Published: 29-12-2011, 16:07

Citizenship and Immigrant Education


Citizenship – The status of being a citizen; membership in a community; the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community.

CONFINTEA(Confe´rence internationale sur l’e´ducation des adultes (International Conference on Adult Education) – A series of international meetings, which takes place every 12 years since 1949, organized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Immigrate – To enter and usually become established; to come into a country of which one is not a native for permanent residence.

Jus sanguinis – Latin for right of blood, a social policy by which citizenship is determined by having an ancestor who is a national or citizen of the state.

Jus soli – Latin for right of the soil, a right by which citizenship can be recognized to any individual born in the territory of the related state.

Naturalization – The acquisition of citizenship by individuals who were not citizens of that country at the moment of birth.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) – A specialized United Nations agency founded in 1945.


In the field of adult education, it is possible to identify two separate areas of research, theory, and practice that are often related: citizenship education and immigrant education. Generally speaking, citizenship education aims at preparing individuals to become citizens in a particular political community. Typically, citizenship-education initiatives focus on the teaching of citizens’ rights and duties, aswell as the legal system and the functioning of government institutions. In some cases, it also includes the nurturing of critical analysis of social reality and engagement in civic and political activities. Immigrant education aims at enhancing the integration of new immigrants in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of the receiving countries through a variety of services and programs. These include programs such as second-language acquisition, special language courses for immigrant professionals, entry-level job-skills development, entrepreneurial training, financial literacy (from basic banking to investment classes), and information about local culture, laws, and regulations. Services include employment counseling and job-search strategies, settlement assistance, and access to computers.

In many countries, citizenship education and immigrant education are offered to children, youth, and adults by a variety of governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, private institutions, and community groups. The intersection between citizenship education and immigrant education can be found in the area of citizenship education for immigrants. This area focuses on preparing newcomers to become citizens in the host country. By and large, the size and importance of this area in a given country is directly correlated to the size and history of immigration. In other words, those countries with higher immigration rates and with longer traditions as recipient societies are more likely to have established programs and pedagogical materials on citizenship education for immigrants and to devote significant human and material resources to this area. In the past, the main impetus behind those initiatives was an interest to quickly assimilate immigrants into the prevailing culture and values of the host society, and particularly to incorporate them as soon as possible into the labor market. More recently, some countries established immigration policies and programs aiming at balancing the integration of immigrants into the host society and the respect for the immigrants’ cultural identity, that is, promoting simultaneously, both unity and diversity.

Before addressing general trends related to adult citizenship education and immigration education, it is useful to discuss some conceptual and historical issues related to citizenship and to immigration.


As noted above, citizenship education includes all those educational programs and initiatives that have as their main purpose preparing individuals to become citizens. Although at first glance this seems like a straightforward proposition, it is pertinent to ask: What does it mean to become a citizen? There is no easy answer to this question because citizenship is a dynamic, contextual, contested, and multidimensional concept. It is dynamic because its meaning, characteristics, and scope have changed throughout history. For instance, in a not-so-distant past, there were many countries that excluded slaves, women, nonwhites, and illiterates from citizenship. It is contextual because, even in the same historical moment, citizenship is a term that has interpretations and applications in different societies. Indeed, at any historical moment, many countries have applied – and still do – different criteria to determine who is a citizen and who is not, who can become a citizens and who cannot, what the traits of a good citizen are, and so on. Moreover, citizenship is a contested term because, even in the same time and space, in the same nation-state, and there are profound disagreements about what citizenship is and what it should be. In each society, different groups have different perspectives on the criteria for inclusion and exclusion, and different ideas about the qualities of good citizenship.

The term citizenship is also multidimensional because it encompasses four different dimensions that are frequently conflated: status, identity, civic virtues, and agency. Status relates to issues of membership to a particular political community. Identity relates to issues of feelings of belonging and loyalty to that political community. Civic virtues refer to the dispositions, values, and behaviors that are expected from citizens, and agency refers to the capacity to act as a citizen, that is, to engage actively in civic and political life with the possibility of making a difference. Since these four dimensions influence the approaches adopted by adult-citizenship-education programs, it is pertinent to elaborate on them.

