TITRE COURANT, PAGES IMPAIRES: Civic knowledge among 14-year-olds

TITRE COURANT, BAS DE PAGE: Prospects, vol. XXXI, no. 3, September 2001


Original language: English


Judith Torney-Purta (United States of America)

Professor of Human Development and Affiliate Professor of Public Affairs, University of Maryland, College Park. Since 1994, Chair of the International Steering Committee for the Civic Education Study conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). She was senior editor of the 1999 volume on the first phase of the study (Civic education across countries: twenty-four national case studies from the IEA civic education project) and senior author of the 2001 volume reporting the second phase (Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: civic knowledge and engagement at age fourteen). She is a developmental and educational psychologist with interests in empirical research and evaluation on the development of the political attitudes of children and youth. Email: jt22@umail.umd.edu.


Civic Knowledge, Beliefs about

Democratic Institutions,

and Civic Engagement

among 14-year-Olds

Judith Torney-Purta


What are the common features of young people’s understandings of their societies and of their civic rights and responsibilities in democratic countries? How do they intend to fulfil their own responsibilities to maintain democratic political structures and civil society? What roles do schools play in these processes? A massive empirical study of 90,000 young people in twenty-eight countries provides some answers to these questions, which have taken on new urgency in the past decade.

In the mid-1990s the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), an independent co-operative of research institutes and agencies in more than fifty countries, began planning the Civic Education Study.1 This is one of twenty large-scale cross-national studies of educational achievement conducted by the association. Areas related to civic education were popular topics for research in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a number of international organizations, as well as nationally based research units, conducted studies related to civic education and developed new curriculum and teacher training programmes. Many of these investigations were conducted by those interested in political socialization. IEA itself conducted a small civic education study in 1971 (Torney, Oppenheim & Farnen, 1975). Recognition that the political and social changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s posed new challenges for civic education led IEA to develop a study based on the collection of data in its member countries in 1999.

The IEA Civic Education Study was conducted in two linked phases, largely because there was no widely accepted framework available when the study began that could guide the development of a test and survey across old and new democracies. The first phase involved qualitative national case studies based around a series of structured framing questions. Experts within participating countries were interviewed about what the average 14-year-old student might be expected to know, understand and believe about topics such as laws and law-making institutions or the nature of problems in the community. Curriculum guidelines were examined and the opinions of teachers and other experts were gathered. This process identified a common core of similar expectations for students across countries, as well as differences in the curricular structures and processes designed to ensure that young people would have the opportunity to meet them. In many countries civic education objectives were embedded in courses such as history or social studies or spread throughout the curriculum.

A model was developed showing the embedded nature of individual student’s civic-related learning in macro- and micro-processes encompassing society, family, peer group, community and school. The researchers used frameworks such as situated cognition to understand the ways in which everyday experience both inside and outside school influences students’ beliefs and behaviours (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). The results of this phase were published by IEA in a volume entitled Civic education across countries: twenty-four national case studies from the IEA civic education project (Torney-Purta, Schwille & Amadeo, 1999).

The second phase of the IEA Civic Education Study, which forms the basis of this article, began with an extensive process of developing a content framework built around three domains of content identified in countries’ submissions during the first phase. These domains were: i) democracy, democratic institutions and citizenship, ii) national identity and international relations, and iii) social cohesion and diversity. This framework was the basis of the test and survey construction. The IEA National Research Co-ordinators in each country and a ten-member International Steering Committee contributed to the development, pilot testing and question selection for the student instrument. This resulted in a multiple-choice test of civic knowledge and of skills in interpreting civic-related information (thirty-eight items, each with a correct answer); a survey of concepts, attitudes and behaviours (136 items without correct answers); and background questions asking about home literacy resources, expected years of further education, and membership in organizations and associations (as well as gender, age and other demographic characteristics). In addition, there was a school questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire.

The international co-ordinating centre was at the Humboldt University of Berlin under the direction of Rainer Lehmann. IEA quality control procedures for sampling, translation verification, test administration and item response theory (IRT) scaling were followed. During 1999 approximately 90,000 students in the grade containing the majority of 14-year-olds were tested in the following countries: Australia, Belgium (the French-speaking community), Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong (China), Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

There was some initial scepticism about possibilities for test development in the civic education area. Much nationally-based research on civic education had dealt with particular details of that one nation’s governmental structure, but such questions were unsuitable for use cross-nationally. The IEA Civic Education Study devoted resources to the process of international test development over a four-year period. Through a process that included building cross-national consensus about the framework, preparing 140 draft items, reviewing and pilot testing these questions, and obtaining the agreement of National Research Co-ordinators, a meaningful, valid and reliable instrument resulted. Alpha reliabilities for the resulting 38-item test of knowledge and skills exceeded .80 in every participating country. Both the test and the survey were scaled using IRT methods to meet IEA’s standards.

