In a context where some forms of citizen participation are weak and declining, and where political cynicism is on the rise, especially among new generations, the role of school and of citizenship education is more important than ever. Citizenship education is considered here as a means of stimulating the development of the citizen in the children, but also indirectly, that of their parents. Although some research show that civic education activities tend to have a positive effect on student development as well as for their parents, the scientific literature on political socialization and citizenship education has many shortcomings. Thus, because of methodological problems or lack of studies on certain groups of the population, we do not yet have a clear and precise idea of the effects of citizen education. To overcome these limitations, we use an experimental methodology with randomization and panel survey, to determine the various causal and direct effects of a citizenship education activity on the attitudes and behaviors of primary school students in different sociocultural environments as well as on their parents.
Research questions and hypotheses:
1. Does the citizenship education activity have an impact on the citizenship development of the children? -The hypothesis is that the citizenship education activity has a positive effect on the development of standards of active citizenship, intentions of citizen participation, interest in socio-political issues, knowledge and understanding of democracy, the feeling of civic competence and the discussion of social issues.
2. Does the citizenship education activity have an impact on citizen development and parental participation? The hypothesis is that children are actors of social change and that through their participation in the citizenship education activity, they can have a positive effect on the development of standards of active citizenship, political knowledge, discussion and interest in socio-political issues, political knowledge and voter turnout of their parents.
3. Does the impact of the citizenship education activity vary based on the home environement? The open hypothesis is that the effect of the education activity will be different for children and parents from disadvantaged socio-economic environments, and those from ethno-cultural communities and those from the ethno-cultural French majority. It is possible that the educational activity could either (1) compensate for the lack of active citizenship socialization in certain family environments and stimulate political development more strongly in the most disadvantaged and ethno-cultural communities of immigrant origins or, alternatively, (2) the activity could have the effect of reinforcing the citizenship skills of those already more socialized to politics and thus of stimulating more strongly the political development in wealthier circles and of the ethno-cultural French majority.
Master’s students in communication, political science and social work from the Université de Montréal, the Université du Québec à Montréal and Université Laval were also involved in this research.
This research also benefited from a grant from the Directeur Général des Élections du Québec.