Citizenship education at a crossroads: Varying interests and competing approaches

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The Education for All movement has its historical focus on access to basic schooling. This presentation aims to shed light on the need to move the EFA frame beyond its historical focus to accommodating the varied interests of diverse stakeholders in education in the contemporary social context. It draws upon findings from a narrative and documentary study of citizenship education in Beijing over the past decade. Citizenship education is a contentious concept involving not only the many needs, goals, beliefs assigned to differing educational systems in order to make “good citizens”, but also diverse discourse communities and socio-political and economic conditions in local, national, and international contexts. How to understand the ideals and manifestations of citizenship education in China has been a challenge in scholarly discourse. Recent studies have captured the interplay between global, national and local forces in shaping citizenship education in some Chinese cities. Following their footprints, this article seeks to provide an understanding of citizenship education (in the specific context of Beijing) as it stands at a crossroads, faced with competing versions of citizenship education informed by national commitments, domestic challenges and international imperatives. Beijing, the national capital of the People’s Public of China (PRC), is something of a political bellwether for the rest of China, in addition to being the state’s testing ground for new education policy and practice. This study evolved from efforts to understand two recent events that occurred in Beijing: the publication and dramatic disappearance of a textbook series for school-based citizenship curriculum designed by Beijing scholars, and government efforts to organize international forums on citizenship education. The first shows the increased willingness of Chinese scholars to advocate liberal and democratic approaches to citizenship education (a departure from the PRC state’s tradition of embedding citizenship education within state-defined political and ideological education), while the second reveals the awareness of the government to use citizenship education as an opportunistic attempt to advance China’s global aspirations despite a lack of academic foundation. This study seeks to improve understanding of citizenship education in the context of Beijing by [1] examining how the Beijing government and intellectuals use textbooks, the media, educational institutions and public events to advance competing ideals of citizenship education in Beijing and [2] analyzing tensions and challenges arising from the dynamic and complex interactions of the state, local government and intellectuals. It identifies the varied interests of diverse stakeholders in Chinese citizenship education that underlie these two occurrences. Citizenship education in Beijing is, at present, a story of tensions and challenges that are mirror images of the tensions and challenges existing in society at large. Findings from the study suggests that, to a large extent, economic development has helped China resolve the demand for access to basic education for all, but how to accommodate competing versions of education is still a pending challenge. The competing conceptualizations of citizenship education are expressions of the public’s expectation that a civil society will arise in China; it is a vision the PRC central government cannot afford to ignore, especially at a time when China is becoming a rising global power.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


Pan, S.-Y. (2014, March). Citizenship education at a crossroads: Varying interests and competing approaches. Paper presented at the 58th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Toronto, Ontario.


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