Inter-American Meeting of Ministries of Education, in Trinidad and Tobago, 2005, and responds to the commitments of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, specifically articles 26 and 27.

Our Program structure its activities in 3 components: research and analysis, cooperation and professional development.

Here are some publications developed within our research component. 

) Electronic bulletins: This electronic publication aims to promote the exchange of information and discussion on priority topics in the field of education for democratic citizenship. Through the selection of key resources- such as successful experiences within and outside the Americas, relevant academic publications, policy documents, interviews and opinions of field experts- the online bulletin offers an opportunity for expand knowledge on the field, so as to stimulate innovative research and program development. At the moment, eight editions have been published in English and Spanish, which are available free of charge at the Inter-American Program Web Portal (

a)     B) Building democratic classrooms in the Caribbean

- “The Effectiveness of the Education for Democratic Citizenship in the Caribbean Project”. An evaluation report of the online course “Education for Democratic Citizenship in the Caribbean: A Distance Course for Educators (EDCC)”. (2011)

- “Report on issues in teacher education in the Caribbean Sub region: Understanding the Challenges to Promoting Democratic Ideals in Schools” (2011)

C) Policy Brief Series on Education and Democracy: These documents aim to report key findings from research and from policies and programs on topics that are high on the citizenship education agenda, providing information tools for the development of public policies in the countries of the Americas. First edition: “Policy Brief: Violence prevention through early childhood intervent...”. The second edition will be focused on Evaluation of Policies and Programs on Education for Democratic Citizenship.

D) Education for Migrant Children and Youth:

· "Educación de niños, niñas y jóvenes inmigrantes en las Américas: Situación actual y desafíos" (2011) (The English version will be available by October 2012)

· Mapping of Public Policy for the "Education of Migrant Children and Youth" Project  (2009)

E) Hemispheric Report on National Policies Education for Democratic Citizenship (June 2008): This document was prepared by Jo-Ann Amadeo y Adriana Cepeda for the Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices. The goal of this report is to conduct an analysis of democratic citizenship education policies in the formal school setting, considering all the work that is being developed in related areas such as civic education, conflict resolution education, peace education, ethics and values education, character education, diversity education, human rights education, environmental education, gender equity education, among others. 

F) The Inter-American Journal of Education for Democracy: The Inter-American Journal of Education for Democracy is a refereed academic publication aimed at fostering intellectual discussion and exchange of ideas to promote democratic citizenship education in the Americas. Created in alliance with the University of Indiana, Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile and the University of Toronto, the IJED is a plural forum that diffuses knowledge on a wide array of topics, disciplines, theoretical perspectives, and methodologies in the field of citizenship education for democracy. The Journal can be freely accessed by internet at www. At the moment there are seven editions of the Journal. The last edition was published in May, 2012.

G) Towards a culture of non-violence: field kit and video (2011). Art and culture are increasingly recognized as important elements of any strategy that aims to reduce violence and stimulate social inclusion. As a result, the Inter-American Committee on Culture of the Organization of American States developed a field kit that includes four innovative program experiences from the Americas. The field kit contains a video and booklet that may be used as a support tool for presenters, viewers and educators. The following programs were included in the field kit::

  • The Remix Project –Canada
  • The Transformation of Medellín – Colombia
  • Arte como Expresión de Lucha – Guatemala
  • Caribbean Vizion - Caribbean

H) Videos- Online Courses: The following videos are related to our online courses for classroom teachers and teacher educators. For more information about our online courses, please click here.

-Education for Democratic Citizenship in the Caribbean: An Online Course for Educators- See the video about the project (available in English)

-Hemispheric Course for Teachers: The Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Teaching of Democratic Values and Practices. See the video: Course on democratic classrooms in Peru. (available in Spanish)

Comment by Uli Spalthoff on December 7, 2012 at 5:57pm

Thanks for this overview and introduction to the topic. As I am interested to learn about best practices of civic education at primary school level, your article will definitely help to dig deeper.

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