Activating citizenship, deepening democracy

September 21, 2014

Inculcating values of active and effective citizenship through civic education is vital for the future peace and stability of democracy in Pakistan

Activating citizenship, deepening democracy

Civic education is vital to the survival of any civilised nation which intends to uphold basic human values. In democracies around the world, it is being realised that the classroom provides a very intimate and appropriate setting for the cultivation of democratic ideas among youth. Unfortunately, civic education is largely missing from Pakistani classrooms. It is time that Pakistani policy makers and members of civil society wake up to the murderous consequences of denying students education in peaceful civic engagement.

While there is great emphasis on increasing enrollment in Pakistan, little or no attention is paid to the quality of education in educational institutions. The result is overcrowding in schools which are no better than "educational jails". Schools across Pakistan promote rote learning which produces students who can be labeled as doctors, engineers, managers, teachers and officers but lack essential analytical and creative thinking skills. Furthermore, the education system is failing to inculcate values of active and effective citizenship.

Civics is an optional subject offered at grades 9-12, while concerns like human rights and citizenship are accommodated at best at the extra-curricular level and often as a one-time activity during the academic year. A vast majority of Pakistani graduates thus remain unfamiliar with a single word of the Pakistani constitution, or of their contract with their state. They do not understand the systems of governance in place, institutional design of federalism or mandate of various institutions. The result is at best confusion, and at worst overwhelming apathy or misdirected anger towards the political system.

In the absence of basic civic education and adequate political socialisation, in light of the Constitution and law, young people fail to recognize the due processes and peaceful means of influencing public policy available to them. Instead they become influenced by rhetoric devoid of reason and become lured towards emotive ideas and quick fixes to deep rooted problems.

In the absence of basic civic education and adequate political socialisation, young people fail to recognise the due processes and peaceful means of influencing public policy available to them. Instead they become influenced by rhetoric devoid of reason.

Contested notions of citizenship also emerge, which include heterogeneous indigenous identities, such as local ethnic and caste loyalties, the homogenized Pakistaniat, the Islamised-globalised citizenship of the Ummah and that of the global citizen. Each of these ideas of citizenship has its own worldview, corresponding concept of imagined community, educational streams. When operationalised, each can have its own "sociology of anger" as well as that of civic action, not all forms of which are peaceful. Inattention to civic education therefore, is also closely tied to security and law and order. If we value the future peace and stability of democracy in Pakistan, we cannot ignore civic education.

Additionally, as citizens of a globalised world where nothing remains merely domestic, our actions, ideas and opinions are influenced by and can influence others. Global cooperation in the field of civic education is thus equally important. The need for civil society and policy makers to ponder over the deplorable state of civic education in Pakistan cannot be overstated. Democratic civic education can help address cynicism and apathy as young people learn about democracy and democratic institutions, avenues for active participation and skills to influence public policy peacefully. Furthermore, lack of training in peaceful means of civic engagement leaves young people with only violent means which can not only wreak havoc upon Pakistan’s already precarious law and order situation, but also have dangerous consequences for the international community.

An analysis of the demographic profile of Pakistan indicates that out of its 190.29 million estimated population, 107.30 million (56.38 per cent) are below 24 years of age. This ‘youth bulge’ can make or break Pakistan. Excluding 21 million that are below 4 years, ideally, the remaining 86 million should be in schools, colleges, vocational training institutes, professional colleges and universities.

However the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2013-14 reveals that only 18.74 million are in 153,900 public-private primary schools and 9.06 million at 72,700 middle and high schools. Another 3.82 million at 3,291 vocational institutes (0.29 m), 5,106 colleges (1.38 m), 1,401 professional colleges (0.55 m), and 139 universities (1.60 m). About 1.6 million students attend Deeni Madaris (religious schools). The country’s total student population of 33.22 million reveals that an overwhelming majority i.e. 52.78 million in their school, college and university age are not where they should be.

All young people consume government services and a sizable number, above 18 years of age, contribute towards the shaping of the democracy by participating in elections as voters. During election-2013 out of 86 million voters, 17.5 million (20.35 per cent) were in the 18-25 age group. However, at their colleges and universities they are made to sign an undertaking that they will not engage in any political activity. They also pledge to become good citizens through exemplary personal conduct. A ban has been in place against student unions at educational institutions since February 1984. Interestingly, there is no such restriction against engagement in political activities for the 1.6 million students at Deeni Madaris.

After a long time, the term ‘civic education’ figured in the National Education Policy 2009. One of the overarching objectives enlisted in the policy "….is the development of a self-reliant individual, capable of analytical and original thinking, a responsible member of his community and, in the present era, a global citizen."

In terms of policy actions in the field of curriculum the policy emphasizes that: Curriculum shall emphasise the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens of Pakistan, so that each individual shall develop within himself/herself and the society at large, a civic culture strong enough to withstand any extra constitutional interference which threatens those rights.

After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in April 2010, education as a subject for policy, planning, management, funding and curriculum purposes has been devolved to the provinces. Almost all federating units still adhere to the federally crafted policy in 2009, but have failed to introduce civic education.

On November 15, 2013, the Sindh High Court (SHC) while deciding Constitutional Petition 3210/2011 Zubair Ali Khaskheli versus Federation of Pakistan, directed the provincial government to take steps to include human rights as a subject in the syllabus of the secondary level public schools from 2015. During the hearing, the federal government distanced itself from the matter saying that after education was devolved to the provincial governments, the federal education ministry was no longer the concerned party.

The joint communique of the 17th Speakers Conference in Islamabad in 2014 made some suggestions to make the younger generation aware of the importance of democracy and to educate them on history of the struggle for a parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Other suggestions included chapters on the teachings of Sufis and other religious scholars in the curriculum.

Activating citizenship, deepening democracy