Citizenship education and ‘Bildung’: Learning from “the Norwegian way” : a case study of teaching and learning democracy in a Norwegian junior high school.
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
How citizenship is taught in schools can have a profound impact on the development of young people’s ability and willingness to participate in public life. In turn, citizen participation has significant consequences for the health of a country’s democracy (Levine, 2003, Torney-Purta and Richardson, 2004, Osler and Starkey, 2006, Chawla, 2009, Hayward, 2012). Many established democracies today struggle with declining youth voter turnout and civic engagement (Levine, 2003, Catt, 2005, Gallego, 2009, Vowles, 2010, Blais and Rubenson, 2013). However Norway differs from many other democracies in that Norwegian students have one of the highest comparative rates of participation in different civic activities at school (Schulz et al., 2010). To help shed light on why Norway has been so effective at engaging young people in civic life, this thesis examined how democracy is taught in a Norwegian junior high school (ungdomsskole). The results of classroom observation, along with interviews with pupils, parents, administrators and teachers, indicate that deeply-held beliefs about the value of democracy underpin teacher practice alongside strong societal and parent support for citizenship education. This in-depth case study highlights the importance of a teaching philosophy based on a Norwegian interpretation of Bildung, an approach to education of the individual through discussion and action, so that individuals come to understand how they can contribute as citizens to the wider Norwegian polity. The case study suggests that the values of Bildung implicitly inform approaches of participatory learning, deliberation and teachers’ relationships with students, in ways which support young people as they in turn learn to value democracy. The research concludes that these experiences help to equip the ungdomsskole students observed in this case study with skills that they can use both immediately and in the future to participate as citizens in democratic processes and decision-making.