On becoming active democratic and participatory citizens: A case study

Shun Wing NG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


In the era of colonial rule, citizenship education was characterized by depoliticization. There was a lack of any democratic values and critical thinking skills in the content of civic education or social studies curriculum (Lee, 1996; Lee, 2003, Leung & Ng, 2004; Yuen & Byram, 2007). Tse (1998) remarked that the governmental behaviour of depoliticization had led to the poverty of political education. However, Fairbrother (2005) argues that the re-depoliticizing of citizenship education in the post-1997 Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has rendered relatively strong civil but weak political rights to the Hong Kong people. As a result Hong Kong students have been trained politically apathetic. After the return of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China, citizenship education has been criticized as ‘re-depoliticalized’ (Leung & Ng, 2004) in which the intention of developing students with the ideology of participatory democracy and active citizens is minimized while patriotic and national education has been put in top priority in the curriculum. While some of the youngsters have been found behaving passively due to feeling uncertain toward their identity, several groups of youngsters from secondary school and tertiary institutions, on the other hand, are becoming socially and politically active, developing within themselves the value that Write (1989) defines as ‘civic courage’, and realizing their rights and responsibilities of substantive citizenship (Bottomore, 1992) through active participation in social actions such as demonstration and petitions for human rights and social justice in the society of Hong Kong. Participation is always used as an indicator of democratic education and it constitutes the central activity in the realm of political social life and a significant element for modern and active citizenship. Echoed by Carpenter (2006), the school culture must reflect democratic practices which are especially prevalent in citizenship education. Torney-Purta, Schwille & Amadeo (1999) argue that the political value formation of individual younsters are influenced by five types of social carriers which turn goals into action: namely formal community such as political leaders; informal community such as work places and youth organizations; family such as parents; school such as teachers, intended curriculum, participation opportunities and peer groups such as in and out of class discourses. Yates & Youniss (1998) have reiterated that participating in social service is a process of political socialization through which youngsters can explore social issues and develop themselves with a social role and identity. Carole Hahn (1998) highlights that the classroom with an open atmosphere for discussing controversial issues will help enhance students’ perspective toward participatory citizenship. This paper reports an exploratory study on how and why some secondary school students and university students have become socially and politically active in society though focus group interviews with three groups of socially active students and in-depth interviews with three individual civic education teachers. The findings indicate that the social carriers such as the teachers in the school, the informal community and the peer groups as defined by Torney-Purta, Schwille & Amadeo (1999) play significant and influential roles in strengthening students’ attitudes toward participatory democracy and, in this regard, helping them become an active and participatory citizen.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventThe Civil Society as an Arena of Learning: ESREA network Active Democratic Citizenship and Adult Learning Conference - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 11 Jun 200913 Jun 2009


ConferenceThe Civil Society as an Arena of Learning: ESREA network Active Democratic Citizenship and Adult Learning Conference


Ng, S. W. (2009, June). On becoming active democratic and participatory citizens: A case study. Paper presented at the Civil Society as an Arena of Learning: ESREA research network Active Democratic Citizenship and Adult Learning Conference, Stockholm, Sweden.


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