In the most common understanding of the term, citizenship is a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community, which means that those who possess the status of citizens are equal with respect to the rights and duties endowed by it (Marshall, 1949). In modern times, that community is the nation-state, to the extent that citizenship is often equated with nationality. Noncitizens are usually known as foreign aliens. However, at this moment it is also possible to be a citizen of a supranational political entity like the European Community. Citizenship as status distinguishes between citizens, who are full members of a particular political community, and thus can have a passport, are eligible to vote and to be elected, and so on, and noncitizens (or aliens), who have limited rights or no rights at all. Today, citizenship status is usually granted by birthplace ( jus soli), descent ( jus sanguinis), or naturalization, although in the past it was often granted and denied on the basis of factors like class, gender, or race. For instance, in many countries it was not until the first half of the twentieth century (in some even later) that women were recognized as full citizens with equal rights. Even in the twenty-first century, some population groups are denied certain rights. For instance, only a few countries allow gay couples the same right to marriage that is granted to the heterosexual population, and although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to a nationality, today there are more than 15 million stateless people who have no citizenship status in any state, either because they never acquired it in their birth country or because they lost it. In considering the notion of citizenship as status it is pertinent to distinguish between formal and real citizenship: formal equality is largely irrelevant if it is contradicted on a daily basis by economic, social, political, and cultural inequalities. For this reason, any discussion on citizenship as status that is also concerned with real membership in a particular political community must consider the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion of that community.

Identity relates to feelings of belonging that a person has toward a community. This feeling as a full member of a community is independent of the formal citizen status of that person. The distinction between status and identity can be found everywhere, but it is more clear in multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, and multireligious states, and particularly in nation-states that are multination states (Dean, 2004; Kymlicka, 2001;Wilkinson and Hebert, 1999). In these cases, identity is rooted in factors like a common history, language, religion, values, traditions, and culture, which seldom coincide with the artificial territory of a nation-state.This should not be surprising, because nation-states are imagined communities whose boundaries change over time due to invasions, wars, annexations, conquests, and separations (Anderson, 1983). Hence, it is not surprising that some cultural and linguistic minorities as well as aboriginal groups may not feel part of the nationstate in which they are legal citizens. In the same vein, immigrant communities may hold a legal citizenship status in two or more nation-states but feel allegiance to only one of them. Moreover, there are cases of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship in their host country but do not take it in order to keep a feeling of belonging to their home country, even if they never return to it. Another example of a mismatch between status and identity can be observed among people with internationalist inclinations who are legal citizens of nation-states but define themselves as citizens of the world, even if planetary citizenship is not a legal condition.

Civic virtues refer to the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are expected of good citizens. However, there is no universal agreement on the ideal of a good citizen. For some groups, the main civic virtues of a good citizen are patriotism, obedience, honor, diligence, and religiosity. Others emphasize compassion, respect, tolerance, honesty, solidarity, and individual responsibility, and others relate civic virtues to a critical analysis of social reality, interest for the common good, community participation, and political engagement. All these and many other civic virtues could be chosen, organized, and ranked according to the moral preferences of those who create the list. Moreover, the ideal of good citizen promoted by the state varies according to historical, ideological, and political contexts. For instance, the model of good citizen and the virtues cultivated by the Nazi regime were different from the model and the virtues promoted in Germany in the nineteenth century or today.

Agency refers to the state of being in action or affecting change; thus, the dimension of citizenship as agency invokes the idea of citizens as social actors. The exercise of citizenship, individual or collective, does not occur in a vacuum, but in concrete social relations mediated by power. Indeed, social circumstances determine to a large extent what citizens can do or feel allowed to do, but at the same time, citizens have some degree of agency to change those circumstances and make history. Hence, the notion of citizenship as agency recognizes that social action – which varies both in the intensity and orientation of citizen actions – occurs in a context marked by a constant interplay of limits and possibilities, domination and autonomy, and control structures and liberating forces. Although the literature often refers to passive and active citizenship, in real life these constitute end points of a continuum rather than dichotomous categories.


While human migration has existed throughout human history, immigration is the movement of people from one nation-state to another, and involves long-termpermanent residence (and eventually citizenship) in the host country. Although short-term visitors are not considered immigrants, seasonal labor migration is often considered as a special form of immigration.

According to estimates from the United Nations, in 2005, the total number of migrants amounted to 190 million people, to which can be added an undetermined number of undocumented or irregular migrants, currently estimated as 30 million people. Typically, migration is driven by two simultaneous dynamics. On the one hand, push factors such as economic, political, or social problems in the country of origin; on the other, pull factors such as economic, social, and cultural opportunities in the destination country.Globally, the large majority of migrants flow from South to North, that is, from Latin America, Asia, and Africa to Europe and North America, but in recent decades, there has been an increase of South–South migration (often due to political instability or generalized violence) and even North–South migration, usually older people who seek retirement in countries with lower costs of living and better climates than their own home countries.