This process of designing cross-national measures gave the participants and study leaders an awareness of the essence of core fundamental understandings and beliefs about democracy applicable across countries. In addition, this process led to agreement cross-nationally about a range of valued outcomes of effective civic education not limited to knowledge or to attitudes.

The design, in which nationally representative samples were tested and in which every student answered the same instrument, allows several types of analysis and presentation. First, international averages based on the responses of all students tested can be used (and much of this article describes the typical 14-year-old across these twenty-eight countries). Second, cross-national differences can be examined. Graphs presenting performance by the different countries predominate in the volume reporting the study’s findings, Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: civic knowledge and engagement at age fourteen (Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald & Schulz, 2001). Some cross-national differences are presented in this article as well. Third, one can identify correlates or predictors within countries of important civic outcomes, such as knowledge or engagement. These analyses suggest possible directions for exploring civic education reform within countries. These analyses can examine the effect of one school factor, such as classroom climate, while holding constant other factors, such as home educational resources and gender. These analyses provide a clearer picture than simple comparisons of the mean scores of different groups. A brief section of this article presents a model predicting civic knowledge.

The analysis and conclusions of this study are summarized in this article under the following content headings: Civic Knowledge, Civic Engagement and Civic Attitudes. Both the average responses across countries and some country differences are presented. In addition, a short section of this article presents a model relating civic knowledge to a selection of student characteristics and schools factors. A great deal more about the cross-national differences and the predictors of civic knowledge and civic engagement can be found in Torney-Purta et al. (2001) and in the national reports that are being issued by participating countries (references at www.wam.umd.edu/~iea/).


Analysis and conclusions about civic knowledge


The IEA civic education data show that the average student across the participating countries has an understanding of fundamental democratic values and institutions. For example, test results indicate that internationally a majority of students recognize the function of laws, private civil society associations and political parties. Their understanding sometimes appears superficial, however. This corroborates previous research on smaller samples in single countries using interviews or written essays, which have suggested that many young people understand democracy by referring to a set of slogans about freedom or in relation to one particular institution (Doig et al., 1993/94; Torney-Purta, Hahn & Amadeo, 2001).

The average student in the IEA Civic Education Study demonstrated a moderate level of skills in interpreting civic-related material such as political cartoons or a mock election leaflet and in distinguishing between statements of opinion and of fact (Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 3).

There are statistically significant differences between countries in performance on the test of civic knowledge and skills, however. The countries are grouped in Table 1 according to whether they fell above, at or below the international mean. Most differences between countries within these three groups were not significant.

It is helpful to relate these results to studies in other subject areas. The differences between countries in civic knowledge and skills were similar in size to those found in previous IEA cross-national literacy studies, but were not as large as those found in previous IEA mathematics studies, such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

There are no simple explanations for these differences in levels of civic knowledge among these countries. The high performing group includes not only long standing democracies but also nations that have experienced massive political transitions during the lifetimes of the 14-year-olds under study, and are in the process of consolidating democracy (the Czech Republic, Poland and the Slovakia). These countries experienced political changes that were highly visible and widely discussed. Soon after these changes, the school systems in these countries moved rapidly to institute new programmes of democratic civic education. These factors may have influenced student performance, and national reports will suggest additional factors.


TABLE 1. Country performance on total civic knowledge in the IEA Civic Education Study: means and standard deviations


Countries significantly above the international mean of 100

Countries not significantly different from the international mean of 100

Countries significantly below the international mean of 100


111 (1.7)


102 (0.8)


96 (0.7)


109 (0.7)


102 (0.6)

Belgium (French)

95 (0.9)


108 (0.5)


101 (0.5)


94 (0.5)


108 (0.8)


100 (0.5)


94 (0.7)

Hong Kong (China)

107 (1.1)


100 (0.5)


92 (0.9)

United States

106 (1.2)

Russian Federation

100 (1.3)


92 (0.9)


105 (0.8)


99 (0.6)


88 (0.7)


105 (0.7)


99 (0.8)


86 (0.9)


103 (0.5)


98 (0.8)



Czech Republic

103 (0.8)


98 (1.3)



Notes: Samples of tested students were nationally representative, weighted to correspond to population figures, and ranged in size from 2076 in Belgium (French) to 5688 in Chile. Students were tested in grade 8 or 9 (whichever national statistics suggested would contain the larger proportion of 14-year-olds). The lowest mean age was in Belgium (French), 14.1, and the highest was in Hong Kong (China), 15.3.

