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Critical thinking, social belonging and democratic participation: Vocational students civic Bildung and the enacted curricula

Research project

Head of project

Kristina Ledman
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2023-01-01 2026-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Education

Research area


External funding

Swedish Research Council

Project description

Current societal challenges such as the war in Europe, the pandemic and global warming highlight the importance of all students – regardless of age and choice of study – being prepared for their roles as democratic citizens by being given opportunities to develop their citizenship knowledge. In this context, critical literacy as a means to counteract fake news and conspiracy theories is an essential prerequisite for democracy. In this newly started project, we focus on citizenship education for vocational education and training (VET) students in upper secondary education. In Sweden, VET students have been identified as less likely to participate in democratic processes in society. The concept of ‘citizen’ is understood here as being situated and dependent on which other identities – such as gender, age, social class and functional ability – are attributed to individuals and groups. This is significant in the study, as the VET programmes to a large extent are gender-differentiated contexts.

VET programmes include compulsory short courses in History, Social studies, Religion and Science studies and citizenship formation is a clearly stated motive behind the inclusion of these four subjects in the VET curriculum. We refer to these subjects as citizenship oriented. There is a lack of knowledge about the conditions these four subjects together create for vocational students' citizenship formation and how the students themselves perceive the development of their citizen identities. 

Project aim

The aim is to shed light on the vocational students' citizenship formation process during their three-year education, in relation to the content made available to them through the citizenship-oriented subjects. i) How do the students perceive the content and teaching approaches of the citizenship-oriented subjects and how do these subjects promote critical thinking and social inclusion, and prepare them to act as citizens? ii) What opportunities for citizenship formation - in the form of pedagogical rights and social positions - do teachers of History, Science Studies, Social Studies and Religion create for vocational students in their teaching? iii) What overall conclusions can be drawn about the vocational students' citizenship formation process with regard to a) differences between the various VET programmes, and b) about how citizen identities are formed in relation to social positions (gender, class, ethnicity) and professional identities?  

The project includes longitudinal interviews with students (Substudy 1) and teacher interviews, in combination with observations and analysis of teaching material (Substudy 2).

Preliminary results from pilot interviews with teachers indicate that in all four subjects it is important to anchor the teaching in the contexts the students are in. Students’ response to citizenship education seems to differ depending on vocational cultures in the programmes and the different conditions of the schools and the local communities. By the longitudinal design and student interviews, we will be able to gain a deeper understanding of VET students citizenship formation, both in relation to subject education and specific programme. The focus on the students’ citizenship formation through their perspective on knowledge and how citizen identities are formed in relation to social positions (gender, class, ethnicity) and professional identities contributes to broadening the understanding of citizenship education for VET students.

External funding

Latest update: 2023-03-22