Bringing in community education in schools

Awareness of civic matters will result in a better citizenry and political class

Bringing in community education in schools

None of us give much thought to a subject called “Civics” that is taught in schools from the primary level, save for regarding it as one of the most sleep inducing subjects, especially if scheduled right after the lunch break. Typically schools introduce this subject in the higher primary level – from Class VI onwards, but there are some that introduce concepts of governance as early as Class IV.

To understand whether this was an effective way of conveying principles of governance to our young students, I asked a ten year old - “What is civics?” “Some things about Panchayat, Legislative Assembly and Parliament… and Constitution and Council of Ministers…”


I did not try and probe further into what he thought each of the above mentioned topics meant, partly because I was afraid of receiving a memorised regurgitation, but mostly because the boy did not make himself available to me after this unwelcome question.

It got me thinking however, about what we mean by “civics”. Fundamentally, civics should be all about how a civilization manages itself. How it governs itself. Hence we have all the details of our government’s functioning, including the “preamble” to the constitution, which primary school students learn by heart even before understanding what “preamble” means, let alone “constitution”, in the sense that is used here!

How should civics be taught then? Why not start with a concept that is fundamental to the definition of civilization – civic sense? How is this connected to the school subject civics? What is our definition of civic sense? If we talk of the norms followed in a civilised society with centralised governance and laws, “civic sense” would imply an inherent conformation to these norms, either by way of being enforced by the government, or by being ingrained in the citizenry, or a combination of both. A crucial requirement to this would be an understanding of the mechanics that create and enforce laws. We do the latter, but have forgotten the former, to the detriment of our future citizens.

For instance, we frequently see children tossing trash out of car windows into the street, which has to remain dirty until a government employee picks it up. Some of these children may be quite adept at reciting from memory the “rights and duties” of every citizen, but fail to understand that their action does not make civic sense.


Equally distressing is the widespread prevalence of inconsiderate behaviour that are at best ignored by adults, or at worst condoned; a culture of “grab what you can, while you can” that can only result in a callous and irresponsible citizenry. While the onus for inculcating good behaviour definitely lies with parents and guardians at home, the reality is that many parents are unable or unwilling to spend the time with their children, and do not want to take the long and hard route to upbringing. So why can’t schools step in, and instead of a largely fictional class called “moral science”, have practical lessons on civic sense in the “civics” class?


That is not to say we need not teach our kids about our political system at all. But to start with, we must define “parliamentary behaviour” and then go on to study parliament – that too at the age when it makes some sense.

For instance, politeness in speech can be introduced at an early age, by means of appropriate real life situations, such as the acceptable way of requesting one’s mother to pass the salt at the dinner table, or asking a person the time, and then thanking them for it, and so on.


The can be widened to encompass dealings with all people – in the home, at school, and on the streets – whether we are communicating with our elders, our friends or our domestic help. When we emphasise that we extend the same politeness to every person, no matter what their relation to us, we are setting the foundation for describing the core tenets of democracy.

Responsibility

Responsibility – both individual and public – is central to civic society. Starting with taking care of one’s belongings, to taking care of the classroom, and the school, we can build a citizens that takes the responsibility of the nation – whether they are directly involved in governance, or are merely exercising their franchise. If introduced with rigour at the primary school level, there is hope that generations of politicians to come will make it instructive for the public to watch live proceedings of the parliament, instead of causing embarrassment as they so often do now. As for the common people, a strong partnership with the government, where the norm is to work with rather than in isolation, will emerge, made possible by a crucial early involvement in collective responsibility.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is a key element in democracy. This is best explained in a way that children can understand. In Bangalore for example, we can simply use the biggest collective failure we have seen in the last one year – the garbage crisis.  When each one takes responsibility of proper disposal, notwithstanding the civic bodies’ inability to enforce the rules – we will not really require any rules! This is the most tangible example of how we can, starting with individuals, transform an entire society.


From here, the role of government bodies can be discussed, and gradually an understanding of the political system, the functioning of democracy, the laws that hold things in place, and the constitution, and its preamble too will be understood – not just memorised.

 In the event that students of these schools decide to become law enforcers, law makers or judges, the country would immensely benefit from their early training. Even otherwise they would still add value with their all round civic sense and better judgment, complementing the government, making democracy what it should be.

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