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15.12.2010

The ICCS Study (ICCS) - Interview with David Kerr

Associate Research Director for the ICCS Study, United Kingdom
  • PDF-Icon Interview (PDF-Version: 538 KB)

    1. Please name shortly the most significant results of the current ICCS study as well as the most significant differences compared tothe study of 1999.

    David Kerr: The new ICCS study assessed the civic knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of more than 140,000 Grade 8 students (age around 14 years old) in 38 countries, including 24 European countries. The main findings were that: ICCS builds from CIVED but provides a richer set of findings about civic knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. This is because: there are greater numbers of countries participating in ICCS, compared to CIVED; the ICCS instruments probe in-depth across a wider range of civic aspects and domains; and, ICCS has the new, innovative dimension of regional data on civic and citizenship issues that are particular to Europe, Asia and Latin America.

    2. In how far is the research design for ICCS different from the IEA CIVED study of 1999?

    David Kerr: ICCS took account of the considerable change in interest in civic and citizenship education that had taken place in the 10 years since CIVED. The study deliberately adopted the term ‘civic and citizenship education´ in recognition of the broadening of the concept, processes and practices that have occurred in this area since CIVED. The research design was built on an acceptance of this broadening and the need to focus on students´ civic and citizenship knowledge, dispositions to engage and attitudes relating to civic and citizenship education in modern, 21st century, democratic societies. The ICCS assessment framework was based around three dimensions (content, affective-behavioural and cognitive) and four content domains (civic society and systems, civic principles, civic participation and civic identities). These dimensions and content domains addressed the broadening concept, processes and practices of civic and citizenship education and provided a conceptual underpinning for all the study instruments at both international and regional level.

    3. What do you think is the reason that male students are more likely to become politically active as adult citizens, although female students gained higher scores in civic knowledge than males? Why do you think gender equality is still a challenge?

    David Kerr: I am not sure that gender equality is as big a challenge as it used to be. ICCS provides some contrasting findings that suggest the equality gap in this area may be closing. For while it shows that girls had significantly higher civic knowledge scores than boys in the majority of countries, in contrast it reveals that boys had higher scores on the EU-related civic assessment than girls. This suggests that the issue may as much to do with motivation, interest and opportunity rather than just gender. With countries in Europe having increasing number of female politicians, particularly in Scandinavia, there are much greater numbers of potential role models for girls to encourage and motivate them to participate in greater numbers as adult citizens. While there is still work to be done to close the gap there are encouraging signs that progress is being made in this respect.

    4. What do you think are the causes that Finland or in general Scandinavian countries are still top-performing countries in all the case studies (e.g. trust in national government, gender equality, high interest of students in political and social issues etc.)? Do you see these countries as role models for other European countries?

    David Kerr: I don´t live in Finland or the Scandinavian countries and it may be easier to ask your question direct to the National Research Coordinators (NRCs) from those countries who participated in ICCS. However, it is widely recognised that Finland and the Scandinavian countries have a long and distinguished history of support for democratic values and practices all the way from national to individual community and school level. Given what ICCS reveals about the influence of community factors (parents, peers), societal (media) and education (school ethos, classroom climate) on students´ levels of civic knowledge and the nature and strengthen of their civic attitudes and behaviours it is, perhaps, not surprising that a long tradition of such influences rubs off on young people in these countries.

    However, all countries face considerable challenges to their democracies and democratic society with the movement of peoples, global economic crisis, rise of nationalist factions and cuts in public spending, and Finland and the Scandinavian countries are not immune to such challenges. Rather than put Finland, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries on a pedestal the comparative nature of the ICCS study highlights how all countries have particular strengths in relation to civic and citizenship education, but also areas and aspects that can be improved. Therefore there is considerable opportunity for countries to learn from each other in terms of how they respond to the considerable challenges facing democracy and its institutions, culture and practices.

    5. The analyses of the ICCS data has shown that immigrant or socioeconomic background had little influence on students' interest in political and social issues, whereas reported parental interest in politics and social issues were "somewhat" influential. How can this fact be utilised and re-connected to school in order to strengthen civic participation of young people?

    David Kerr: ICCS shows that a range of influences, both in and beyond schools, impact on students' civic knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. It is important that school leaders and teachers are aware of this and build it into how they structure and approach civic and citizenship education in and beyond the curriculum. The finding about the influences on students´ interest in political and social issues suggests that it is vital that schools teach young people how to discuss and debate about topical political and social issues. They give them the necessary civic knowledge and discussion skills. They can then use this civic knowledge and skills to discuss these issues with parents, peers and others beyond school. At the same time, it may be helpful for schools to make parents aware of the content and process of civic and citizenship education programmes in schools and to encourage them to discuss issues with their children at home.

    6. Have you noticed any differences between the study result in European countries and Asian or South American countries? If so, what are the most remarkable ones and what are, in your opinion, the main causes?

    David Kerr: Similarities and differences between Europe and the other regions will become clearer with the publication of the Latin American and Asian regional reports in early 2011. At the moment we only have the European regional report and overarching international comparisons. What is obvious to date is the differences in the ways that regions conceive and approach citizenship education, for example the strong moral dimension to this area in Asian countries. There is also evidence that students in European countries scored higher on the civic knowledge scale, on average, than students in other regions, but it should be noted that a number of Asian countries were among the top performers in ICCS alongside Finland and Denmark.

    7. Why did Germany not participate in the ICCS study 2009?

    David Kerr: Germany was involved in the initial planning stages of ICCS but you would need to ask the German representatives why they did not follow through with full participation in the study. I prefer to focus not on why certain countries did not participate, but more on the large number of European countries – 24 and 22 of them EU members – that did participate. ICCS provides an extensive evidence base for the civic knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of the next generation of European citizens. This is a rich and crucial baseline that should be used by policy makers and practitioners in moving civic and citizenship education forward not just in those countries that participated in ICCS but in all countries. I´m sure the results will be of as much interest in Germany as they are in other European countries.

    8. Regarding the results of the study, which challenges and needs for action do you think to be necessary concerning civic and citizenship education? What are your personal recommendations for the future?

    David Kerr: I could spend a long time answering this question given the range and depth of the ICCS findings and evidence base at international, European and national levels. However, to start the ball rolling for others to follow, I will limit my remarks to challenges and actions in relation to three aspects: policy, practice and use of the evidence base.
    In terms of policy In terms of practice In terms of the evidence base I would recommend that people look very carefully and closely at what ICCS shows at international, regional (particularly European) and national level in terms of the knowledge, understanding and skills that the next generation of citizens are developing and how this is influencing their attitudes and current and future participation. There is then the need to consider the implications of the emerging findings and messages for policy and practice.

    One particular priority is to focus much more on what is meant by 'active citizenship', to make it a central aim of civic and citizenship education, and to provide real opportunities that enable young people to put their civic knowledge into practice and to recognise the interrelationship between learning and living democracy. This is one of the most potent ways to protect and strengthen democracy and to enable people, particularly young people, to respond positively to the challenges currently facing our communities and societies and to those to come in the future.

    I hope that this interview has whetted your appetite to find out more about the ICCS study and its outcomes. There are still two further regional reports, an encyclopaedia of policy and practice in each of the 38 participating countries and the release of the international and regional datasets to come in 2011. So there is much to look at now and more to come in the near future.

    David Kerr is Associate Research Director for the ICCS study, with particular responsibility for the ICCS European Report. He can be contacted at d.kerr@nfer.ac.uk

    Further details about the ICCS study can be accessed at the IEA website at: http://www.iea.nl/iccs_press_release.html and also at the ICCS website under 'Reports' at: http://iccs.acer.edu.au/
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