Political literacy of secondary school seniors

03. May 2021.

When forming friendships, young people don’t care about race, religion, or nationality. Their political knowledge highly depends on the type of secondary education programme they attend, which highlights the need for better implementation of civic education. That was pointed out during today’s presentation of the results of the research “Political literacy of high school seniors” at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb.

The research was conducted in 67 senior classes of 59 secondary schools across Croatia in March 2021. The sample of 1122 students is nationally representative with regards to regional representation and the type of secondary school programme (gymnasium, four-year vocational, five-year vocational, and three-year vocational). The goal of the research was to gain insight into the level and structure of political literacy of students. The research tried to discover political knowledge, tendency to prejudice and stereotypes, value judgements and affinities, media literacy, civic culture, and youth habits.

The research findings represent a continuation of the systematic examination of attitudes and behaviour of young people and are based on the previous two research from 2009/2010 and 2014/2015. The third wave of research, in cooperation with the GOOD initiative, was conducted by the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb, Gong, Faculty of Political Science of Zagreb University, the Centre for Southeast European Studies of the University of Graz, and Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Rijeka University.

“Generally speaking, socio-political attitudes of young people in 2021 are a bit more democratic than the research in 2015 showed. That can especially be seen in their attitude towards homosexual people, reduced adherence to authoritarian tendencies, attitudes towards the media and in relation to one's own and another's nation. However, there is still a need and space for development of democratic culture of young people. For example, although this year there has been a significant shift towards a more tolerant attitude towards people of homosexual orientation, some participants still have negative and discriminatory attitudes towards this minority group,” said Jelena Matić Bojić from the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb.

The third of questioned in 2021 think that homosexuality is a disorder or a disease, and that homosexual people should not appear in public because of the danger of negatively influencing young people. Almost 50% of the students think that homosexual orientation should not be publicly stated, and that homosexual people should express this aspect of their identity only in the private sphere.

The attitudes are more progressive in the field of gender equality, compared to the previous results. But about 20% of the questioned agree that the man is the one who must earn money to feed the family. Less than 50% of the questioned reject the idea that women are biologically predetermined for jobs with people, such as teaching and nursing jobs, as opposed to technical and IT jobs. The fact that about one quarter of the questioned are undecided on that and one quarter think that job selection and job success are biologically predetermined, points out the rootedness of gender stereotypes, the effects of which can manifest in future decisions and behaviours of the students.

A positive finding is that over 90% of young people can imagine that a person of different race, religion or nationality becomes their friend.

Secondary school seniors show quite low levels of trust in various institutions and sources of information. Their trust in political parties is only at 7.2%, their trust in the Parliament is at 14.7%, and their trust in the Government of the Republic of Croatia is only at 16.7%. The local government and the President of the Republic of Croatia are in a somewhat better position, almost a fifth of youth trust them. On the other hand, only the military (66.8%) and scientists (63.5%) have the majority trust. Around 60% of students think that political party members are people who want to network in order to gain something. However, as many as three quarters of young people support the individuals’ involvement in solving social issues, and the survey shows that they are aware of the role that civil society has. The topics of public interest are political topics and civil society deals with them, but through non-partisan and independent action, not through political parties.

“The overall political knowledge of students is relatively low, and its level is similar to the one determined in 2015 research. There has been a decline in understanding basic political concepts, a decline in knowledge of the constitutional-political order, and an increase in political awareness. Moreover, the levels of political participation and trust in different institutions and sources of information are low. It’s interesting that amongst the sources of information, the students have the least trust in social media and internet portals, but at the same time, they often get information through those channels,” explained dr. sc. Nikola Baketa from the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb.

The type of secondary school programme is still the key factor for political knowledge and awareness, and political socialisation of young people. Female student and gymnasium students express more tolerant attitudes and attitudes that are more in line with the democratic political culture.

“In general, we can talk about the differences in attitudes of female and male students, as well as the difference in attitudes of the gymnasium student and students of the vocational programmes. The results show that no adequate progress has been made in the development and implementation of civic education, which should have reduced the differences and increase political literacy of all secondary school seniors in Croatia,” concluded the researchers.