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Active citizenship generally refers to a philosophy espoused by some organizations and educational institutions. It often states that members of companies or nation-states have certain roles and responsibilities to society and the environment, although those members may not have specific governing roles.

Active citizenship can be seen as an articulation of the debate over rights versus responsibilities. If a body gives rights to the people under its remit, then those same people might have certain responsibilities to uphold. This would be most obvious at a country or nation-state level, but could also be wider, such as global citizenship. The implication is that an active citizen is one who exercises both their rights and responsibilities in a balanced way. A problem with this concept is that although rights are often written down as part of law, responsibilities are not as well defined, and there may be disagreements amongst the citizens as to what the responsibilities are. For example, in the UK, citizens have the right to free healthcare, but voting in elections is not compulsory, even though many people would define this as a responsibility.

Writing a clear definition of responsibilities for an active citizen is much more problematic than writing a list of rights. For example, although voting might be considered a basic responsibility by many people, there are some who through disability or other issues are not able to participate fully in the voting process.

Active citizenship can be considered a buzzword by some, due to its ambiguous definition. Some examples are things like volunteering, donating, recycling and education until 16.

Examples of active citizenship in education

Due to concerns over such things as a lack of interest in elections (reflected by low voter turnout), the British Government launched a citizenship education programme several years ago. Citizenship education is now compulsory in UK schools up to age 14, and is often available as an option beyond that age.

In Scotland, UK, active citizenship has been one of the three major themes of community policy since The Osler Report (section 6.6) in 1998. The most recent Scottish Executive guidelines for Community Learning and Development, Working and Learning Together, has active citizenship as a target within other policy aims.

In Canada, there is an Active Citizenship Course being run at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. It is a compulsory course that is delivered by the Language Studies Department to all students at the college.

Organizations that cite active citizenship as part of their mission or vision statement include:

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