No. 3




The Voter of Tomorrow: A Sociological Approach to the Civic Competence of Teenagers

18 June 2001


RiTo No. 3, 2001

  • Anu Toots

    Tallinn University, School of Governance, Law and Society

  • Tõnu Idnurm

    Tallinn University, School of Governance, Law and Society

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) recently gauged the civic knowledge and attitudes of 14-year-olds in 26 countries. Current paper deals with electoral attitudes and expected behaviour of Estonian teenagers based on data of above IEA Civic Education Study.

Authors attempt to analyse which factors predict cognitive competence and which normative competence. One of the findings of the article was that the cognitive competence of Estonian students was significantly lower than the international average. This is attributable to the fact that elections are a relatively new item in the Estonian curriculum and that teachers have little skills in teaching the subject. Overall, the level of civic skills was very close to the level of knowledge, although in Russian schools the skills were notably lower than knowledge. This may be due to the fact that in many Russian-speaking schools, teachers of civic education do not have Estonian citizenship and therefore lack a personal voting experience.

When all 3,938 respondents were divided in four achievement groups, it became clear that the students with a higher level of cognitive competence have also developed better normative competence. They have clearer attitudes for both the main values of democracy and personal behaviour, and are more willing to fulfil their civic duties. On the other hand, there were a number of issues such as attitudes to political parties and immigrants, or readiness to stand as a candidate at elections, where the level of cognitive competence did not influence the opinion of respondents.

There were marginal differences in the attitudes of Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking schools, although Russian students were less enthusiastic when it came to elections. Proof of similar attitudes was a comparison of young people’s “planned” behaviour with ideal behaviour. Namely, the respondents said that as grown-ups, they were going to adopt the same principles and values that they were assigning to good citizens. And, vice versa, they did not plan to adopt what they did not consider to be attributes of a good citizen. In this respect, there were no major differences between Russian and Estonian schools or urban and rural schools. It means that developing normative competence depends not only on what is learned at school, but also on the social experience of friends and relatives and on basic social values.

Such consensus between young people of different walks of life shows that there is strong potential for integrating young people in democratic society and politics. Efficient use of this potential will depend on the quality of civic studies at schools and the Estonian citizenship policy.

Full article in Estonian