Essential Citizenship Competencies
Essential Citizenship Competencies (ECCs) are broadly described as those large concepts that are the essence of citizenship skills, knowledge, and dispositions that are deemed necessary for an individual to participate fully as a respectful, responsible citizen.
Using enduring understandings and essential questions to stimulate thinking and to guide the inquiry, teachers will help students uncover the big ideas that need to be considered—and reconsidered—as the inquiry progresses in each unit of study. When taken in its entirety over the course of a student’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 experiences, citizenship education is intended to build five essential citizenship competencies, or five E’s as shown below:
The teacher resources are organized to provide opportunities for ever-deepening inquiry until the student reaches a core of understanding of the complexities and connections within a particular ECC as well as among ECCs. In this way, a student develops the skills, knowledge, and capacity to be a respectful, responsible, and participatory citizen committed to justice in a pluralistic Canadian democracy. The following sections provide descriptions of the five ECCs and articulate how the teacher resources can build understanding of the complexity encapsulated in each ECC over the continuum of Kindergarten to Grade 12 curricula.
For as long as history education has been part of the curriculum within Canadian schools, it has been a contentious and controversial subject. There are those who want a cheerleading version of national pride and those who want the “warts and all” version. Some want an exclusive Canadian version, and some want Canada set within a global context. There are those who think history should focus on knowledge and those who think it is about developing skills.
An assumption that there was a golden age when history was taught properly in schools and that a serious decline has occurred is largely a myth. History is about ourselves, about who we are, and about how we define ourselves as a nation, in ways that most other subjects are not. While many subjects are much the same wherever they are taught, historical events taught in England, Japan, or Canada can appear very different.
– Alan Sears
The current approach to history education moves beyond knowing historical information to focus on historical thinking and historical consciousness. The Historical Thinking Project (n.d.) “developed a framework of six historical thinking concepts to provide a way of communicating complex ideas to a broad and varied audience.” The emphasis is on “developing student competencies with the key disciplinary processes of historical work—students are expected not only to know what historians know, but also how historians know” (Sears, 2014).
Historical consciousness studies how people look at the past. For example, history students study John A. Macdonald as a “founding father,” whereas students with historical consciousness consider what he does—or does not—mean as a “founding father” from their standpoints in a multicultural, globalizing, regionalized, gender-conscious 21st century” (Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness, n.d.).
Citizenship education is set apart from history in several additional ways. The field of citizenship education draws on the knowledge and processes of several disciplines, such as political science, history, sociology, and social psychology.
There is a role for citizenship education to foster broader conversations about the role and value of including more diverse stories and experiences in national histories. For example, despite rights legislation, many individuals experience their citizenship inequitably. Contemporary examples include citizens who experience inequity because of gender, culture, social class, religion, sexuality, or ethnicity. Citizenship education must acknowledge and consider the impact of those privileges that enhance the ability of some to participate more fully as citizens.
To develop this competency, students will consider historical events in light of their impact on the present and into the future, and will explore cause and consequence, negative and positive impacts, intended and unintended consequences of policies, events, and decisions. There needs to be discussion of the way history can be “rewritten” by critically reviewing the evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event using skills and sensitivities to note the issues of privilege, dominance, and power structures. “Unchallenged, nationalist historical narratives create a binary in term of possible (read acceptable) identities. One can either belong to a place . . . or one is ‘from’ somewhere else. Once is either included by the narrative or one is inexorably excluded. Binaries become the stuff of racialisations, their silences
the stuff of exclusion”(Stanley, 1998).
Students will develop understanding of the diversity and uniqueness of people and that people have different perspectives and points of view. Those points of view are developed by one’s previous experiences, cultural and family traditions, socio-economic status, and beliefs.
Pedagogies that invite students to consider multiple perspectives through a broad range of research, activities, and discussion help students understand and value the historical and contemporary diversity in groups and explore the relationships among beliefs, rights, and responsibilities at local, regional, national, and global levels. The development of skills, knowledge, and dispositions within a personal framework to observe, critique, and respond to current events at these levels is based on understanding the relationships between historical events, present situations, and future aspirations.
Tupper (2009) writes: “While teaching is an ongoing process of curricular negotiation, if teachers are not engaging in a critique of the curriculum they are mandated to teach, but simply making choices about how to deliver content, realize objectives, and evaluate students, the reproduction of particular knowledge traditions remains.”
At the exit to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, which is dedicated to a critical history of war, nationhood and national allegiances, the following inscription is displayed:
Human welfare is defined not only in terms of freedom from hunger and poverty but also in terms of respect for individual dignity. Long-term, sustainable development is closely linked to sound democratic governance and the protection of human rights. Democracy, human rights, and governance cannot be viewed in isolation; they are a critical framework in which all aspects of development must advance.
Democracy, human rights, and governance cannot be viewed in isolation; they are a critical framework in which all aspects of development must advance.
