Electoral literacy clubs: preparing future voters of India

Simran Sachdeva

Studies suggest that participation in the first one or two elections of an elector’s lifetime helps to inculcate the habit of voting and makes participation in future elections more likely. The practice of citizenship development for electoral participation is a vital investment in the future of democracy. It is necessary to focus on the civic education of the younger generation leading to robust electoral participation. Keeping this rationale in view, the Election Commission of India (ECI) took a landmark step towards the cause of electoral literacy with its initiative – ‘Mainstreaming of Electoral Literacy through Educational Institutions, Organizations and Communities in India’, under its Systematic Voters’ Education & Electoral Participation (SVEEP) Programme.

The entire project revolves around keeping voter education relevant and practical through a host of curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular methods for the young and future voters. This year, ECI committed its efforts towards the inclusion of electoral literacy through the medium of Electoral Literacy Clubs (ELCs) in educational institutions.

Focused on young citizens, especially in the age group of 14-17, the future voters as we call them, ELCs in schools aim to serve as a long-term, sustainable solution to the humongous task of spreading voter education in a country of 1.2 billion people. ELCs are proposed to be established in 0.2 million secondary and higher secondary schools and 25 thousand colleges/universities. In rural communities, Chunav Pathshalas, at the polling station level, will target those falling outside the formal education system. Currently, the project is in its execution phase.

During the project’s preparation phase, an important working group activity was undertaken in the month of May 2017. Members of national and state level education boards, school teachers and university professors participated in this activity where the civic studies course books from grades 6 to 10 were analyzed along with study material from NIOS to assess the electoral literacy components in the existing curricula. It was found that while students are taught about democracy and functioning of the government, there is little content on the development of active electoral participation. For instance, no information is available about something as basic as the registration/enrolment process of the voters.

After comprehensive rounds of discussion with key stakeholders, important messages were listed out besides learning outcomes that were aimed at through ELCs. Guided by these learning outcomes, games and activities were developed for students of Class IX, X, XI, XII and for Chunav Pathshala members. This resource development phase continued for about six months and was followed by three rounds of field trials in schools and communities in Delhi and NCR (National Capital Region). It was realized that the effectiveness of any activity depended on the persons convening the ELC, their language and communication skills, and their correct understanding of the messages.

On December 19 & 20, 2017, ECI organized a two day workshop for a final review of the tools prepared for the Electoral Literacy Clubs (ELCs). Forty participants that included Chief Electoral Officers, master trainers, representatives from civil society organizations, educators from schools and colleges as well as development communicators from different corners of the nation were invited to further refine the learning tools, check their viability and deliberate on an effective roll-out plan to set up the ELCs. Around 30 learning tools were reviewed by the participants in the workshop.

After the final review, a total of seven comprehensive resource guides were created for the ELC project. These included ELC resource guides for classes IX through XII, colleges and communities, as well as the common handbook for the ELCs.

Along with these resource guides, an ELC game kit consisting of five floor games has also been developed. The resource guides and games have been developed in Hindi and English. States shall translate the content in their regional languages and adapt them to suit regional and local sensibilities.

The resource guides and floor games can be accessed at http://ecisveep.nic.in/elc.aspx.

A major component of the project in its execution phase was the training of the ELC conveners. Considering the sheer magnitude of the numbers the project is dealing with, devising a training program itself proved to be a challenge. Workshops were conducted for State Level Master Trainers from the 36 states and union territories of the country in four batches of 40-50 participants each, in February-March 2018.

Considering the activity based engagement approach that formed the basis of the ELC project, and the resources developed, the training was also planned in an activity based manner to engage the trainers rather than following a lecture based format. The vibrant workshop witnessed enthusiastic State Level Master Trainers, who were identified by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of every state, trying out the learning tools themselves and engaging in the various activities. These State Level Master Trainers now hold the responsibility of further training District Level Master Trainers, identified by the District Election Officers, who will then train the specific ELC conveners falling in their respective districts.

The Election Commission of India is also working towards developing a portal where all tools and instructions can be easily accessed by the Master Trainers (MTs) and the portal will provide a discussion forum to the ELC MTs. The portal will also serve as a mechanism for collecting feedback for reviewing the resource tools and updating them.

ELC is indeed one of the most ambitious and challenging projects of the ECI. Well begun is half done, and a good beginning has already been made. An independent evaluation of the project has also been sanctioned by the Commission and evaluation shall be simultaneously carried out so that necessary corrections can be made for successful achievement of the objectives.

Sneak peek into some of the ELC activities
A majority of educators will agree that students grasp the most when learning meets fun. The ELC learning tools have been developed in a manner such that important information, which might seem banal in textbooks, is imparted in engaging ways to young students.

The following are a description of six games out of a total of 30 that have been developed for the ELCs –

1) Nirvachitra
A portmanteau of the words Nirvachan and Chalchitra, Nirvachitra introduces the electoral process and procedures through an engaging film show or a picture story scroll developed by the ECI. Nirvachitra is the first activity proposed for all ELCs to set the tone of the club.

Set in the environment of Class XII students in a school from a rural area, the film, Masti, Dosti aur Matdaan, covers the basics of voter registration by introducing concepts like democracy and value of a vote as well as talking about the age of eligibility, how to register as a voter, the documents required, etc., through its animated characters. For schools where screening the film is not possible, story scrolls have been developed that send out the same message with their characters Abha and Abhay.

