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Overview of the Citizenship Education Research Network

Citizenship education is of primary importance to the construction of the sense of belonging and to civic participation in Canadian society. Although much has been said and written about citizenship education, there is no body of systematic long-term research in this key area. Canada is a society in transition. Schools and federal departments alike bear major responsibilities for assuring the socialization of the population for the roles, rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

What is CERN?

The Citizenship Education Research Network brings together a group of interested researchers, policy makers, practitioners and stakeholders, to carry out an agreed-upon agenda of citizenship education research in Canada. CERN responds to a need for a systematic, long-term body of research on the important dimension of social cohesion.


The Network began as a Citizenship Education Think Tank held at the Kananaskis Field Station in Alberta, March 27-30, 1998. The thirty participants met to develop an agenda for citizenship education research in Canada; to continue the exchange among interested researchers, partners and stakeholders; and to lay the groundwork for common comparative pan-Canadian research projects. This event was organized under the auspices of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education and was sponsored by the department of Canadian Heritage.

Discussions of citizenship education research occurred at several previous conferences, including:

redbullet.gif (901 bytes) a preoccupation for democratic education manifites within the framework of the 44th International conference of education at Geneva which brought together ministers of education in 1994, to review the implementation of recommendations on peace education, human rights education and international understanding;
redbullet.gif (901 bytes) an invited conference on citizenship education held in April 1995 under the auspices of the chair of studies in Canadian citizenship and human rights at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick; resulting in the publication of a collection of articles in the journal of Canadian and International Education, volume 25, number 20, published in December 1996, with Alan Sears (U New Brunswick) and Murray Print (University of Sidney) as guest editors;
redbullet.gif (901 bytes) day-long sessions on citizenship education at the 1995 and 1997 annual conferences of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, both organized by Yvonne Hébert; with papers from the 1995 conference to appear in a book edited by Yvonne Hébert and with papers from the 1997 conference published in Canadian Ethnic Studies, Volume XXIX, number 2 (1997);
redbullet.gif (901 bytes) also within the CSSE annual conference in St. John's NFLD, was held a day-long Education Domain Conference, June 13, 1997, which brought together educational researchers of the Metropolis project; with conference proceedings launched at the Second National Metropolis Conference in November 1997;
redbullet.gif (901 bytes) a day of reflection on civic participation, November 23, 1997 in Montréal, organized by the Multiculturalism Directorate of the federal department of Canadian Heritage, resulted in fruitful discussion and an emerging sense of community among researchers and policy makers. A key background paper, "Civic Participation, Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills" by Jim Frideres (U Calgary), served as the springboard for a discussion group chaired by Michel Pagé (U Montréal) which very ably developed a consensus around future research and program directions on the theme of civic participation;
redbullet.gif (901 bytes) the Second annual Metropolis Conference, held in November in Montréal, in which researchers from across the country spoke about emerging and on-going research projects.

At the time, these events and projects were disconnected but it is at the Montréal conference that we saw the potential of linking them and similar projects as part of a national research agenda on citizenship education in Canada so as to provide a clear sense of direction and purpose.

Federal Interests

Meanwhile, realizing that in the next decade, Canadians will face hard questions about the future of their country, five federal departments came together in 1996-1997 to share their policy and research interests and plans with respect to an overarching concern with social cohesion. Canadian Heritage, Citizenship and Immigration, Human Resources Development, Justice and Industry Canada agreed that constructive synergies could be achieved between them on a significant number of research interests.

Formed in November 1996, the federal Policy Research Sub-Committee on Social Cohesion discussed long-term policy research requirements, developed a research inventory and set the stage for the development of a Social Cohesion Research Workplan (March 1997). Three research themes were agreed upon: Fault Lines, Axes of Community Identification and Implications of Changes in Social Cohesion. Within these themes, several issues are germane to the CERN initiative; these are: civic education and knowledge of Canada; Canadian values; national identity and community attachment. Thus, while developing independently, common interests of researchers and a supporting federal department come together in the CERN initiative.