There are significant challenges involved in engaging the citizenry in current models of democratic decision-making. Citizens have different conceptions of the “public good” and who benefits most from policy decisions. There is substantial discourse regarding voting, particularly around the scepticism of young people regarding the voting process, and the general beliefs that politicians are untrustworthy and self-interested, that the important issues of human rights and family policy are ignored, and that politicians are unable to deal with the world’s economic forces.
Political disengagement reflects broader changes in political culture, that constellation of ingrained attitudes and dispositions that individuals bring to their understanding of democracy and their own role, and responsibilities within the democratic system (Howe, 2010).
Howe (2010) discusses two facets of disengagement: political attentiveness and social integration. Political attentiveness encompasses trends in political interest, political knowledge, and habits of news media use; social integration is the connections to community and the social norms that influence how people conduct their lives on a general plane and the extent and manner of their engagement with the political world. He posits a significant gap between younger and older citizens on various measures of political attentiveness. Howe notes that “the postwar period has seen significant changes in lifestyles and social norms that have, according to various theorists, gradually weakened the bonds of social integration in the developed democracies” (Howe, 2010). Community in some form or other precedes democracy; a healthy measure of social solidarity and shared public purpose is necessary for democracy to flourish.
Democracy is an open-ended proposition; the goalposts are subject to repositioning as the expectations, ambitions, and capacities of the “the people” evolve.
What would a stronger democracy look like. A more vibrant democracy would be one in which there is a stronger sense of common purpose and solidarity among citizens, who manifest their solidarity in part by closely attending to, and regularly participating in, the political life and civil society of the community and country.
Giddens (2000) calls for “democratising democracy” or deepening democracy because the old mechanisms of government do not work in an information-rich society. Democratizing democracy is described as having an effective devolution of power, constitutional reform, and greater transparency in political affairs. Giddens uses the analogy of a three-legged stool—government, the economy, and civil society—needing to be in balance for a well-functioning democracy.
Using citizenship education as a lens, the students are engaged to understand that rules, regulations, policies, and laws are the primary means by which society organizes and brings structure and governance to itself. Students consider the relationship between rights and responsibilities, examine the effects of decision-making processes, and begin to appreciate the responsibilities of governing bodies that develop rules, policies, and structures. Students develop consciousness of the responsibility to contribute to varying levels of governance and the need to critically examine governance structures to understand underlying assumptions and associated implications.
Students research the various levels of government, their responsibilities and their decision-making processes. Students critically examine the varying impacts that decisions have on people, the underlying purposes and assumptions behind these decisions, and who benefits or loses by their application. They examine the processes by which citizens can question, critique, and leverage change within a variety of governmental structures and practices. As students strive to understand issues from a variety of viewpoints, they also explore dispute resolution processes, examine and practice actions that contribute to peace and order, as well as understand those that threaten democratic processes, and they engage critically with their own positions within society.
Many people use the terms diversity and multiculturalism interchangeably, when in fact, there are major differences between the two. Diversity is defi ned as the differences between people such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background, socioeconomic status, and much more. Multiculturalism refers to the historical evolution of cultural diversity within a jurisdiction; in Canada, it embodies the institutionalization of cultural diversity.
Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their heritage, and can have a sense of belonging.
Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their heritage, and can have a sense of belonging. The resulting diversity of race, cultural heritage, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, and place of origin allows Canadians to speak many languages, understand many cultures, and participate globally. Critical examination of multiculturalism includes looking at the advantages based on race, gender, sexual orientation and social class that occur as “invisible privileges.” Clearly this examination is about examining our own stereotypes and systems of advantage so we can be more inclusive to a variety of perspectives.
Canadian diversity is a national asset. Canadian citizenship gives us both rights and responsibilities. One of these is to protect those policies and structures that affirm and strengthen Canada’s democracy, ensuring that a multicultural, integrated and inclusive citizenship will be every Canadian’s inheritance. Each citizen must be aware of the complexity and the importance of balancing regional and cultural diversity with maintaining national unity and pride.
As immigration and migration increase, diversity among neighbourhoods and within neighbourhoods increases the likelihood of culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse individuals living next door to each other. Good citizenship education with skilful teacher moderation can provide the safe ground for diverse young people to learn from one another, foster respect for all citizens and imagine a different future for oppressed people.
In this ECC, teachers engage students in activities that develop student understandings of diversity and the uniqueness of individuals. Students will be given the opportunity to understand that people may have different points of view about the same subject and may come to different conclusions on how to act. Those points of view are developed by previous experiences, cultural and family traditions, and beliefs. The far-reaching effects of diversity expand from the individual to the community and beyond.
Because Saskatchewan is a province populated by Aboriginal peoples, into which settlers moved from other countries and other parts of Canada, students must examine the different groups of people who contributed to the makeup of the province, and the colonial notion of citizenship. They will understand that Aboriginal peoples lived in Saskatchewan prior to immigration and had their own cultures, economies, and forms of governance. In this ECC the students would seek knowledge and understanding of those relationships and the continued implications for all Saskatchewan people.
