: Civic education and the Filipino voter

By Ching Jorge |

As we approach the 2022 elections, civil society groups are gearing up to prepare and launch campaigns to encourage voter registration and implement voter education programs.

Unfortunately, implementing these programs a year before the national elections only provides the basic fundamentals required for voter education. While this is still important, it does not provide the deeper civic competencies that can help prepare citizens to undertake their roles as active and responsible members of society.

Civic attitudes and behavior are important in sustaining socially inclusive and secure democratic societies. But high-quality civic engagement also requires citizens to develop non-cognitive civic skills that relate to values, attitudes, the readiness to listen, openness, ability to develop sound judgment and effectively participate politically and socially.

A 2016 Civic Education study among 94,000 students at the age of 14 in 3,800 schools across 24 countries was conducted to explore the emerging challenges of educating the youth in a world where contexts of democracy and civic participation continue to change. In the EU, 14 countries took the opportunity for renewed reflection on the meaning of citizenship and youth civic engagement. In light of extremist attacks and migration challenges in Europe, one of their main objectives was “ensuring that children and young people acquire social, civic and intercultural competencies by promoting democratic values and fundamental rights,

social inclusion and non-discrimination as well as active citizenship.”

The research was guided by the premise that young people’s attitudes toward civic issues are predictive of future attitudes and behavior. Increasing knowledge and understanding of citizenship as well as young people’s attitudes, behavior, and perceptions toward activities related to citizenship leads to openness and tolerance. Data from the study also suggested the strong link between civic education received in formal/informal learning and increased interest and participation in democratic activities.

In the Philippines’ K-to-12 SHS curriculum, one core subject—“Understanding Culture, Society and Politics”—explores civic education. Out of 31 topics under this core subject, there is only one topic that discusses active citizen participation (“inclusive citizenship and participatory governance”); the rest of the topics explore geography, kinship, history, culture, definitions of politics and society, etc. On the positive side, the additional research and immersion requirements of the applied track provide teachers and schools the flexibility to add more activities that can enhance civic learning among the students. UP Visayas has integrated a strong civic community immersion program that can help students connect with the community, propose policy recommendations, and strengthen civic participation.

Programs such as “Boto Mo Bukas Ko,” a program for junior and senior high school students;, an online repository of civic education materials; and efforts to institutionalize civic engagement programs are steps toward the right direction.

What we’ve observed in implementing voter education programs in the last five election cycles is that the process of discernment is not easy. No matter the age, voters are influenced by many factors—family, friends, religion, business, media, etc. Another factor often ignored is emotions, where voting can be about expression and feelings rather than of rational thought or an understanding of consequences. Change in voting behavior and mindset does not come overnight; neither can these change one year before the elections.

While all the traditional voter education programs are important, we have to look ahead and create a vision for the next generation of voters and citizens. We start by integrating civic education, civic values, and democratic attitudes and behavior into our core education system in a way that changes the way we understand progress and democracy; where we listen and value each other’s opinions; where we prioritize the marginalized and weak, and aim to uplift and be of service to others. In short, civic education that produces a society and citizenry where leadership is the norm and not the exception.