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Civic Education Study

The IEA Civic Education Study (CIVED) was carried out in two phases. In the first phase, researchers in several countries conducted qualitative case studies that examined the context and meaning of civic education. The observations from the case studies were then used to develop instruments for gathering information in the second phase of the study about students' civic knowledge, attitudes, and engagement.

The assessment covered the content domains of democracy and citizenship, national identity, and social cohesion and diversity. The student instruments consisted of five types of items measuring:

  • students' knowledge of fundamental principles of democracy;
  • students' skills in interpreting political communication;
  • students' concepts of democracy and citizenship;
  • students' attitudes related to their nation, trust in institutions, opportunities for immigrants, and the political rights of women;
  • students' expectations for future participation in civic-related activities.

Questionnaires were administered to teachers and school principals, as well as students. Phase 1 of the study was conducted in 1996–1997. For Phase 2, data were collected in 1999 (standard population) and 2000 (optional population).

Target population

The target population included all students enrolled on a full-time basis in the grade that contained the most 14-year-old students at the time of testing (eighth grade in the majority of countries). An additional, optional survey of upper-secondary school students (age 16.6–19.4) was conducted in some countries.

Participating education systems

Australia, Belgium (French), Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and United States.

Canada and The Netherlands participated in Phase 1 only; Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, the Slovak Republic, and Sweden participated in Phase 2 only. Israel only collected data for upper-secondary students.

Key findings

Students' civic knowledge and understanding

In the case of 14-year-old students, the high-performing group of countries included long-standing democracies as well as nations that were building democracy and experiencing massive political transitions in the 1990s. The top-performing country was Poland, followed by Finland, Cyprus, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, and the United States.

Students in most countries had an understanding of fundamental democratic values and institutions. Upper-secondary students had higher levels of civic knowledge than 14-year-olds in their countries, and males generally outperformed females, especially in economic knowledge. In the case of 14-year-old students, gender differences were minimal with regard to civic knowledge but substantial in some attitudes (for example, girls were more supportive of the political rights of women and immigrants than boys).

Students' attitudes

Aside from voting, students were skeptical about traditional forms of political engagement. However, many were open to other types of involvement in civic life (such as collecting money for social causes, participating in a non-violent protest march, etc.). Students with the most civic knowledge were also those most likely to be receptive to participating in civic activities.

Students, especially those nearing the end of their secondary education, trusted the news media more than they trusted government-related institutions. Older students also had less positive feelings about their countries.

Impact of school and home environment

Upper-secondary students generally felt freer than younger students to discuss ideas and express their opinions in class. Students viewed participation in student government and other student-led activities to provide a positive solution to school problems; this was especially true of upper-secondary students, who had more experiences of this kind. Upper-secondary female students appeared to be more engaged and comfortable than their male counterparts in the school and community environment.

Fourteen-year-old students were most frequently drawn to television as a source of news, and in many countries, this was positively associated with their level of civic knowledge and intention to vote. In the case of upper-secondary students, the effect of watching television news on intention to vote was also significant, but not in relation to students' level of civic knowledge.

Home environment and educational resources had a substantial impact on civic knowledge. Schools that modeled democratic practice were most effective in promoting civic knowledge and engagement.

For more information, please visit the CIVED website.

Major publications

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

Schulz, W., & Sibberns, H. (Eds.). (2004). IEA Civic Education Study technical report. Amsterdam: IEA.

Sibberns, H. (2005). IEA Civic Education Study user guide for the international database. Amsterdam: IEA.

Steiner-Khamsi, G., Torney-Purta, J., & Schwille, J. (Eds.). (2002). New paradigms and recurring paradoxes in education for citizenship: An international comparison. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Torney-Purta, J., Lehmann, R., Oswald, H., & Schulz, W. (2001). Citizenship and education in twenty-eight countries: Civic knowledge and engagement at age fourteen. Amsterdam: IEA.

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

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