Making History

The resulting Citizenship Education Think Tank, held on March 27-31, 1998 at the Kananaskis Field Station of the University of Calgary, in Alberta, was a historic event for not since 1919 has a group of concerned Canadians come together in a concerted national effort to discuss citizenship education. At that time, a major conference was held, organized by business interests, in the wake of the Winnipeg Strike of 1915, to consider the development of a stable and productive citizenry.

Four Research Themes

As a result of the Kananaskis discussions which focussed on documents exchanged, participants' interests and experiences, as well as what research is needed to guide action in this domain, four research themes emerged and were the object of group consensus at the Kananaskis Think Tank:

1. Citizenship Conceptions and Contexts;
2. Citizenship Practices;
3. Citizenship Values; and
4. Citizenship Skills, Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours.

These four themes were further developed at the next meeting of the group, in Ottawa on June 1, 1998, when they met in the Research Councils' chambers, hosted by Elisabeth Barot of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Canadian Heritage.

Research Programme

A series of research projects were identified for each of the four research themes. The theme area, Citizenship Conceptions, consists of three sub-themes: (a) Studies of the historical, social and philosophical context; (b) peoples' conceptions of citizenship; (c) educators' conceptions.

Citizenship Practices, another research theme, examines (a) the current state of knowledge on what citizenship education is actually being done; (b) the impact of practices and norms of institutions other than schools on citizenship education, especially on the hidden curriculum; (c) the roles of schools and other institutions for group such as students, parents, community groups; and (d) what is meant by the notion of "best practices' of citizenship.

The priorities of the research theme, Citizenship Values and Principles, are (a) to determine the citizenship values and principles which Canadians share; (b) to determine Canadians' perceptions of the values held by particular groups within Canadian society; (c) to determine what Canadians do when confronted with situations to which their values apply and in which their values conflict; and (d) to determine whether available citizenship materials reflect the citizenship values to which Canadians subscribe.

Looking at citizen efficacy, the fourth theme on the Skills, Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours Particular to Citizenship examines four questions: (a) What are the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviours, not only among students, but among citizens in general, in the domain of citizenship? (b) Although it is difficult to define these, how can such research guide the implementation of "good citizen practices'? ( c ) How do skills, attitudes and knowledge of citizenship guide behaviour? (d) What influence do pedagogical approaches have in the transmission and acquisition of citizenship concepts? In other words, how can a sense of efficacy be developed so that students are confident that they can as citizens contribute to the evolution of society?

For further information about the series of research projects identified or planned for each theme area, please consult the Kananaskis Executive Summary or the Kananaskis Final Report; and the Ottawa Report.

Working Together

Researchers and partners are accountable to the Citizenship Education Research Network which meets regularly. The next meeting of the Network is planned for the 1999 annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, to be held June 9-12, 1999 at the Université de Sherbrooke/Bishop's University. For further information, please contact the 1999 CERN meeting organizer, Eva Krugly-Smolska, Queen's University. For further information about the annual CSSE conference, please contact Tim Howard, CSSE Administrator, or visit the web site of CSSE.

Working with the Metropolis project, many CERN participants are also affiliated researchers of one of the four Centres of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Integration, located in Montréal, Toronto, the Prairies and Vancouver. Bringing together educational researchers, the Metropolis Education Research Forum (MERF) meets twice a year, at the annual Metropolis conference and at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education. One of the themes of study within MERF is Intercultural/Anti-Racist Education and Civic Education.

Key Roles

Several researchers across the country play key roles in assuring that the Network meets its research programme commitments:

Alan Sears U New Brunswick Chair, Citizenship Conceptions
Tracey Derwing U Alberta Chair, Citizenship Practices
Charles Ungerleider U British Columbia Chair, Citizenship Values
Andy Hughes U New Brunswick Chair, Citizenship Skills, Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours
Yvonne Hébert U Calgary Coordinator, Citizenship Education Research Network.

Note: Click on a name to send an e-mail.

CERN Index

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