The Impact of Adult Civic Education Programmes in Developing Democracies
Can democracy be taught? Are individuals more likely to embrace democratic values, to learn basic knowledge about political processes, and to engage the political process more effectively as a result of their exposure to donor-sponsored civic education programmes in emerging democracies? After more than a decade of evaluations of civic education programmes, it is a good time to take stock of what we have learned about the impacts of these efforts to strengthen democratic political culture in developing democracies. In this paper, I describe four USAID-sponsored evaluations that have been conducted since the late 1990s, and summarize their most important findings and lessons learned. It will be shown that civic education programmes can have meaningful and relatively long-lasting effects in terms of increasing political information, feelings of empowerment, and mobilizing individuals to engage in political participation, but that they are much less likely to affect more ‘deep-seated’ democratic values such as political tolerance, support, and trust. Moreover, the size of these effects depends critically on how the programmes are designed, the kinds of pedagogical methods employed and the quality of the facilitators or trainers, with much evidence suggesting that the potential for larger-scale changes in democratic orientations through civic education is not being realized in practice. I conclude with a discussion of current developments in the field, as a significant amount of recent new work has emerged.