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Towards Understanding of Social Capital and Citizenship Education

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Social capital is often seen as an indicator of the effectiveness of a society. Societies that are healthy and functioning are also well stocked with social capital. However, social capital is not necessarily 'good'. In the disturbingly troubled times facing western democracies since 2001 the concept of social capital appears all the more relevant. Societies which are significantly divided, it may be argued, demonstrate less trust, civic engagement, positive networking and mutual cooperation among members. In turn this can negatively affect the quality of life of members. This argument is examined from the perspective of school programmes of citizenship education in democratic and newly democratic states. What constitutes divided societies is discussed in other articles within this issue, but the emphasis is upon severe divisions, invariably involving violence. Some of the comments in this paper are speculative and potentially contentious. Nevertheless it is important to raise these issues at this time, particularly for the benefit of emergent and newly formed democracies who may see education and social capital formation as the panacea for their future. We suggest there are many 'lessons' for divided societies wishing to enhance their social capital, including an increase in student years of schooling, designing citizenship education based on inclusive democratic citizenship, and engaging students in active participation to build trust, cooperation and networking skills.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Sydney, Australia

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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