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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


BROER, Nico; WOLHUTER, Charl  e  VAN DER WALT, Hannes. Citizenship education in the Netherlands and South Africa: A comparative study. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.1, pp.329-349. ISSN 2224-7912.

In modern societies, citizens form part of a context that is constantly and rapidly changing. Some of the issues with which one is confronted typically become manifest in the local and national surroundings of citizens, but increasingly such issues are also encountered on a trans- and international scale. It follows that citizens have to learn (how) to cope with such issues in all of these dimensions, though particularly in respect of their personal surroundings. The new challenges, many of which reveal large-scale international dimensions, can no longer be satisfactorily dealt with in traditional ways; they require fresh, creative approaches. This new way of looking at the world and at citizenship is already affecting the relations between people. People increasingly come into contact with people of different cultures, not only in the digital world but also physically as a result of migrant and refugee flows owing to improved transport and technology. People are increasingly compelled to reconsider their attitudes towards strangers and even their compatriots from different cultures, as well as their responses to issues brought about by such encounters. More often than not, the issues encountered in the modern social world transcend national borders. School teachers are expected to prepare their students (learners, pupils) to become informed and responsible citizens. Achieving such goals has become increasingly imperative in light of the rapid social changes referred to above. Social change has also given new meaning to citizenship education as a school subject (or as part of the school curriculum), in that issues such as diversity, globalisation, digitisation and environmental sustainability are nowadays all considered to be highly significant. This article reports the research findings of the ways in which the education systems of the Netherlands and South Africa, respectively, have been responding to these new challenges. The purpose of the comparison was to discover those key issues that require further attention in the context of citizenship education, not only in these two countries but also elsewhere. After analysing the respective social developments in the Netherlands and South Africa, and after an analysis of how policy regarding citizenship education in the two countries had been attempted, the following conclusions were drawn. Firstly, the comparison revealed that in terms of societal context, the Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy for around two centuries, whereas South Africa is a constitutional republic that is only 25 years old. The former is a developed, high-income country in the Global North, equalitarian, with a low Gini coefficient; South Africa, by contrast, is a developing, upper middle-income country in the Global South, highly stratified, with one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. It secondly transpired that the two systems could learn from each other, irrespective of geographical distance. Both the Netherlands and South Africa have posted successes and failures regarding the planning and unfolding of their education systems and of citizenship education. Education policymakers in both countries could become more informed by studying the successes and failures associated with both systems. Thirdly, in neither country does citizenship education have the status of a separate, independent school subject. In the Netherlands, it is not even part of an overarching subject, but rather woven into the fabric of other subjects. In South Africa, it forms part of the subjects Life Skills/Life Orientation and Social Studies. Fourthly, citizenship education in schools in both countries is regulated through legislation and policy statements. It would appear, however, that all the regulations and stipulations have thus far not resulted in effective citizenship education in schools in either of the two countries. An official report affirmed this limited success with respect to citizenship education in the Netherlands, and scholars voiced a similar verdict about citizenship education in South Africa. Complete textbooks, devoted to citizenship education as such and compiled by specialists, are still lacking in both systems. In the fifth place, the prevailing circumstances in both countries seem to be unfavourable for the effective teaching of citizenship education in schools. In the Netherlands, emphasis on the cognitive aspects of education diverts attention from the importance of students becoming more aware of the affective and social aspects of life. South Africa, in turn, struggles with problems such as overcrowded classrooms, a lack of a culture of teaching and learning in many schools and a shortage of teachers qualified for teaching citizenship education. Finally, neither in the Netherlands nor in South Africa does citizenship education receive the attention it deserves in the curriculum and in the schools, despite the fact that conditions in both countries seem to underscore the need for paying more attention to this aspect of the formation offuture citizens. Both countries are in the throes of social change, each in its own way, on account of immigration, the influx of refugees (for both political and economic reasons) and efforts to re-align themselves in accordance with the political, social and economic demands of modern life (improved transport, permeable borders, better communication, failing economies, pandemics and so forth). Despite the limited scope of this study - a comparison of the status of citizenship education in two countries that are geographically and socio-economically widely removed from each other - it succeeded in highlighting the fact that education systems, and therefore also the manner in which citizenship education is offered, are in principle comparable. This can be ascribed to the fact that human beings remain human beings, irrespective of where they may find themselves, and that they, broadly speaking, tend to have to cope with the same or similar challenges. The current neglect of citizenship education in these two education systems may have deleterious effects with regard to their future citizenry. Citizenship education is in need of reform in both countries.

Palavras-chave : citizenship education; education; comparative education; international education; Life Orientation; the Netherlands; South Africa.

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