Learning civic and citizenship skills: a snapshot of the ICCS 2016 study

Written on 01 Mar 18 by Barbara Santibañez
Global citizenship education
Cross-national studies

Educating for sustainable development and peaceful coexistence is one of the key targets of SDG 4. The IEA’s ICCS 2016 study offers some insights to understand how students perceive these issues around the world.

Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the international education agenda has increasingly focused on promoting global citizenship education (GCED) and education for sustainable development (ESD) as key in ensuring the goal of quality education for all. SDG Target 4.7 aims to ensure that by 2030, “all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

The 2016 International Civic and Citizenship Education Survey (ICCS) – conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) – takes stock of the current international trends in this area. Its goals are to monitor “changes in students’ civic knowledge, attitudes, and engagement over time, and addressing new and emerging civic-related challenges—to improve countries’ understanding of these issues” (IEA, 2017). Encouraging a holistic perspective, the IEA advances the idea that besides learning maths, reading literacy and related foundational skills, it is of utmost importance to foster “life skills” that will allow young people to thrive in a rapidly-changing world.

The ICCS 2016 International study was conducted in 24 countries, gathering data from over 94,000 students in lower secondary level from about 3,800 schools. Further, data from teachers, school principals, and national research centres was included to add contextual information. The assessment analysed attitudes and perceptions among young people related to civics and citizenship, and examined the differences among and within countries in terms of the students' knowledge and understanding of these topics. Besides the core assessment, two regional student questionnaires – for Europe and Latin America – looked into specific aspects related to civic and citizenship education in both regions.

An overview of the Latin American results

The IEA, in collaboration with the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago), held a regional engagement event on the release of the main ICCS report on November 8, 2017, focusing on the results of the five participating countries from Latin America: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Peru.

Civic knowledge was measured on a scale established in the 2009 cycle with an international average of 500 points (and a standard deviation of 100 points) and four described levels of knowledge from the lowest one (D, 311 to 394 score points) to the highest (A, 563 score points and above). Among Latin American countries, Chile and Colombia both scored 482 points, followed by Mexico (467 points), Peru (438 points), and Dominican Republic (381 points). Although most participating countries recorded an increase in civic knowledge between 2009 and 2016, Latin American participants obtained the lowest scores in comparison to Denmark, Chinese Taipei, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, all of them with averages above 563 points.

In terms of civic engagement, students generally valued their participation at school as highly as they did in 2009. The 2016 study looked into student participation in social and political issues through both traditional sources (television, newspapers, and parents) and social media. In three Latin American countries the percentages of students who reported television as a source were higher than the international average of 66%: Chile (76%), Colombia (79%), and Peru (80%). As for social media, students from Dominican Republic (54 points on a scale with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10) and Peru (53 points) were those who most frequently use this tool for civic engagement (IEA, 2017).

The study also analysed students' perceptions on topics such as democracy, citizenship, trust in institutions, and global issues. In relation to citizenship, students in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru where the ones to most strongly endorse the importance of social-movement-related behaviour.  However, the low levels of trust in their governments, the national parliaments, and courts of justice reflects similar results from studies among adults in the Latin American region. As for pressing global issues, cross-country variations suggest the influence of the local context; for instance, in Chile 85% of students see water shortage as a threat to the world's future, which is significantly higher than the average of countries (65%). Also, majorities of students in Latin American countries consider crime and violent conflict as a threat in comparison to European countries.


The rich findings presented in the ICCS 2016 study point to the challenge to deliver civic and citizenship education taking into account the needs of all students. Data suggest that emphasis could be given to supporting the needs of the lowest achieving students and understanding the differences between the civic and citizenship knowledge of female and male students (internationally, girls displayed higher levels of civic knowledge than boys). The report also suggests that providing students with opportunities for active engagement within schools could help promote participation in civic-related activities in the future.

Source: ICCS 2016

The Learning Portal team would like to thank IEA for their inputs into this article.

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