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Nurturing Informed Citizens: The Need to Engage Students in Democracy

It's election season, and the whole country is plunged into the biggest democratic process in the world – the General elections for the Indian Parliament. This election has once again brought to the fore a very interesting statistic that does not seem to change: the engagement of the educated urban voter. Data from all the big cities proves that rural and less educated voters engage with the democratic process more than their educated counterparts in urban areas. As educators, when we look at this data, we must ask ourselves a question – are we just teaching Civics in our schools, or are we creating a generation engaged in the democratic process? The idea of civic engagement is very low in schools; the higher the economic status of the students, the lesser the engagement.


Debate, dialogue and discussion are foundational to creating a strong democracy. This culture needs to be inculcated right at the school level. 


Schools, in general, take a neutral stand on this issue and hence do precious little to create students who are informed. There is very little activity related to civic engagement or incorporating real-life issues into the classroom. In today's world, this can be quite dicey with ‘sentiments getting hurt’ at the drop of a hat. Yet if there is intent, schools can delve into this direction without having to touch upon ‘sensitive’ topics that can ruffle the feathers of parents or society. I have seen several examples of schools doing this very well and sensitizing their students to be more proactive about societal affairs. The challenge is that very few schools are walking this path, while most remain oblivious to this aspect of education, leading to a situation where the urban educated citizen is disengaged.


Over the years, I have seen a big fascination in schools for organizing Model United Nations (MUN). The popularity of MUNs today is such that schools have left behind traditional speaking events like debates, elocution, extempore, etc., and focus on MUNs. Personally, I have a very contrary view of the idea of MUN. It was originally created by the UN as a brand-building activity to gain visibility in the world through schools. The UN today is one of the most hyped world bodies that does precious little in areas that matter, like conflict and peace. Yet, schools continue to organize MUNs oblivious to the larger picture.


Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with organizations like Janaagraha that focus on civic engagement and education. There are several organizations that conduct Model Parliaments and Model Civic Corporations. But schools don’t seem to encourage them as much as they encourage MUNs. Engaging with social organizations that promote civic awareness is a must for any school if they are to nurture a generation of informed citizens.


It’s the beginning of the new academic year, and when you read this article, the country would have elected new members to the Parliament, and a new government would have formed. But will your students remain marks-acquiring machines, or will you carve out time and space to nurture informed future citizens?


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