What is citizenship education?
“Man is by nature a political animal”: Aristotle defined the very essence of human being already in 4thC BC. Men live in societies, which are bound by rules and laws, and enriched by the individual rights; also, men are required to effectively cooperate with each other to empower society. The understanding of these mechanisms and of their importance are basilar skills of the citizen, a man who is more than an individual in a society, an individual able to engage in “participation in civil society, community and/or political life, characterized by mutual respect and non-violence and in accordance with human rights and democracy” . This set of skills is not genetically acquired, but has to be somehow inculcated when still children through citizenship education, which can be defined as “educating children, from early childhood, to become clearthinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society”. UNESCO makes a plea for a better and deeper civic education curriculum in schools. According to Hoskins et al., the teaching of conceptualizations of national citizenship is only one of the factors that can enhance civic understanding among young generations, the others being history (how much a country is historically used to democracy and human rights protection) and economic development (Hoskins et al. 2011).
Citizenship in Middle East
Existence and implementation of civil, political and social rights is one of the core aspects of citizenship. Middle Eastern countries are pursuing the increase of the scope of human rights for their citizens, a process that started at the end of colonial era. As Sater underlines, though, in those countries where social rights have been protected by a strong welfare policy, political participation has been weak. In addition, the state alone is not always able to guarantee protection of rights, even when endowed with the authority to do that: often, some civil society hierarchical groups tend to work to maintain their own privileges, threatening the rights of the rest of the population. In so doing, these groups implement on a civil society level the perception of what we can define as a differential citizenship, where various criteria of eligibility are applied, in order to define the proper members of the state (Ajzenstadt, 2002). Among these criteria, two seem to be predominant in the Arab countries:
- Economic status: “the poor” are treated as not able to commit to meaningful politics, due to their lower cultural background (Bayat, 2015). On the other hand, it is true that the poor usually do not access the political debate, not because not allowed, but because not interested, unless it deals with everyday politics and shared needs.
- Jus sanguinis: in most of the Arab countries, citizenship is transmitted by patriarchal descendant. We will later discuss how this represents a problem for the understanding of citizenship among young people. The issue primarily concerns children of women married to foreigners. After the Syrian crisis, though, it is expected to acquire more and more relevance and it will demand new debate.
Jordan: a country of hybrid citizens
Jordanian citizenship is different from the traditional Western definition of citizenship, but its understanding is crucial to Jordanians, since the country is the centre of the international political and ideological debate. We can refer to Jordanian citizenship as hybrid (Kubow and Kreishan, 2014), adopting the definition of hybrid sovereignty, in which “the modern and the traditional coexist behind the formal appearance of statehood”. Historically, when the Hashemite dynasty came to Jordan at the end of the colonial era, they could rely on the support of the Bedouin tribes that already lived in the region; on the other hand, the tribes saw in the new monarchy a new source of economic and working opportunities. Even though in present days the linkage between tribes and monarchy is no more very strong, traces of it are still to be found in Jordanian identity: the communitarian spirit that characterizes Jordanians is a clear example of that. In addition, Jordan main demographic feature is heterogeneity: Palestinians, TransJordanians, Circassians, and now Iraqis and Syrians build up Jordanian population. “Forced migrations and labor migrations have posed challenges to the development of communal identity in Jordan”, but regardless of the importance of this topic, schoolbooks give it only scant attention. These elements make Jordanian identity plural: being a Jordanian citizen brings a number of social and political implications that can’t be ignored when talking about civic education in the country.
Jordanian youth and citizenship
What is the understanding of the meaning of citizenship among Jordanian youth? Studies have targeted middle and high school students (Alazzi and Chiodo, 2004) and university students (Mahafza, 2014). The results show a general high level of awareness of citizenship (mostly among older students) and of the importance of civil studies for one’s future. The role of teachers in raising this awareness has to be stressed: according to students, enthusiastic teachers and thought-provoking activities introduce students to a practical application of what they read in the books, spreading interest and understanding of social sciences. The research also had some significant outcomes: the understanding of the importance of political pluralism and freedom of expression varies according to the educational background of the students and their gender (Mahafza, 2014). The difference between male and female students is due to the family upbringing: even though more women gained access to policy and decision-taking process, in some areas family education is still male-centred, while women are raised with a greater sense of belonging to the family. Usually, in societies that present similar discrepancies in the education of boys and girls, namely the instillation of a greater sense of belonging in girls, it is possible to observe a higher level of patriotism in women; nevertheless, this isn’t the case of Jordan. This difference is to be found between rural background and urban background: students coming from rural areas are raised with a greater sense of belonging to the family and the land, but are also less exposed to the world, therefore showing a lower understanding of freedom and political participation (Mahafza 2014).
