In a pandemic, ignoring science impacts everybody. Citizenship training can assist make sure that would not occur

Since the beginning of 2020, our way of life has changed dramatically. COVID-19 has transformed the way we study, learn, and work—even how we shop, eat, and gather.

Throughout the pandemic, Canada has taken individual and community-based measures to protect its citizens. While most Canadians have trusted and listened to scientists and public health experts, too many have ignored the science – protesting against mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinations.

Those who have not followed these protocols have prolonged the pandemic and put their fellow citizens at risk. This troubling issue requires attention and future action, including treatment through education.

Responsible citizenship and education

Responsible citizenship is fundamental in a democratic society – and with that comes the responsibility not to engage in behavior that endangers the health and well-being of neighbours.

Well-known citizenship education professors Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne combine good citizenship with active democratic citizenship. They emphasize the importance of teaching, obeying the law and becoming a personally responsible citizen, engaging in civic affairs and becoming a participatory citizen, and combating social inequalities by becoming a justice-oriented citizen.

In recent years, due to growing global challenges – such as poverty, hunger, public health and climate change – the concept of responsible citizenship has expanded to include global belonging and engagement.

Global Citizenship seeks to unite people within and between countries in common cause, to bridge national divides, to address seminal challenges facing the world. Global citizenship seeks in many ways to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to address pressing global issues.

In schools, Global Citizenship Education aims to provide students with the knowledge, skills and values ​​to become responsible citizens and learn to address a range of generational challenges. Schools in several countries, including Canada, have begun to recognize the importance of these educational goals. Several provinces, such as Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, have incorporated global citizenship education into their social studies curricula over the past few decades.

Canadian intergovernmental bodies representing all provincial ministries of education, including the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), have emphasized the importance of global citizenship education, among other priorities. In its recently published Pan-Canadian Systems-Level Framework on Global Competencies, CMEC identified six global competencies for students: global citizenship and sustainability; critical thinking and problem solving; innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship; learn to learn and be confident and self-directed; and collaboration.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the curriculum should engage students in discussions about how responses to health news relate to being a responsible global citizen.

Reflecting on citizenship after the pandemic

Despite these curriculum trends, issues that have come to light in the pandemic have shown that the goals of Global Citizenship Education need to be adjusted.

These include disregarding public health protocols, undermining the science, spreading misinformation, and a lack of concern for others (especially for seniors, who are more likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, and for those with underlying health conditions).

Read more: The urgent need for media literacy in times of annihilation

It is becoming increasingly important that the next generation of Canadian students learn how to deal with the many increasing challenges of a post-COVID-19 world. Research by the Center for Global Development found that “the next pandemic could be much sooner and more severe than we think”.

Given the lessons of COVID-19, schools across Canada should consider offering an elective social studies course that emphasizes post-pandemic values, including commitment to public health, empathy and compassion, self-sacrifice, and a collaborative spirit. Such “post-pandemic citizenship education” could help prepare the next generation of Canadians to promote the kind of values ​​that are sometimes lacking during the pandemic.

Health Literacy, Compassion

First, the course should include public health issues. For example, she could use online tools and platforms to teach health literacy to students. As stated by the World Health Organization, health literacy means enabling people “to play an active role in improving their own health, to engage successfully in community action for health, and to urge governments to shoulder their responsibilities towards health and health equity”.

Researchers from the Healthy Schools Lab at the University of Alberta found that when education went online due to pandemic closures, provincial home-learning guidelines failed to include a focus on health and physical education.

The course could also examine how other countries have dealt with COVID-19 and previous epidemics, or ask students to come up with a plan to combat the next pandemic.

Students stand in a hallway wearing face masks.

Students should have the opportunity to develop plans to combat pandemics.

Second, empathy and compassion should be emphasized, including their impact on positive health outcomes. Efforts have been made in Canada to instill empathy in the classroom and these efforts should continue. For example, Canadian educator Mary Gordon founded Roots of Empathy more than two decades ago. This program aims to develop students’ emotional and social skills, leading to less aggression and bullying.

READ ALSO: Strong Relationships Help Kids Catch Up After 6 Months Of School Closure From COVID-19

Self and Community Interest

At the same time, the course should emphasize self-sacrifice. From reviewing case studies of those who have flouted public health recommendations at the expense of others, to discussing situations where collective responsibility should transcend individual self-interest, these lessons can be insightful.

For example, the Winnipeg Department of Education recently released a Sustainable Development Education Plan to teach students about collective responsibility in areas such as human rights, environmental protection and poverty alleviation.

Collective responsibility studies should include examining issues of justice due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on marginalized communities in Canada.

Studying documents such as Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms can also shed light on the crucial role of government mitigation strategies in supporting citizens’ collective dignity and rights.

collective good at stake

By adopting a collaborative spirit, students can appreciate local examples of community involvement or consider when public and private institutions should work together for the benefit of society at home and abroad.

For example, Toronto’s Bloorview School Authority, which provides school programs for children with special needs undergoing intensive therapy, has partnered with UNICEF Canada to raise funds for necessary school supplies for students in Malawi. A Bloorview teacher noted that the project, known as Kids in Need of Desks, helps students understand what it means to be global citizens in a pandemic. This is true even as they deal with their own learning disruptions due to COVID-19 while tackling other challenges.

This is just a starting point. Over time, Canadian schools will need to continue to review and rewrite social studies curricula to prepare the next generation of citizens for a post-pandemic world. The common good and responsible citizenship are at stake.


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