Data Source: IEA Civic Education Study, 14-year-old samples tested in 1999. See Torney-Purta et al., 2001.


The total knowledge score presented in Table 1 is composed of two subscores, entitled ‘content knowledge’ (of fundamental democratic principles) and ‘skills in interpreting civic-related information’ (such as political cartoons, election leaflets or newspaper articles). Comparing performance on these sub-scales shows interesting patterns. Students in Australia, England, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States ranked higher in their performance on the items measuring skill in understanding civic-related information than on the items measuring content knowledge of fundamental democratic principles. In contrast, students in countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Russian Federation and Slovenia ranked higher on the items measuring content knowledge than on the items assessing skill in interpreting concrete political communication. The performance of these countries may reflect differences in curricular emphases, for example, more stress on abstract political concepts and principles in the post-Communist countries and on their concrete application in North America, Australia and parts of Western Europe. Countries not mentioned above performed at a similar level on the two subscales.

In almost all the participating countries, students who reported having more books in their homes demonstrated more civic knowledge. Comparing the availability of such literacy resources can also help in interpreting some of the cross-national differences. Students in four of the eight countries that performed below the international mean on the knowledge test, reported having few of these literacy resources at home (for more detailed analysis see Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 3).

The extent to which 14-year-olds understand democratic principles is also demonstrated in the study’s ‘concepts of democracy’ measure. Students’ responses to these rating scales (which asked what was good for democracy and what was bad for democracy, but did not have designated correct answers) corroborate the test results cited above. Across these twenty-eight countries there is consensus that democracy is strengthened when citizens can elect leaders freely, when many organizations exist for people who wish to join them, and when everyone has the right to express opinions. Conversely, these young people believe that democracy is weakened when wealthy people have special influence on the government, when politicians influence the courts, when one company owns all the newspapers, and when people are forbidden to express ideas critical of the government.

Although many students have a grasp of the basic fundamentals of democracy, there are groups in each country that do not show this level of understanding. The relatively low level of skill in understanding some civic-related communications (e.g., leaflets like those issued at the time of an election) among students in some countries is of concern.


Analysis and conclusions about civic engagement


The IEA Civic Education Study placed an emphasis on several aspects of civic engagement. The survey instrument included a number of questions without right and wrong answers to measure participation and involvement. These included the extent to which young people thought different aspects of citizenship were important for adults, the civic-related activities in which they were already participating along with those in which they intend to participate as adults, and the amount of confidence they had in the value of participation in organized school groups.


Table 2: International means on items assessing the concept of good citizenship for adults:


An adult who is a good citizen:


An adult who is a good citizen:


Obeys the law


Votes in every election


Takes part in activities promoting human rights


Follows political issues in the newspaper, radio, or on TV


Takes part in activities to protect the environment


Engages in political discussions


Participates in activities to benefit the community


Joins a political party


Notes: Rating scale ranged from 1 (not important) to 4 (very important). On these eight items there was either high or moderate consensus across countries, defined as a difference of one scale point or less between the lowest country mean and the highest country mean.

Data Source: IEA Civic Education Study, 14-year-old samples tested 1999. See Torney-Purta et al., 2001.


Table 2 displays items assessing what 14-year-olds across countries believe is important for adults to do as good citizens. These young people view obeying the law is a very important responsibility of adult citizenship and voting as important. Other behaviours that have traditionally been associated with adult citizenship, such as engaging in political discussion or joining a political party, are viewed by these young people as relatively unimportant. On the other hand, across countries, young people believe that the responsibilities of adult citizens include taking part in activities that promote human rights, protect the environment and benefit the community. In some countries following political issues in the media is also important (for further detail see Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 4). In summary, the responsibilities of conventional citizenship are perceived by these students as considerably less important than what are sometimes called ‘social-movement-related activities’.