Canada is a country that purports to celebrate diversity and states that the cultural mosaic serves to enrich our country. Unfortunately, Canadians have not always lived up to that ideal. Students will examine perspectives on Canada’s political evolutions that lead to the development of the country and the formation of provinces and territories; they will critically examine Europe’s influence on pre-Confederation society and the impact of post-colonialism on citizenship. Students will be engaged to develop understanding of the pervasive nature of racism and white supremacy that have been, and continue to be, exhibited within Canada and the world.
Knowledge of the diverse geographic features, specific resources, population clusters, and economic relationships will help students draw understandings about possible causes of today’s issues and consider solutions. Students will appreciate the diversity among countries and cultures, explore cultural perspectives, and cultivate compassion and empathy.
Citizenship is understood and experienced in different ways by people. Key questions need to be posed as Canadians work toward a more democratic society —questions that critically reflect on the different ways in which people live and experience their citizenship. What does it mean to be a “good” citizen? How does life experience impact our understanding of citizenship, our rights and our responsibilities as citizens? How does privilege intersect with citizenship? And why do some people participate in civic activities while others do not?
Students will appreciate the diversity among countries and cultures, explore cultural perspectives, and cultivate compassion and empathy.
In this democracy espousing universal rights and responsibilities, there continue to be significant differences in the lived experiences of its citizens. Cases of differential treatment by law enforcement officials, access to safe and clean drinking water, and the level of priority and resources assigned to finding missing women or their killers are pointed examples of how some citizens are “second class” (Tupper, 2009). It is clear that we need to teach about why some people participate and others do not and that it is not simply a matter of choice. Students need to critically examine the social systems that operate to privilege some individuals over others and the resulting inequities that occur in benefit and participation.
There continue to be significant differences in the lived experiences of one’s citizenship.
“it is unethical for students to live as treaty people without doing the difficult and often uncomfortable work of coming to understand the significance of being a treaty person.”
– Jennifer Tupper
Donald (2009) suggests that the focus needs to be on the colonial experience that demonstrates that Aboriginal peoples and Canadians have significant historical relationships that continue to manifest themselves in ambiguous ways to the present day. He continues that this recognition is necessary to counteract the systemic ways in which Indigenous knowledge systems, values, and historical perspectives have been written out of the “official” version of the building of the Canadian nation.
While Tupper’s and Donald’s discussion is specific to treaty, it is applicable to Métis, Inuit, and all those whose stories and experiences have not been included in the mainstream history of the nation. “. . . Attention to the intersections of race, culture, class, gender, religion and sexual orientation as they inform an individual’s ability or inability to engage as a citizen must be present . . . if students are to come away with deeper understandings of the complexities of citizenship and of their own lived experiences as citizens” (Tupper, 2009). The challenge for teachers is to provide the conditions, experiences, and spaces where individual students can develop those complex understandings.
The beginning phrase, “every individual has a place in . . .” reaffirms the strength that comes from the diversity among Canadian citizens as outlined in the previous ECC. This competency then focuses on the contributions required of citizens as they exercise their citizenship. This involves understanding that a key role of a citizen within a democracy is to participate in public life—in both political and civil spheres. Citizens have a responsibility to become informed about public issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and to express their own opinions and beliefs. Voting in elections is an important civic duty; but to vote wisely, each citizen should listen to the views of the different parties and candidates, and then make his or her own decision on whom to support. Efforts must be made to educate people about their democratic rights and responsibilities, to improve their political skills, to represent their common interests, and to involve people in political life. In a healthy democracy, people engage in questioning, debating and sometimes disagreeing with government.
Every citizen should know and understand their own rights so they do not knowingly transgress the rights of others; and, every citizen has a responsibility to make the world a better place.
When people know more, they do more, and so it follows that citizenship education needs to engage students in active participation in democracy, to critically consider and respond to barriers to such participation.
Citizenship education resources reflect the belief that when people know more, they do more, and so it follows that citizenship education needs to engage students in active participation in democracy, to critically consider and respond to barriers to such participation. The resources encourage students to move learning about citizenship from their classrooms into active participation in citizenship activities in their families, schools, communities, and beyond. Such active participation is described as community stewardship.
Stewardship is supported through active participation and critical engagement on issues of importance. As students appreciate the reliance of humans on community and the environment, and understand their responsibility to care for their surroundings and society, they develop the concept of community stewardship. Students explore processes for initiating and guiding change in their community with respect to environmental, social, and economic issues. They learn how various community groups influence decisions and consider the ways they can hold governments, businesses, organizations, and elected officials accountable. When students actively contribute their time to participate or initiate, design, and organize community stewardship initiatives that protect or enhance the environment and community, they are demonstrating the depth of understanding desired as an outcome.
This ECC invites students to develop a critical framework in which to delve below the symptoms of issues to get to root causes, consider alternate solutions and their potential impacts in order to determine actions to create positive change. These critical thinking skills and processes linked to action will entice students toward becoming more justice-oriented citizens.
In summary, these five essential citizenship competencies frame the skills, knowledge and dispositions deemed necessary for an individual to participate fully as a respectful, responsible citizen. Over the course of a student’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 experiences, the interwoven fabric of these ECCs will support the student’s development into an enlightened, engaged, empathetic, ethical, and empowered citizen.
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