Active citizenship among immigrants
The lifelong learning center Símenntunarmiðstöðin á Vesturlandi is a partner in a Nordplus project „Alternative active citizenship“. The following research was done in June 2018 as a part of the analysis in the project.
The partner organizations are from four countries, they are inherently different, and their target groups are distinct, but all are respondent in the field of adult education. The aim of the project is to find and develop innovative methods of teaching active citizenship through participation that would enrich already existing learning and teaching material. The main focus of the project will be the development of Active Citizenship guide, a collection of teaching methods which will be available online. The “Alternative Active Citizenship” project description expresses that the participants will consist of target groups who will act as respondents for the needs analysis and try out the active citizenship learning materials developed by the partners. As a result of the project, they will have increased knowledge and ability to apply engaging active citizenship education methods in their professional settings and in general to generate better understanding of active participation and its relevance in the national educational context.
The target group in Iceland are immigrants who have lived in the country for at least one year or longer.
The field research was made by using a google- doc’s questionnaire. The questions were 12, including basic background information. Participants were of foreign origin and chosen randomly from the databank of former students of Símenntunarmiðstöðin, but preferably individuals who have been living in Iceland for at least one year. As many as 70 people received a quest to participate by email and/or message, but altogether 32 people responded and answered the questionnaire. These are the results:
24 women answered (75 %) and 8 men (25%), altogether 32 respondants. The youngest participant was 23 yrs., the oldest was 73, the most frequent age was 45 and the average age was 43.2 yrs. The 32 participants were from 24 countries; Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2), Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Gambia, Germany (2), Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Netherland, Philippines (4) Poland (2) Romania, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Tanzania, Ukraine, USA (3). One person had lived for one year, and one person had lived for 25 yrs. Most of the participants 15.6% (5) had lived for 10 years, but the average living period was 9.7 yrs.
Ideas about active citizenship – the findings
The term “active citizenship” was classified by the respondents as following: Human rights (24) 75%, Freedom (19) 59.4%, Social skills (18) 56.3%, Equality (18) 56.3%, Education (18) 56.3%, Responsibility (16) 50%, Anti-racism and non –discrimination (13) 40.6%, Environment (13) 40.6%, Multi-cultural vision (12) 37.5%, Politics (7) 21.9%, Emotional development (6) 21.9%, Ethics (6)18.8%, Creativity (5) 15.6%, Individualism/socialism (3) 9.4%, Life stances, religion-atheist (1) 3.1%
The following actions are seen as part of being an active citizen: Voting (27) 84.4%, Respecting other cultures (25) 78.1%, Being a responsible citizen (24) 75%, Participating in civil society activities (18) 56.3%, Celebrating national holidays (15) 46.9%, Volunteering (11) 34.4%, Four other option were added by participants: to share moments of life with the locals, to feel like part of the country, to provide help if needed, to have obligations of a community. Participants had an open option to mention what “active citizenship” meant to them. The main ideas summed are the following:
Most participants define active function and participation in society as active citizenship, and they consider human rights, freedom, and social skill to be the most important elements. They also believe that participation in election, mutual respect, education and social involvement is a part of being active. 77% of respondents thought it was important that immigrants were aware of what active citizenship meant, 28% of respondents considered themselves as being very active, but 34,5 % didn’t think they were active or not at all. Only one person considered himself as being very active. The majority of respondents never takes part in any social activity at all.
Participants named issues that would be beneficial for their enlightenment, such as rights and duties, Icelandic culture, Icelandic politics, environmental factors, elections etc. They also mentioned dissemination of information, social opportunities, courses, field trips to public institutions, network among others including immigrants and volunteer work could be of use to become more active citizens. It was mentioned that being respectful and adapting how the local behave, think and do could be helpful to become more active. Speaking Icelandic would be very favorable in integrating.
Respondents reckon the following as beneficial to become more active citizen: More information on civil activities and civic actions on social media 15 (48.4%), Social activities 14 (45.2%), Courses on active citizenship 14 (45.2%), Field trips to official and governmental institutions 10 (32.3%), Meetings with other immigrants 8 (25%), Volunteering 2 (6.5%),
Summary and discussions
The results from the field research show that “active citizenship” needs to be taught and trained to the target group, as it is not a part of any program for immigrants. According to the findings; the immigrants’ highest-ranking ideas of citizenship are various such as: human rights, freedom, education, equality and responsibility. They consider; voting, respect for other cultures, being a responsible citizen among procedures of being an active citizen. Human rights, freedom, and social skills are thought be the most important elements. The majority of respondents thought it was important that immigrants were aware of what active citizenship meant, however most of them never take part in any social activity at all. To become more active citizen, immigrants would like to have more information on civil activities and civic actions on social media, have available courses on active citizenship, and going on field trips to official and governmental institutions etc.
Using what they seem most important will be the cornerstone of next step in the project, which is making a training guide om active citizenship. It is vital that immigrants become more integrated, they become better socially able and have greater opportunities to be active citizens in Iceland.
Guðrún Vala Elísdóttir