Students were also asked to estimate the kinds of political participation they expected to undertake as adults. Only about 20% of the respondents across countries said that they intended to participate in those activities usually associated with conventional adult political involvement, for example joining a political party, writing to newspapers about social and political concerns, or being a candidate for a local or city-wide office. 80% across countries did say that they would probably or definitely vote, however. These students were also likely to say that they would collect money for a social cause or charity (international mean of 59%) and somewhat likely to say that they would participate in a non-violent protest march (international mean of 44%). In contrast, participation in protest activities that would be illegal in most countries, such as blocking traffic or occupying buildings, were likely for only about 15% of the students across countries. Aside from voting, students appear quite sceptical about traditional forms of political engagement. On the other hand, many are open to other involvement in civic life.

To look at cross-national differences, three separate scales relating to civic engagement were constructed—one emphasizing beliefs about the importance of conventional citizen activities, one emphasizing beliefs about the importance of social-movement-related citizen activities, and one asking about the intention to participate in conventional citizen activities as an adult.

When county means were compared, students in the following countries had high levels of civic engagement (above the international mean on two out of the three scales listed in the previous paragraph and at least at the average on the third scale): Chile; Colombia; Cyprus; Greece; Poland; Portugal; Romania; United States. Students in the following countries had low levels of civic engagement (below the international mean on all three of these scales): Australia; Belgium (French); Czech Republic; Denmark; England; Finland; Sweden; Switzerland. Other countries showed more mixed patterns.

These results suggest that involving young people in civic-related activities is a complex process within different political contexts. Among the countries where students were relatively enthusiastic about civic participation and appeared to be engaged were four countries that scored low on civic knowledge (Chile, Colombia, Portugal and Romania) and four that scored high on knowledge (Cyprus, Greece, Poland and the United States). Among the countries where students appeared relatively disengaged in a civic sense were countries with high knowledge scores (the Czech Republic and Finland) as well as those with more moderate knowledge scores (Australia, Belgium [French], Denmark, England, Sweden and Switzerland). High levels of civic knowledge and of civic engagement do not necessarily go together when country differences are examined.

In addition to examining potential engagement in citizenship activities oriented to the national or community scene, the IEA instrument included a measure entitled ‘Confidence in participation at school’ to inquire about the democratic experiences of students at their schools. Previous research often included political efficacy measures in which respondents were asked about citizens’ effectiveness in influencing national or local government. The IEA study examined the everyday experience of young people in their schools, and not only their orientations toward more distant governmental authorities. This measure was developed to assess the sense of school efficacy, to what extent students think that getting together with other students to try to improve their school is likely to have positive results.

Among the most interesting of the cross-national comparisons involve the ‘Confidence in participation at school’ measure. In Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Romania students showed high levels of civic engagement both in the political realm of adult activity (see the countries listed as high and as low in civic engagement previously in this section) and also high levels of confidence in engagement at school. In these countries it appears that experience with democracy at school and civic engagement in the broader society are reasonably congruent. In contrast, in Denmark and Sweden, there were high levels of confidence in participation at school but relatively low levels of engagement in the realm of national or local politics. In these two Nordic countries, students report positive experiences of political efficacy at school, but this does not seem to translate into civic engagement in the arenas of adult-oriented political behaviour.

In summary, across nations, there is considerable variability in the civic engagement of students. Most young people are not drawn to the kind of activities that are common among politically involved adults in many democracies. There is also a complex picture of cross-national differences. Countries where students express relatively high levels of belief in the importance of conventional and social-movement related activities include some countries that performed well on the knowledge test, and others that performed relatively poorly. Further, countries where students report positive experiences with participation at school do not always correspond to the countries where students believe in the importance of conventional political and social movement activities outside of school.


Analysis and conclusions about civic attitudes


A variety of measures of civic and political attitudes were included in the IEA instrument. Because the legitimacy of democratic governments is thought to depend on a sense of political trust on the part of citizens, and because of previous cross-national research in this area (Inglehart, 1997; McAllister, 1999), a measure of trust in government-related institutions was included. Across countries, the courts and police were trusted the most by these 14-year-olds, followed by national and local governments. Some countries deviated from this pattern, with national or local governments trusted more than the justice system institutions. In all countries political parties were trusted the least, however.

14-year olds already appear to be members of the political cultures of their countries, expressing levels of trust that largely correspond to those of adults in their nations. The highest level of trust in government-related institutions was found among 14-year-olds in Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, and the lowest in Bulgaria, the Russian Federation and Slovenia. Generally, the countries with short histories of democracy (including the post-Communist countries) showed lower levels of trust in governmental institutions (for more detail see Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 5; for similar data on adult samples, see McAllister, 1999).