Before the film screening, the convener (teacher) shall have an introductory discussion with the students where their knowledge and views on democracy, voting, etc., are gauged. Post the film/scroll show, students are prompted to recall their first memories of an actual election held in their vicinity irrespective of their parents/guardians/relatives/neighbours’ participation and make a poster either on the most important takeaway of the film or on the importance of elections and voting.

2) Card Game
Drawing inspiration from the popular card game UNO, two card games Vigilant Voter and Be the People’s Representative have been developed. Each deck consists of six cards in five colours along with some lucky and unlucky cards to make the game interesting. Each of the six numbered cards carry messages specific to the games. The player who arranges all the six cards in their correct order in a single chosen colour and reads out the messages stated on the cards correctly wins the game.

The Vigilant Voter enables the players to play from the perspective of a voter. The six cards break down the entire registration and voting process, right from eligibility till poll day, into six key messages. The Be a People’s Representative game lets the players don the role of a contesting candidate and breaks down the candidate’s journey in an election to six messages in six cards.

The idea of the card games is that while playing, the students absorb the messages communicated while still enjoying a good game.

3) Build your Ballot
An activity developed specifically for the students of class XI, Build your Ballot is aimed at familiarizing the students with EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) and VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). Through this activity students will make their own ballot paper with dummy candidates and symbols including NOTA.

The game requires 15 students as volunteering candidates of a hypothetical election. The aim is for the entire class to make their own ballot paper. For this purpose a chart paper is used to make the layout of a dummy ballot paper. Fifteen pre-decided symbols denoting state parties, national parties, registered parties and individual candidates are shuffled and randomly allotted one each to every student acting as a candidate.

Following this, the candidates come forward and alphabetically arrange their names on the ballot paper according to actual ECI guidelines. First, the students with state and national party symbols come forward to form category I and write their names alphabetically on the ballot, and stick/draw their symbols against their name. Category II is formed by registered party candidates. Last but not the least, individual candidates arrange their names on the ballot.

The idea behind building the ballot is for the voters to realize that candidates are arranged on the ballot in an unbiased manner according to set guidelines, and give an idea on where to find the name of the candidate of choice on the ballot.

4) Hopscotch – Matdaan ke Padav
Matdaan ke Padav or Steps to Vote, is a stapu (hopscotch) game designed to familiarize students with the steps of voting. The game is printed on a flex and laid on the ground for students to play. It consists of 10 steps with each step carrying a question.

The player has to hop and stand on one foot throughout the game and will lose if the other foot touches the ground. The player enters the game by standing at the start position and throws a coin inside the first rectangle which is the first step of the game. S/he then reads out the question written inside the rectangle loudly for all to hear and answers it in either “Yes” or “No”. Similarly, the player progresses by throwing the coin in the next rectangle and repeating the process until he/she reachs the tenth and the last rectangle.

The game creates awareness amongst players by asking questions like “Should we check our names in the voters’ list before elections?”, “Before entering the polling station should we keep our identity proof and voters’ slip ready?”, “On the EVM, do we have to press a button in front of the name of a candidate we have chosen?”

5) NOTA
NOTA stands for None of the Above. If a voter does not wish to vote for any political representative, s/he can still exercise their franchise by voting for NOTA. This activity, for students of class X, introduces the concept of NOTA to the students in a humorous way and sends out the message that knowing what you do not want is as important as knowing what you want.

This activity uses colourful, visual flashcards. Each flashcard poses a question and offers four answers to the question. The first three options are deliberately funny, silly and incorrect. For example, if the question is, “Which one of the following is a means of transport?” The first three options to this question are a water bottle, a hen and a carpet. The fourth option to every question is NOTA. Thus students choose NOTA as the answer to every question, familiarizing them with the concept in the process.

However, post the flashcard display, the convener brings out one final round where the following question is verbally asked – “Who do you vote for?”

The answers would include:
a. A corrupt politician bribing people to vote in his/her favour.
b. A lazy politician who is inefficient.
c. A politician with criminal charges.
d. None of the Above (NOTA).

The Convener then initiates a group discussion or debate in the class on the topic of NOTA.

Senior secondary schools within every state and district will be identified by the office of the District Election Officer (DEO), schools are being covered under phases. Schools that have not yet been covered under this project and would like to join can write to the office of the DEO of their district and also to the Director, ECI at padma.angmo@eci.gov.in. A separate portal for the ELC is being developed where a facility shall be provided to schools to get registered for the ELC.

The ELC Resource Guides developed individually for class IX, X, XI and XII detail the activities to be conducted with the respective classes in one academic year. Each activity includes an element of summary and recall at the end. Each grade will only spend about four hours on ELC activities in a year, and yet the long-term impact of the club activities will be significant in creating prepared, responsible and informed young voters of India. These aware and educated voters of tomorrow will also be the ones who will act as ambassadors of democracy who will share their knowledge, inform and educate their peers, their family and their community at large.

The author is a Communications Executive with the Election Commission of India working under its Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) program. She has worked on the Electoral Literacy Clubs for over a year and has been closely associated with the development of its various resources. She can be reached at simransachdeva95@gmail.com.