Legal understanding of citizenship
Thanks to the combined engagement of Jordanian government and civil society, through the past years women gained more rights and increased the level of equality with men. If it’s true that according to 1954 law Jordanian women married to foreigners can’t pass the nationality to their spouse and children, on the other side it has to be highlighted that since 2014 Jordanian government has implemented a number of reforms to guarantee more equal rights to children of non-Jordanian fathers. Nevertheless, there is still too little understanding of this law, its updates and implications, mostly among youth: since little attention is paid in textbooks to the explanation of this law, there is a high risk that children would acquire a differential citizenship conception, not recognising some individuals as same level citizens. The relevance of this risk is clear when thinking of the unique demographic situation of the country: Jordan welcomes a considerable number of refugees. In the near future, this will lead to a need for a better understanding of the law among young generations and, maybe, for new reforms in order to better define its scope.
Citizenship education in Jordan
Jordanian Ministry of Education lists as one of its education policy principles “emphasizing the importance of political education in the educational system, and enhancing the principles of participation, justice and democracy and their practices”, aiming “to prepare young people to be good citizens in a world that is becoming more and more complex” . Given the strategic position of Jordan and the unique nature of its citizenship, civic education and social sciences are endowed with the task of training Jordanian young citizens on how to mediate between the elements of their plural identity.
ERfKEFunded by the World Bank, ERfKE is a school reform project that aimed “to equip students with knowledge and technical skills for adaptability in an unpredictable labor market” . Project’s first phase (2003-2007) dealt with the need for a modernization of school curriculum, while the second phase (2008-2013) focused on training teachers on the new curriculum and new pedagogic theories, while trying to involve more the community in schooling. With regard to civic education, ERfKE “is an example of a nation-building project that is meant to align Jordan with a Western model” : the risk of rejection from the population was high, mostly due to the relevance of traditional values for Jordanian culture and identity. Therefore, school played the role of centre of building and reproduction of citizen identity and loyalty towards the country, the King and the Arabic and Islamic nation . The new curriculum is meant to rise not only civic, but also economic, health and environmental awareness among youth, giving them the skills and the tools to understand and address social problems. However, in the curriculum the focus is still more on the civic obligation (respect the law) than on the political aspects (voting, decision-making) (Kubow and Kreishan, 2014).
AL-Urdun Awalan and the Amman MessageAmong the initiatives aiming to build national and civic awareness among young Jordanians, we can list Jordan First (Al Urdun Awalan). Launched in 2002, its main goal was to build a civil society whose core values had to be democracy, freedom and opportunity. The initiative was supposed to increase political participation in the country. Pairing with Jordan First initiative, the Amman Message (2004) stresses the principles of unity and justice in Islam. Both Jordan First and the Amman message are also part of civic education curriculum in school.
Beside the reforms of the ERfKE project, there are still many challenges to face to guarantee the healthy building of citizen identity in young Jordanians. As already stated, even after the reform, textbooks don’t encourage citizens involvement in politics, while they only underline the importance of obeying the law and “being good” (Basheer, 2015; Kubow and Kreishan, 2014). As Kubow and Kreishan said, the main issue with the ERfKE is its exclusive focus on technical aspect of teaching and schooling: it missed the goal of teaching what it really means to be a citizen. The reform dealt only with the curriculum, but not with the tawjihi exam, the high school final exam: the tawjihi relies almost totally on memorization of data, which makes almost useless to students’ graduation the development of skills like critical thinking and problem solving. Therefore, there is a strong need for a new reform not only on the social sciences curriculum and teaching methodology, but also of the exam itself. Moreover, many students addressed the discrepancies between what they learn it takes to be “a good citizen” and what they see in everyday practice, leading to a down in their trust in future change of the society (Kubow and Kreishan, 2014). In conclusion, the main challenge Jordan has to take over in the field of citizenship education concerns the building and strengthening of a national citizen identity. Current school curriculum does not mirror the plurality of Jordanian cultural substratum, nor does it introduce students to the issues of political participation, freedom of speech and engagement in decision-taking process. Given the high level of interest and engagement of Jordanian youth when talking of citizenship and civic education, greater commitment and cooperation are demanded from civil society, NGOs and even Government to foster among young generations a deeper understanding of the role, duties and rights of the Jordanian citizen.
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