One of the purposes of the study was to investigate attitudes toward social cohesion and diversity. This proved difficult because of the different situations and characteristics of groups subject to discrimination in different regions. In some participating countries, discrimination is a problem of racism or religious intolerance; in other countries, it is a problem of discrimination against national minorities, immigrants or those speaking a mother tongue different from that of the majority population. A scale regarding attitudes toward rights for immigrants did prove feasible, however. Across countries students were supportive of the rights of immigrants, with the greatest support for educational opportunity and the least support for the right to keep their own language.

Women constitute another group subject to discrimination in the political life of many societies. A scale of support for women’s political and job-related rights was included in the IEA instrument; students were largely supportive of these rights, agreeing with items such as, ‘women should run for public office and take part in the government just as men do’ and disagreeing with items such as, ‘men are better qualified to be political leaders than women’ and ‘when jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women’.

Students in Australia, Denmark, England and Norway had the highest scores on support for women’s rights, with scores also above the international mean in Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Students in Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania and the Russian Federation had the lowest scores on women’s rights, with Chile, Estonia, Hong Kong (China), Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia also below the international mean. In almost all the countries where students scored below the international mean on women’s rights, adult unemployment rates were greater than 10% of the labour force. Low scores in these countries may have been related to the items on the scale about competition for jobs.

The political dimension of this scale is also important. These data provide an opportunity to compare a range of countries from several regions with differing representations of women in national legislatures. In Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden, where women hold more than 30% of the parliamentary seats, young people’s support for women’s rights is high. The majority of countries whose adolescents score significantly below the international mean on support for women’s rights have relatively few women in their national legislatures—ranging from 6% in the Russian Federation and Romania to 17% in the three Baltic States. It may be that young people see women holding political positions, view them as role models, and develop more positive attitudes toward women’s rights. Or it may be that voters who developed support for women’s rights during their adolescence are more likely to vote for women candidates when they become adults. An alternative explanation involves a combination of these processes and other factors such as a well organized and visible women’s movement (for more detail see Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapters 1 & 5).

There are substantial gender differences in support for immigrants’ rights and very substantial gender differences in support for women’s political and economic rights. Support for immigrants’ rights and for women’s rights is greater on the part of females (corroborating much previous research).


Table 3. Predictors of the civic knowledge score.


Expected years of further education (+ predictor in twenty-eight countries)

Frequency of watching television news (+ predictor in sixteen countries)

Home literacy resources (+ predictor in twenty-seven countries)

Female gender (– predictor in eleven countries)

Spend evening with peers outside the home

(– predictor in twenty-four countries)

Participation in student council (+ predictor in ten countries)

Open climate for classroom discussion (+ predictor in twenty-two countries)


Notes: Squared multiple correlations ranged from .10 in Colombia to .36 in the Czech Republic with a median of .22.


Predictors of civic knowledge


Country differences, such as those presented in previous sections, are of great interest in understanding civic education contexts and processes. Numerous questions of interest to policy-makers, educators and researchers would remain unaddressed, however, if correlates of students’ civic knowledge and engagement were not explored. In order to address some of these questions and suggest directions for future analysis, simple models for predicting civic knowledge and expressed likelihood of voting were developed. As a first step, a path regression model was developed for a composite sample in which the twenty-eight countries were equally weighted; separate regressions using the full weighted sample for each country were then produced. The regression model for ‘civic knowledge’ is summarized in Table 3 (for more complete information, including a parallel analysis of predictors of the likelihood of voting, see Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 8.)

            The most important predictors of the civic knowledge score were aspirations for higher education and the literacy resources available in the home, both related positively to knowledge. Predictors of civic knowledge are quite similar to those found in other subject areas tested by IEA. Students from backgrounds that foster high educational aspirations and provide literacy resources possess more civic knowledge and skills. In addition, young people who spend many evenings out of their homes with peers have lower civic knowledge and skills. This may indicate a group that does not spend as much time on schoolwork, or a tendency of some youth to be oriented to the values of their peers rather than those of parents and teachers.

Female students in slightly less than half of the countries had lower knowledge scores than males (when these other factors were held constant). The size of these gender differences tended to be relatively small in comparison to studies conducted in the past.

Frequency of watching news on television predicted higher knowledge in about half of the countries. With this variable we cannot discount the possibility that students who are more knowledgeable about civic matters are also more interested in watching television news rather than the effect going in the other direction.

