ICCS 2016 reveals increase in students’ civic knowledge, with persisting gaps across and within countries

Study results confirm links between higher levels of civic knowledge, civic engagement, and civic attitudes among lower secondary students.

Amsterdam – Brussels, November 7, 2017 – the IEA’s International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) 2016 reveals students’ civic knowledge has increased across participating countries since the previous study in 2009. The proportion of students achieving at the two highest levels on the ICCS civic knowledge scale increased from 61 to 67 percent. Internationally, girls displayed higher levels of civic knowledge than boys did, and student socioeconomic background was found to be a key predictor of civic knowledge in all participating countries. Within countries, students’ civic knowledge still showed considerable variation.

ICCS 2016 found positive associations between students’ civic knowledge, their interest in civic issues and their expected civic participation. Students with higher levels of civic knowledge were more likely to expect to participate in future elections and less likely to support engagement in illegal political protests than their less knowledgeable counterparts were. However, students with higher civic knowledge scores were also less likely to expect to become involved in conventional active political activities. Eighty-six percent of the students surveyed indicated that they would probably or certainly vote in local and national elections once they reached the voting age.

In addition to examining achievement in civic knowledge and surveying expected civic participation, ICCS 2016 collected and analyzed an extensive array of data on students’ attitudes toward important issues in society. In comparison with ICCS 2009, students across a number of countries expressed higher levels of endorsement for gender equality and, in most countries, for equal opportunities for all ethnic and racial groups. Female students, and students with higher levels of civic knowledge and stronger interest in political and social issues, were more likely to endorse both gender equality and equal rights for all ethnic and racial groups. 

Although the majority of students across countries shared the belief that free elections and the right to peaceful protest were positive for democracy, their answers were less consistent regarding citizens’ right to criticize the government. When compared to the results of ICCS 2009, in many countries, students expressed more trust in the government, parliament, and courts, but less trust in media and people in general. While, on average across countries, trust in parliament increased by 6 percent from 56 to 62 percent, students’ trust in traditional media, including newspapers, radio, and television, decreased by 3 percent. ICCS 2016 surveyed students’ perceptions of social media for the first time; 45 percent of students expressed trust in social media, however the use of social media for engaging with social and political topics was limited among Grade 8 students.

The majority of students viewed pollution, terrorism, water and food shortages, infectious diseases, and poverty as major threats to the world’s future. ICCS 2016 found a relatively high rate of awareness toward the environmental issues among students, with 49 percent recognizing personal efforts to protect the environment as a “very important” part of good citizenship. However, only nine percent reported actively participating in an environmental action group in the previous 12 months.

ICCS 2016 surveyed both students’ and teachers’ perceptions of school climate and whether open discussion was encouraged in the classroom. On average, across countries, most of the students reported that their teachers and schools encouraged students to express their opinions freely, even when their views differed from those of other students. Although teachers were generally receptive to open student expression in the classroom, students reported that teachers do not always provide them with opportunities to discuss current events.

The ICCS 2016 European report presents the results from a dedicated questionnaire on aspects of civic and citizenship education of heightened relevance for the 15 European countries that participated in ICCS 2016. The majority of European students reported a stronger sense of European identity than in 2009, with slightly higher results recorded for male students, students who reported higher trust in civic institutions, and students from non-immigrant families. On average, 83 percent of the students surveyed reported that they had opportunities to learn about the history of Europe at school.

Most of the surveyed students endorsed freedom of movement for European citizens within Europe and equal rights for immigrants. However, ICCS identified considerable variations across countries and gender disparities. Male students were slightly more in favor of restricting the freedom of movement for European citizens and were slightly less likely to endorse equal rights for immigrants than their female counterparts. In general, students with higher levels of civic knowledge tended to express more tolerant attitudes.

Most of the surveyed students expressed higher levels of trust in the European Commission and the European Parliament than in the previous cycle. Nonetheless, only 65 percent of students from European countries indicated that they expected to vote in future European elections, while 85 percent expected to vote at the national and local levels.

The data presented in the ICCS 2016 International and European reports establish correlations between civic knowledge, civic engagement at school, and expectations surrounding various forms of civic engagement, including voting. The ICCS findings provide a basis for discussing the importance and effectiveness of civic and citizenship education as a means of helping young people become more conscious about their roles as active and engaged citizens. By integrating various elements of civic and citizenship education into curricula and improving learning and participatory opportunities, schools have the potential to foster students’ civic knowledge and engagement, and support the development of more positive attitudes toward equal rights and opportunities.                                                                                                                                                                  

Download the ICCS 2016 reports and infographics

About ICCS: The 2016 cycle of ICCS is the fourth in a series of IEA studies examining the ways in which young people are prepared to undertake their roles as citizens, and the second cycle of ICCS. The study builds on data gathered in 2009 to allow robust comparisons over time for a broad range of aspects related to civic knowledge, attitudes, and engagement. ICCS gathered data from more than 94,000 students of Grade 8 from about 3,800 schools in 24 countries. The student data were augmented by responses from more than 37,000 teachers, contextual data provided by school principals, and system level information collated by national research centers. In addition to measuring the antecedents, processes and outcomes of civic and citizenship education, the scope of the 2016 cycle was broadened to cover aspects related to environmental sustainability, social interactions at school (e.g. bullying), and the use of social media. ICCS 2016 was developed and implemented by IEA in cooperation with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the Laboratorio Pedagogia Sperimentale (LPS) at the Roma Tre University. Learn more

About IEA: The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), with headquarters in Amsterdam, is an independent, international cooperative of national research institutions and governmental research agencies. It conducts large-scale comparative studies of educational achievement and other aspects of education, with the aim of gaining in-depth understanding of the effects of policies and practices within and across systems of education. Learn more.