Many immigrants, particularly those who migrate from South to North, often face a great variety of problems, which range from emotional issues arising from leaving relatives, friends, and a known environment to issues related to legal barriers, moving expenses, uncertainty about the future, lack of familiarity with the new culture and language, difficulties in finding decent employment, and in many cases also exploitation, discrimination, and racism. The acquisition of legal citizenship status in the host country may not necessarily translate into the enjoyment of full citizenship on the same foot as other social groups. In many instances, the discrepancy between legal and real citizenship status has more to do with language, race, gender ethnicity, country of origin, and social class than with the formality of official citizenship papers. As Banks (2004: 5) noted, ‘‘becoming a legal citizen of a nation-state does not necessarily mean that an individual will attain structural inclusion into the mainstream society and its institutes or will be perceived as a citizen by most members of the dominant group within the nationstate.’’

From the perspective of the host societies, particularly those that regularly receive large numbers of immigrants, challenges include providing services, educational programs, and infrastructure to the new immigrants, making an effort to understand and respect different cultures, beliefs, and practices, and creating an environment that nurtures dialog, tolerance, and fairness. Countries with high international demand for immigration tend to establish specific selection criteria and admission policies. Whereas in the past those criteria were often based (sometimes explicitly) on racial or ethnic prejudices, presently they are likely to be based on factors such as schooling, occupation, wealth, and language proficiency, usually expressed in a point system. Such system gives preference to professionals and businesspeople, and discriminates against unskilled workers. This situation creates problems in the labor market due to unmet demand for workers in certain areas of the economy (e.g., construction, agriculture, and janitorial services), which in turn provokes a growth in undocumented migration. Another issue that has increased significantly as a result of the emphasis on professional immigrants is the limited recognition of foreign credentials and work experiences by certain professional colleges. This, in turn, creates a lose–lose situation. The home country suffers brain drain after considerable investment in human-resource development, the host country misses the opportunity of brain gain by forcing immigrant professionals to earn a living delivering pizza or driving taxis, and the professional immigrants lose the possibility of developing their full potential in their chosen field by taking jobs unrelated to their training.

Moreover, countries with large and diverse immigration populations often face the double challenge of ensuring a successful social, economic, political, and cultural integration of newcomers and at the same time reducing tensions that may arise across ethnic, national, or racial lines. In the past, most of these countries (known as settlement countries) favored the strategy of forced assimilation. This strategy, usually referred to with the metaphor of a melting pot, had as its main goal that immigrant groups adopt the language, traditions, attitudes, and values of the dominant culture as fast as possible. In recent times, some settlement countries have adopted a different integration strategy through multiculturalism. Whereas assimilation approaches perceive diversity as a threat and tries to suppress ethnic identities, multiculturalism understands diversity as a resource and seeks to accommodate differences. Hence, multiculturalism tends to promote the celebration of cultural diversity and the management of such diversity through specific policies, programs, and initiatives in different levels of government. Kymlicka and Banting (2006) identify eight frequent policies that are emblematic of a multicultural approach to immigrant integration: (1) constitutional, legislative, or parliamentary affirmation of multiculturalism; (2) adoption of multiculturalism in school curricula; (3) inclusion of ethnic representation and/or sensitivity in the mandate of public media; (4) exemptions from dress codes, Sunday-closing legislation, etc.; (5) allowance of dual citizenship; (6) funding of ethnic-group organizations to support cultural activities; (7) funding of bilingual education or mother tongue instruction; and (8) affirmative action for disadvantaged immigrant groups. They point out that the first three policies celebrate multiculturalism, the middle two reduce legal constraints on diversity, and the last three represent forms of active support for immigrant communities and individuals.

Multicultural approaches have advocates and detractors. Detractors argue that multiculturalism and liberal democracy are fundamentally incompatible, and that the emphasis on diversity and difference undermines the sense of common national identity and nurtures resentment between minority and majority cultures (Sniderman and Hagendoorn, 2007). In some instances, the tension between the values and practices of immigrant groups and the prevailing values and practices of the host society have been addressed through initiatives of reasonable accommodation that generated much public controversy and political and juridical debate. Advocates argue that multiculturalism is an effective strategy to facilitate the full integration of immigrants into the host society while preserving their identity, balancing the principles of cultural distinctiveness and equality. They also argue that multiculturalism helps immigrants to keep their culture and language, reduces discrimination, enhances cross-cultural understanding, and promotes institutional change aimed at equalizing opportunities.