Even when the factors of home, peer group and media are held constant, there are two aspects of schooling that make a substantial contribution to civic knowledge. The first replicates a relationship found in the 1971 IEA Civic Education Study and in other studies reviewed by Torney-Purta, Hahn & Amadeo (2001). In the 1999 IEA testing the extent to which students experienced an open classroom climate for discussion of issues was positively related to civic knowledge in twenty-two of the twenty-eight countries. In the ‘classroom climate’ scale students were asked, for example, how frequently they were encouraged to make up their own minds about issues, the extent to which teachers respected students’ opinions and encouraged their expression during class discussions, and the extent to which teachers encouraged the discussion of issues about which people have different opinions and presented several sides of these issues. Nearly 40% of students reported that they were often encouraged to make up their own minds and felt that their opinions were respected. Only 15–25% felt that they were often encouraged to discuss issues about which there is disagreement or that they heard about several sides of an issue. Students who did have these experiences in their classes had higher knowledge scores, even when differences in educational aspirations and home literacy were taken into account.

The other school experience that was positively related to knowledge was participation in a student council or student parliament (a positive influence on knowledge in about one-third of the countries). In some countries, however, such school-based organizations appear not to be available to many students (Torney-Purta et al., 2001, chapter 7). The case studies conducted as part of the first phase of the IEA Civic Education Study also indicated that there is considerable ambivalence in some countries about how much power these organizations should have in school (Torney-Purta, Schwille & Amadeo, 1999).

In summary, there are two school factors, both indicative of a democratic atmosphere, that appear to foster 14-year-olds’ achievement in civic education: an open classroom climate in which discussion of civic-related issues is encouraged and participation in a school council or school parliament. Encouragement for students to express their opinions appears to be limited in certain countries, however, while the opportunity to participate in school parliaments appears rare in some places. These are matters for further exploration by educators and policy makers interested in enhancing students’ civic knowledge.


Overall conclusions


This study paints a relatively positive picture of the average 14-year-old across these twenty-eight countries as someone who:

·                    Has considerable knowledge about fundamental democratic principles and moderate skills in analyzing civic-relevant information;

·                    Subscribes to the basic ‘narrative of democracy’;

·                    Intends to vote;

·                    Believes that other activities traditionally associated with adult citizenship are less important than environmental or community group participation; and,

·                    Is already a member of a political culture shared with adults in the country.

There are substantial differences in civic knowledge and skills associated with home background. Those differences are more modest in the likelihood of voting and quite small in attitudes. There are some gender differences in knowledge (with females less knowledgeable than males in some countries), more substantial differences in attitudes toward immigrants (with females more positive than males in many countries), and very substantial differences in attitudes toward women’s rights (with females much more positive than males in all the participating countries).

Groups of countries that might have been expected to have similar scores on civic knowledge and civic engagement (for example, the post-Communist countries), in fact show quite diverse patterns. The 14-year-olds in some of these countries have high average scores on both civic knowledge and engagement, while those from some other countries in this group are low on both. Scores of the students in still other post-Communist countries show high knowledge and low engagement (or low knowledge and high engagement). There is similar diversity among the long-established democracies that participated.

It appears that schools enhance students’ civic knowledge when they give students opportunities for open discussion in classrooms. Participation in organizations such as class or school parliaments also appears to have a positive impact in some countries. Enhancing these aspects of schooling poses a number of challenges, however. How can teachers’ skills in establishing an open and respectful classroom climate be enhanced in a way that still maintains a strong focus on content and skills in analyzing civic-related topics? How can students’ activities in the community, environmental groups and other organizations in which they seem interested be linked to conventional political engagement? How can the 14-year-old’s expressed willingness to vote and engage in certain aspects of civic life be converted into actual voting at age 18? How can the gaps be bridged between students from resource-rich homes who are on the way to tertiary education and those with fewer resources?

The analysis of this rich set of data has just begun with the issuing by IEA of Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: civic knowledge and engagement at age fourteen (Torney-Purta et al., 2001). Many issues will be discussed in publications authored by other International Steering Committee members (including the results of a teacher questionnaire that was not dealt with here). National reports will be issued by participating countries. The character of civic education in 1999 as reflected in the responses of these 90 thousand young people will be open for still wider consideration by the international educational community when the data are released for analysis in 2002.



1.             The IEA Civic Education Study has no official connection to any United Nations agency.  The authors of the international report, J. Torney-Purta, R. Lehmann, H. Oswald and W. Schulz, offer thanks to members of the International Steering Committee, National Research Co-ordinators, the IEA Organization, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the William T. Grant Foundation. 




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