Why citizenship is important

I teach Citizenship and ESOL to adult migrants living in the UK and I produce English and Citizenship materials on my website, www.englishdatabase.com. It is from this perspective that I am writing this blog, though I have lived and taught around the world and I feel the challenges are the same wherever you go.   

It is my belief that Citizenship is a vital subject to be taught and embraced by everyone who lives in a place. In a place where everyone feels like a citizen, society will flourish as people share a set of common values. Without it, people will fail to live in shared communities, and life in a place will become increasingly isolated for its inhabitants who each follow their own individual agendas. 

In the past, when there was much less mobility and movement of people, it was much easier to build a sense of citizenship amongst the population of a place because there would be generations of shared history and experience to bind the people together. In our modern times there has never been such potential for mobility, as almost every person on the planet has the ability, should they have the desire, to move wherever they choose – subject to the legal controls they may experience on their journey. In many places this has had a dramatic effect, both in terms of huge populations leaving a place, as well as huge numbers of people moving to a new place.

The UK is a good example of both, on the 22nd August 2007, the BBC (see article) reported on some interesting figures released from the Office for National Statistics. During 2006, 385,000 people left the UK. 196,000 of these were UK citizens and most of the remainder were long-term migrants leaving the UK. However, during the same period 574,000 people entered the UK, and overall the population grew by 374,000 making the total population of the UK 60,587,000. These kinds of movements in population are huge and are bound to have a significant impact on the culture and society of a country, especially when you consider that this is happening year-on-year and the statistics generally show that it is an increasing trend, both in terms of numbers coming in, and numbers leaving. Interestingly, the information from the ONS revealed another statistic that highlights the effects of the long-term pattern of migration to the UK over the past 100 years, caused mainly from World War refugees and from the movements within the British Empire. The statistic showed that 25% of new babies born in the UK are now born to at least one non-UK citizen.   

It is against this backdrop that the teaching of Citizenship becomes particularly important. It is vital that there is a sense of community among those who live in a place in order for society to survive.  However, with people moving about so much it also becomes particularly difficult to find a common basis and a length of time for citizenship to develop. As I mentioned before, in the past citizenship was built upon long standing and customs and values that evolved over time. In our current climate we don’t have that time as new people come and go with little feeling of citizenship for a place. 

The big question is how can we address this effectively? How can we teach about patriotism and Britishness when a large proportion of the population are not British? And is that what we should be teaching anyway? Over the next 2 years Citizenship is being made a central part of the UK government’s plans to improve the national curriculum in UK schools. I hope that through this blog we can share ideas, opinions and experiences of what is happening at ground level.

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One Response to “Why citizenship is important”

  1. Eric Roth Says:

    You’ve written a solid primer on a very serious problem for all open, democratic societies. Immigration remains vital for open socieites, yet they also require a standard for membership to receive the benefits of a strong, safe country. Who gets to belong? What are the rules for joining? How does a determined individual, perhaps born in a poor, problem-plagued land, become an active, legal citizen in a modern, 21st century democratic country?
    We’re struggling with these same issues, problems, and possibilities in California – and across the United States. Your posting helped clarify, for me, some of those core tensions. We will do nobody – the immigrants or ourselves – a favor if we fail to clearly define what citizenship means and create a new sense of how to balance individual rights and community responsibilities.

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