Citizenship and Immigrant Adult Education: Main Orientations

Citizenship and immigrant-education programs tend to address simultaneously the four dimensions of citizenship discussed above, but frequently they emphasize just one. Those programs that focus on citizenship as status often emphasize formal membership to a particular political community, usually a nation-state. Beyond introductory content dealing with settlement challenges (e.g., language acquisition, resume´ writing, and job-searching strategies), these citizenship programs concentrate on facts about national history and geography, government institutions, and the law. In some countries, the content of these programs is codified in textbooks that immigrants seeking naturalization must memorize in order to pass a citizenship test. More often than not, these textbooks tend to promote the official story of a nation’s development, with limited coverage of controversial issues ( Joshee and Johnson, 2007; Derwing et al., 1998). These programs also describe the rights and duties of citizens, although seldom distinguishing between formal and real membership, or encouraging a critical analysis of the status quo. In the margins, however, there are some critical programs – usually carried out by nongovernmental organizations – that contrast the official perspective with the views of peoples that suffered conquest or discrimination. These programs also question taken-for-granted rules of inclusion and exclusion, interpret the law in the context of social dynamics of power and emancipatory struggles, and emphasize the fulfillment of human rights.

Education programs emphasizing citizenship as identity have tended for a long time to stress nation building and the assimilation of minority groups to the dominant group. Often, this has meant the mainstreaming and the malestreaming of curriculum content, and the elevation of the hegemonic language, religion, and culture to the higher level of a hierarchy. The main purpose (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit) of many of these programs was identity conversion, that is, reshaping the identity of the recent immigrants in a way that corresponds less with their old world and more with their new world. This certainly included attitudes of loyalty and allegiance to the host country, its religion, and its political leaders. For instance, one of the main textbooks for immigrant citizenship education used in Canada during the first part of the twentieth century stated that the good citizen should love God, the Empire, and Canada (Fitzpatrick, 1919). Today, in the twenty-first century, new immigrants to Canada must pass a civics test and pledge allegiance to the Queen of England in order to become Canadian citizens. Interestingly, Canadian-born people are not required to take this oath or to pass a test as a condition for citizenship, even though 60% of Canadians fail a citizenship exam similar to the one taken by immigrants (Dominion Institute, 2007). Some citizenship-education programs strive at developing a planetary consciousness and an identity as world citizens. These programs are usually known as global education, and are often connected to peace education and environmental- education approaches.

Programs that focus on civic virtues tend to emphasize the development of a set of values, attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors that are expected from good citizens. Paraphrasing the Archbishop of York, who said that the true purpose of education is to produce citizens, Eleanor Roosevelt argued that the purpose of education is to produce good citizens. However, there is no universal agreement about the values and dispositions of good citizenship. Certainly, some values have more universal appeal than others, but the set of values privileged by official-education programs change from country to country and from time to time, and range according to factors like the ideological orientation of the government in power and the prevailing beliefs in a given society. From a pedagogical perspective, citizenship-education programs that focus on civic virtues follow two main approaches. One approach consists of instilling a particular set of values and dispositions through exhortations and inducements. The other approach aims at helping learners develop their own values by examining ethical dilemmas and examining different perspectives in a democratic environment.

Finally, programs that focus on citizenship as agency tend to promote the development of an active citizenry. However, this could take different forms and directions. Westheimer and Khane (2004), for instance, identify three implicit models of active citizenship: responsible, participatory, and justice oriented. Responsible citizens are expected to avoid littering, pick up litter of others, donate blood, recycle, volunteer, pay taxes, exercise, stay out of debt, and the like. Participatory citizens are expected to take active part in the civic affairs and social life of the community, and assume leading roles in neighborhood associations, school councils, or political parties. Justiceoriented citizens are expected to be able to critically analyze structures of inequality, consider collective strategies to challenge injustice, and, whenever possible, address root causes of social problems. Although the three models are important for the development of agency among learners, justice-oriented programs arguably have more potential for building a democratic and just society, as this requires nurturing political subjects who have a critical understanding of social structures and the capacity (and willingness) to participate actively in society. This tradition of citizenship education for transformative social action is grounded in the work of many adult educators, including Jane Addams, N. F. S. Grundtvig, Moses Coady, Jose´ Marı´a Arizmendi, Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton.

