Citizenship refers to an individual’s status from belonging to a particular country.

Each country determines the conditions under which its people are recognized as citizens and the states under which their citizenship can be withdrawn.

In most countries, recognition as a citizen of that country carries with it recognition of civil, political, and social rights that aren’t given to non-citizens.

In education

Citizenship education aims to develop the capacity of pupils to participate in a fair and inclusive society throughout their lifetime. It also teaches them the importance of independence of thought and recognizing the power of reflection and debate.

Citizenship education enables young people to explore personal and social values, as well as their peers’, in light of concepts such as diversity, equality, justice, and democracy.

“We believe that citizenship has a clear conceptual core, which relates to the induction of young people into the legal, moral and political arena of public life.”

— Done Rowe, The Citizenship Foundation

What is the history of citizenship?

Greek conceptions of citizenship

“To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!”

— Aristotle

Before the Greeks, a person was connected to a tribe or kin group, such as an extended family. The concept of citizenship that tied the person to the state first originated in towns and city-states of Ancient Greece (around 700 BC) and applied to property owners. Women, enslaved people, and the poorer members of society were exempt.

Citizenship in a Greek city-state granted the ability to vote, and citizens were required to undertake military service and pay tax.

Roman conceptions of citizenship

Greek conceptions of citizenship, such as equality under the law, were carried forward into the Roman world. Up until 212 AD, citizenship was used by The Romans as a means to distinguish the inhabitants of Rome from people whose territories had been conquered by Rome.

As the Roman Empire expanded, citizenship was given to allies throughout Italy, and in 212 AD, citizenship was granted to all free inhabitants of the empire.

Modern conceptions of citizenship

Modern concepts of citizenship can be traced back to the 18th century during the American and French Revolutions. During these times, the term citizen came to mean the possession and protection of certain freedoms from the coercive powers of the monarchy. Today, in societies where monarchist powers no longer exist, coercive powers refer to the state.

Citizens could openly comment on and criticize government rulings in public places such as coffee-houses, museums, and restaurants.

How is citizenship acquired?

Citizenship can be acquired in several ways: being born in a country, descending from a citizen parent, marriage or civil partnership to a citizen, or through naturalization (applying for citizenship in a particular country).

Acquiring citizenship from birth is split into two systems: jus soli and jus sanguinis.

Jus soli refers to citizenship acquired from birth in a country, regardless of the parents’ citizenship.

Jus sanguinis refers to citizenship acquired when a person automatically gains citizenship of the country their parent is a citizen of, regardless of where they are born.

Sometimes, you can have dual nationality and be a citizen of two countries.

Rights and responsibilities

When we ask, “What is citizenship?” it’s important to consider what rights are and the kinds of rights afforded to citizens.

A right is something that we have a moral entitlement to have or do.

A human right is a right that belongs to everyone.

Generally, the basic rights normally granted to citizens are the right to a passport, the right to leave and return to the country of citizenship, and the right to live and work in that country.

Human rights

Human rights are important because they uphold key values in our societies, such as respect, dignity, fairness, and equality. When these values are not supported, our human rights give us the power to speak up and challenge neglectful treatment by a public authority.

Our governments protect our human rights through laws. However, in some countries, human rights are not always recognized, and many people do not have guaranteed protection for their human rights.

In the UK, The Human Rights Act of 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms to that every citizen of the UK is entitled.

Some examples of human rights in the UK include:

  • The right to life
  • The right to liberty
  • Freedom of expression
  • The right not to be discriminated against

Children’s human rights

Every child has rights, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, or another status.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) covers all aspects of a child’s life (up until 18). It sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights to which all children, regardless of where they live, are entitled. The convention is an internationally binding human rights agreement.

Some of these rights include:

  • The right to have their views respected and their best interests considered at all times.
  • The right to education, leisure, culture, and the arts.
  • The right to have their views respected and their best interests considered at all times.

Responsibilities and active citizenship

Active citizenship refers to a citizen who takes an active role in the community.

We’ve established that rights are a citizen’s entitlement to certain protections from the government. If a ruling body gives rights to its citizens, those citizens may have certain responsibilities to uphold.

For example, in the UK, citizens have the right to free health care. Still, voting in elections is not mandatory, even though many people would say this is a citizen’s responsibility. A citizen who partakes in elections is therefore said to be active.

Global citizenship

Global citizenship means being aware of the interconnectedness between people, societies, and environments around the globe.

Global citizenship emphasizes an understanding of identities that exist beyond geographical or political borders. When we refer to a global citizen, we mean someone aware of and understands the wider world – and how they fit into that. They actively work with others to make our planet a more peaceful, sustainable, and fairer place

Whereas active citizenship refers to responsibilities and participation in our communities on a more local or national scale, global citizenship emphasizes our part in the global society and economy.

Diversity and inclusion

The society comprises diverse groups and works best when people have a sense of belonging and respect for one another and appreciate the importance of working together.

This involves understanding other people’s cultures, communities, identities, customs, traditions, and festivals. It also means being unprejudiced and discriminatory towards others. Citizenship is about fostering a cohesive society.

Why is it important to learn about citizenship?

Citizenship is an integral aspect of society – it’s ingrained in everything we do. It’s also important in the classroom. Learning about citizenship at school prepares young people for adulthood and helps them play a positive and active part in the world around them.

Learning about citizenship gives children the knowledge and skills to understand, challenge, and engage with the democratic societies they will grow up in, including; politics, the media, the economy, and the law.

Global citizenship is more interconnected today than ever, but this brings many complex and difficult issues worldwide. Therefore, young people must develop compassion and understand how to be good citizens.

The next generation should feel equipped and empowered to deal with these challenges and strive to do good in their daily lives, communities, and the world.

Teaching children about other cultures and beliefs can foster acceptance of other people in schools, which helps shape children into open-minded adults.

It is also important to explore multiculturalism in citizenship, for it helps children from different cultures and backgrounds feel accepted and included. In addition, they can build confidence in sharing their culture with their peers.

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