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An elementary school's library is seen in Toronto on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris YoungChris Young/The Canadian Press

Educators see value in teaching their students about politics, government and being active citizens, but receive a limited amount of training on how to do this work in their classrooms, a new survey has found.

The survey of almost 2,000 Canadian teachers by CIVIX, a charitable organization that looks to strengthen citizenship education in schools, found that fewer than half felt confident teaching their students about politics and government.

Further, nearly two-thirds felt the subjects weren’t a priority in their schools compared with other topics, particularly science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). About 60 per cent of teachers said civics had become a lower priority in their schools because of an increased focus on STEM.

Dimitri Pavlounis, CIVIX’s research director, said that while social studies and teaching students to be informed citizens is highlighted in curriculum documents across the country, there is a disconnect when it comes to what teachers are being asked to focus on.

“It’s reflective of an approach to education that is very much job oriented,” Mr. Pavlounis said. “But what these teachers have been saying, and what’s happening as a result, is that all of these other equally important and related fields are kind of being deprioritized.”

In elementary schools, civics is primarily taught when students learn history and geography. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario have a mandatory civics course in either Grades 9 or 10. Most provinces simply mandate students take courses that fall under social studies.

The survey showed that more than 90 per cent of teachers either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that it was valuable to teach students about politics and government.

Mr. Pavlounis was surprised to learn, through the survey and in focus groups, how little training teachers receive in civics – especially at a time when many students are showing a deep interest in social issues. Only a quarter of teachers surveyed said they had received any formal instruction on the topic.

“It’s one thing to teach that the Governor-General is technically appointed by the monarch. But why does that matter? Teachers say that students are … more aware than ever about social issues, they care about issues. But they don’t seem to make the connection between the issues that they care about and democratic processes, government processes and even community processes,” Mr. Pavlounis said.

“It’s about helping students make those connections.”

He said science teachers could incorporate civics when teaching about climate change, and use that time to discuss climate policy. Similarly, technology classes could incorporate a discussion about artificial intelligence and government regulations.

“Every subject can and should be taught through a lens of citizenship and democracy. It’s a reframing. It’s not about putting a huge extra burden on the teacher,” Mr. Pavlounis said.

CIVIX contracted Ottawa-based Abacus Data to survey teachers across all grade levels, and conducted a series of follow-up focus groups.

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