With Canadian democracy facing new and growing challenges — from declining trust in institutions, to disengagement, disinformation and division — civic education for school-aged youth is increasingly presented as a remedy.

But without understanding what Canadian citizenship education looks like on the ground, it is difficult to know exactly what educators need to best support their practice. To address this urgent gap in the research, CIVIX collaborated with Abacus Data on a study to better understand the practices and perceptions of civic education among educators, as well as to identify the barriers they face.

The result is Civics on the Sidelines, a national report based on a survey of 1,922 educators, supplemented by focus groups and in-depth interviews. This is the first wide-ranging study of citizenship education among K-12 educators in Canada since 1968.


Civics on the Sidelines concludes that while citizenship education is a priority on paper — it is well-represented across provincial and territorial curricula — in practice there is a systemic failure when it comes supporting teachers in developing the skills of democratic citizenship among students. Among the key explanations for this include:

Insufficient teacher-training: Three-quarters (75%) of survey respondents said that their teacher training did not cover civics and citizenship, and nearly three-quarters (72%) felt that, sometimes, teachers assigned to teach civics are unqualified to do so.

Ranks low on list of school priorities: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that civic education is not a priority at their school compared to other subjects, and 63% believe this is due to an increased focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Lack of integration: Effective citizenship involves a set of skills that cut across subjects, yet civic education tends to be siloed, typically in Social Studies. Teachers at all levels overwhelmingly support a more integrated approach, with 90% agreeing that civics should be taught across the curriculum. Currently, only 36% even ‘somewhat agree’ that it is integrated in a cross-curricular way at their school.


Calls for “more” civic education often assume that the problem is about quantity. However, the form that civic education takes in the classroom matters most. Research has shown that civic education is most effective when it is experiential and empowers students to engage deeply and critically with democratic values and processes and with real-world issues.

One approach respondents indicated using was classroom discussion of civic issues. However, the report raises concerns about the format and frequency of these discussions.

The classroom can be a space to help students build resilience against polarization by learning how to engage with difficult issues and differing opinions in a safe environment. Research has established the benefit of regularly discussing political topics, but these must be structured through protocols and small group activities rather than free-form to be effective.

A variety of external factors may work in opposition to high-quality discussion. Of teachers surveyed, only 55% agreed that their school encourages them to discuss controversial or political issues in class, with only 11% in strong agreement. Furthermore 60% of teachers agreed that they worry about backlash from parents if they discuss political issues in class.

CIVIX believes that building teacher capacity to deliver engaging, experiential and high-quality civic education is necessary for the health of our democracy, and Civics on the Sidelines offers a set of sweeping recommendations for improving the practice of civic education and making it a priority.

“We rely on schools to develop students’ citizenship skills, which puts a great deal of responsibility on teachers,” says CIVIX Research Director, Dimitri Pavlounis. “To succeed at building the next generation of active and informed citizens, they need much better support at all levels.”

Detailed findings and recommendations are in Civics on the Sidelines, available for download at civix.ca/sidelines.


Abacus Data is an innovative Canadian market and public opinion research agency, with a specialty in political polling. A long-time CIVIX collaborator, Abacus conducted the survey and focus-group research that forms the basis of Civics on the Sidelines. Subsequently, they polled Canadians to find out what they recall of their own civic education.

The results suggest that K-12 civic education in this country is not particularly memorable across all adult age groups. Despite Canadian politics being a part of mandated curricula in every province and territory, more than 60% of youth aged 18-29 say they don’t recall learning about the government or about ways to get involved in their communities.

The results appear to support the case for prioritizing an approach to citizenship education that is meaningful and memorable, through real-world connections to students’ lives.

To learn more, visit: https://abacusdata.ca/canadians-lack-basics-of-civic-education/