Get into citizen-shape

April 20, 2007

Today's students are often accused of political apathy, but university lecturers from a more politically fired generation are encouraging them to become engaged and active citizens.

Politics lecturers, many of whom will fondly remember engaging in political activities such as sit-ins and demonstrations against apartheid, are inviting their undergraduates to plan and organise political actions as part of a citizenship project.

Politics Online Learning and Citizenship Skills (POLiS), funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, aims to promote the teaching of citizenship in higher education.

One module, "Apathetic generation? Young people as citizens", asks students to investigate the opportunities that exist for them to participate politically on campus, while "Environmental citizenship" challenges them to measure their environmental impact.

The team behind the project, led by Southampton University in partnership with Keele and Liverpool John Moores universities, said it wanted its free web-based learning activities to educate students not only "about" citizenship, but also "for" it.

Citizenship is a compulsory element of the national curriculum in schools but has been criticised for offering too few opportunities to challenge the status quo.

Roger Ottewill, the project manager from Southampton's Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit, said: "Traditionally, politics students have tended to be 'outsiders' looking into the system without actually recognising that they are part of the political system. It is crucial that students recognise that they are citizens and that some of the things they study have a direct resonance."

Graham Smith, professor of politics at Southampton and project director, said: "The project has raised interesting questions about how to combine material effectively that increases students' substantive knowledge of debates about the nature of citizenship and requires them to reflect critically on their own attitudes and behaviours."

Other disciplines are expressing interest in the project. By January, the team will have a fully developed website with a series of activities and guidance for tutors on how these can be incorporated in their teaching.


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