Regardless of their particular orientation and foci, most adult-citizenship-education programs tend to emphasize – often in theory, sometimes also in practice – the importance of nurturing an informed, purposeful, critical, caring, and active citizenship. This requires the development of certain attributes that include knowledge on a variety of areas (from political ideologies and societal structures to government institutions and democratic governance), skills (from information seeking and analysis to conflict resolution and public speaking), attitudes (from self-confidence to respecting other people’s opinions and cooperation), and practices (from participating in local associations to voice ideas and voting in municipal, provincial, and federal elections). These attributes can be learned through different programs, although those programs that include an experiential component (e.g., allowing learners to experiment with participatory democracy) tend to be more successful (Merrifield, 2001; Benn, 2000; Annette and Mayo, 2008).

Concluding Remarks: Adult-Citizenship Education in Immigrant Societies

In recent times, some countries with large-scale, continuous, and heterogeneous immigration patterns have established a variety of educational programs to promote successful integration processes and mutual understanding. These programs are usually inspired by two main approaches. The first one, known as multicultural education, focuses on familiarizing learners with different cultures in order to reduce stereotypes and ethnocentric attitudes. Multicultural education emphasizes the teaching of history, traditions, and customs of different cultures. More often than not, this is done superficially and uncritically, focusing almost exclusively on the three Fs of folklore, food, and festivities. However, occasionally multicultural education programs also encourage a deeper social analysis that includes examining dynamics of inequality, discrimination, and racism.

The other approach, known as intercultural education, is about proactive interaction among different ethnic groups. Intercultural education is not so much about acquiring knowledge about other cultures but about promoting communication, cooperation, and regular relations among groups. Although both multicultural and intercultural education programs have similar aims (e.g., promoting understanding, tolerance, and respect among different cultures), the former emphasizes the cognitive dimension whereas the latter puts more emphasis on skills and attitudes. In theory, intercultural education is a twopronged project that includes working with both the immigrant and the nonimmigrant population. Theoretically, intercultural education is expected to assist immigrant groups in their integration process and at the same time it should help the nonimmigrant society to accept immigrants as equals, with the overall purpose of building a more democratic, inclusive, and egalitarian society premised on an intercultural and active citizenship. In practice, however, many intercultural education initiatives tend to concentrate their efforts on compensatory pedagogical interventions with minority groups rather than on projects that involve all groups in society (Rodrı´guez Izquierdo, 2009).

Related to this are the debates on the most appropriate pedagogical strategies to cultivate the habits of democracy in diverse societies. The most common approach is to avoid open discussions about controversial topics among participants. Many instructors fear conflict, and hence tend to implement a safe curriculum that reduces the possibility of risk. Others, however, believe that the best way to nurture civic virtues is to welcome controversial topics and hard questions, as well as to encourage participants not to get along. This implies recognizing the plurality of viewpoints among participants and facilitating a respectful dialog among them (McLaughlin, 2004; Hughes and Sears, 2004). As Dewey (1916) pointed out, one of the most effective ways to learn democratic values is to practice democracy in a democratic community.

In closing, the potential of adult education to contribute to a more democratic society is reflected in the first theme of the agenda for the future approved at the fifth International Conference of Adult Education (CONFINTEA) in Hamburg, where it was noted that the challenges of the twenty-first century ‘‘require the creativity and competence of citizens of all ages in alleviating poverty, consolidating democratic processes, strengthening and protecting human rights, promoting a culture of peace, encouraging active citizenship, strengthening the role of civil society, ensuring gender equality and equity, enhancing the empowerment of women, recognizing cultural diversity (including the use of language, and promoting justice and equality for minorities and indigenous peoples) and a new partnership between state and civil society’’ (CONFINTEA, 1997: 1). The agenda adds that to reinforce democracy, it is essential to strengthen learning environments, encourage citizen participation, and create contextswhere a culture of equity and peace can take root.

To achieve these goals, CONFINTEA asks adult educators to make four commitments: to create greater community participation; to raise awareness about prejudice and discrimination; to encourage greater recognition, participation, and accountability of nongovernmental organizations and local community groups; and to promote a culture of peace, intercultural dialog, and human rights. Adult citizenship and immigrant-education programs can assist these efforts by addressing issues of status, identity, civic virtues, and agency. This can be pursued through a variety of pedagogical/political strategies that adapt and reinvent the contributions of twentieth-century adult education to the realities of the twenty-first century. Adult education can play an important role in improving the conditions for learning, in increasing the sharing of this learning along the lines of intercultural education, and in equalizing opportunities for learning and for meaningful participation among all members of society.

See also: Adult Learning, Instruction and Programme Planning: Insights from Freire; Barriers to Participation in Adult Education; Characteristics of Adult Learning; Children of Migrant Populations; Participation in Adult Learning; Race and Ethnicity in the Field of Adult Education.