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Democracy, Civic Education & School Classrooms


By Roli S
As we all know that citizens are the fundamental unit of the state, who play a crucial role in taking the nation towards the path of development. The spirit of nationalism lies in the soul of every person but often they are misguided by its concept. All over the world, the nationalist spirit has always led a nation on a constructive path. India being a secular nation teaches religious tolerance and equality. One must always adhere to constitutional nationalism and perform one’s duties accordingly. Besides the fundamental rights, the framers of the constitution have also inserted the fundamental duties in our constitution after observing society for a long period. They desired that compliance with such maintain not only social harmony but also bring unity in our society.

However, most of the time it is seen that due to lack of active patriotic sentiment, people are negligent about their duties. The Constitution of India also does not provide a provision for the performance of such duties, but the country must strive towards compliance for the proper development of nationalism. Similarly, the citizens must understand their responsibility towards their motherland as we must know that nation comes first and, so, for our forward-looking, reformist future, we must abide by the fundamental duties and follow the rules and laws laid down by institutions and organisations of the country.

The citizens always stay a step ahead in claiming their rights, while when it comes to duties, they forget to perform. The fundamental duties are a reminder to the citizen about responsibilities towards the state and the national interest.

The Architect of our Indian Constitution, Baba Saheb BR Ambedkar, and great revolutionary Mahatma Gandhi, had the view that Indians can only walk on the path of a welfare, progressive state when each and every section of society lives with harmony and peace discarding the inequalities and following uniformities.

Keeping the same sentiment and progressive spirit in mind, social reformers and philanthropists like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and many more fought against the prevailing evil practices prevalent in the then society like Sati system, promoted widow remarriage, etc. eliminating what was derogatory and against the dignity of women. Hence, each citizen must promote the spirit of common brotherhood among every section of the society and respect women by renouncing any practice that is derogatory and against the rise and status of the women.

With the advent of social media and the world becoming a level playing field, it is very easy to influence the thought processes of the people of a nation and mobilise an ideology that hampers the progress and development of a nation.

Indian history has always emphasised ‘kartavya’ of an individual towards himself and his nation. So, the citizens need to abide by these Fundamental Duties for the nation to develop to its full potential.

When the challenging of upholding the nation comes, everyone must abide by the constitutional form of nationalism rather than any other thought, belief, or religion. So, following Constitutional nationalism means to adhere to the fundamental duties. The fundamental duties were added in the constitution to infuse a sense of responsibility in the citizens towards their nation. Fundamental duties are introduced to balance the fundamental rights in the constitution, but often fundamental rights are demanded very vociferously by the citizens whereas fundamental duties take a back seat.

That is why I strongly believe that there is an urgent need in the country to boost civic education in our schools. Teachers in the schools across the curriculum can promote civil discussion and, in this era of technology, share digital tools that help school students to develop skills needed for good citizenship.

As we see all around us these days, students are engaging in civil discourse that seeks to advance the public interest, well before casting even their first vote. However, most of our current civic education practices fail to prepare students for a world where civil discourse begins the moment you have access to a smartphone and social media.

Socialising students for democracy doesn’t belong to one subject area: It belongs to all of us.

Democracy is a system built upon civil discourse as the means to work out our differences peacefully, but as we experience all around us these days, such discourse is on the decline. People just stop talking to someone as a result of their political views. When we avoid challenging conversations, we stop developing the skills needed to have them. This makes young minds vulnerable to the onslaught of information coming their way from different sources. Avoiding contentious topics has been a trend in our classrooms as teachers have steered away from controversial topics.

Teachers must get trained to use dialogue in their political science classroom instead of debates. A dialogue is about identifying ambiguity, inviting inquiry, and discovering collective meaning. Dialogues invite an understanding of differences and honour silence in the process, as opposed to trying to elevate one idea over another in often-heated debates, the kind we often see on our television channels.

Children in the schools can be prepared for civil online discourse by taking part in virtual discussions. Posting ideas to a small class chat in a Learning Management System or providing feedback to students in school wide public forums is one way to make that real and meaningful. Small, measured conversations can teach criteria that protect students when they later engage in online conversations on their own.

Educators around the world have promoted games, simulations, and student competitions to enhance student engagement. Why not employ these strategies for civics education as well?

Students also need education in media literacy at the earliest. Questions like, how are misinformation and disinformation different? In what ways do news and social media intensify and amplify the spread of misinformation? What impact does this have on our democratic society and institutions? These questions should be a core component of civics education in today’s classrooms.

Students should not just learn about how to be citizens; they should actually engage in the practices, to become democratic citizens. We can’t think of a better way to do this than providing them with experiential learning of civics projects that have students examine local community issues, refine the topic, research public policy solutions, build consensus, reach out to community partners and representatives, and then engage in civic action to advocate for their policy proposal.

These strategies call upon students to do something, participate, and engage with others. They focus on actively building skills rather than on the simple wide distribution of facts. In this way, students gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a citizen and to engage in democratic processes.

These skills will prepare today’s students for the task of taking ownership of our democracy. The present-day scenario and the disruption of school education due to indiscipline and disregard of the rules and laws made by institutions, has given ample food for thought to all the stake holders responsible for the school education and especially civic education in our country.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)