Living responsibly

Neha Pradhan Arora

What is the purpose of the education system? Is it merely to churn out engineers, doctors and graduates year after year? Is there a higher purpose of developing individuals who are able to live responsibly within and for society, of developing active citizens who can take the country forward on the path of responsible development? Active citizenship is the key to an India that we can all be proud of. And that, I feel is my primary responsibility as a teacher – not completing the syllabus, not ensuring all students pass, but ensuring that all my students imbibe the correct values to be responsible citizens, as they learn what their textbooks say.

But what is active citizenship? And how can we make it a part of our classroom curriculum? Let us look at the possibility of this in our existing education scenario.

Active citizenship is an attitude of tolerance and inclusion of respect and faith, of progress with responsibility. How does this translate into things we can do and teach our children to do? It’s actually not as idealistic as it seems. Understanding these values ourselves and making it a part of our classroom culture will help children question, understand and finally imbibe these values.

An attitude of tolerance and inclusion means a tolerance towards differences so that we are able to include everyone in our journey forward. India has people of different races, castes, communities, religions and historically these differences have caused more divisions. It is hence necessary to help children celebrate these differences and understand that the world is a better place because everyone is not the same. The differences may be of ability, of thought, of faith or something as simple as looks and attire. In order to help children understand and imbibe this value, it is important that the teacher herself or himself introspects his/her attitude towards differences. The teacher must be tolerant of differences in order to make it a part of the classroom culture. Tolerance is the first step for an attitude of inclusion which is integral to being an active citizen.

Here are some simple steps which may help pave the way for tolerance in our classrooms –

  • Bring in examples of people and cultures which help children appreciate differences.
  • Discuss different faiths and festivals as they occur.
  • Try and visit or explore different places of worship.
  • Encourage children of different abilities to work together on class projects.
  • Use subjects like Language, Social Science, Music and Drama to bring cultures alive in the classroom and also to provide a platform to the children to explore and express their thoughts on these differences.
  • Praise children and appreciate their differences so that they learn to do the same.
  • Discourage comments made by children on differences in food, clothes, habits, etc.
  • Never use words or phrases which show differences in a negative light.

Respect and faith go hand in hand. We have to have faith for us to be able to respect. This could be a person, a community or a system. When we blame processes and institutions for not working, we are showing a lack of faith. This leads to us not respecting the rules and the system. Hence, we show complete disregard for rules and make our own shortcuts around them. Break traffic rules, pay bribe, break queues, refusal to follow procedure …. the list is endless. Each one of us has at some point, if not every day, disregarded a rule. It is this attitude that we must change in ourselves and then inculcate in our children. The scepticism that comes with age at the ineffectiveness of the system, the pessimism and the indifference must not be transferred to our children. If they learn to have faith in the system and people who run the system, they will learn to respect these rules and attempt to follow them. This may be inculcated in the classroom by –

  • Stressing the importance of rules and laws to run any organization or society
  • Helping the children make and follow their own rules
  • Telling them about role models in the government, bureaucracy and civil servants
  • Organizing interactions with some of them if possible
  • Visiting various offices or centres of decision-makers
  • Sharing articles on good practices in states and cities
  • Allowing children to debate and question practices that are rampant in society and come to their own conclusions
  • Helping them to discover alternative ways of functioning within these systems

Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world that we live in. And merely having faith in the system does not make them work. What we also need is a sense of responsibility in following or questioning a system to make it work. If the progress we seek and work for is not accompanied with responsibility, it will not bring about long-lasting and ‘real’ progress. We are responsible for what is right and what is wrong around us. And the day we realize this and inculcate this in our children, responsible behaviour will become a way of life in our country. How may we inculcate this responsible behaviour in our children?

  • Help children understand the consequences of their actions – both for themselves and for the world around them.
  • Inculcate sensitivity towards the people around us to encourage compassionate behaviour.
  • Teach them about responsible behaviour in school, in the home and in the city.
  • Give responsibility to children to instill confidence in them through democratic processes in the classroom or school.
  • Recognize responsible behaviour with specific praise and words of encouragement.
  • Create avenues to help children demonstrate responsible behaviour and rotate these tasks regularly amongst all the children.
  • Share real-life stories or articles of responsible/irresponsible behaviour while allowing for debates and questions.
  • Awareness of the world around them through activity based and experiential learning in Environmental Studies, Social Studies and other subjects.
  • Trust children and believe in them.

If our teaching can help children inculcate these values of tolerance and inclusion, respect and faith, a sense of responsibility, India will be on the path towards real progress and development. They will be the active citizens who will ensure that development in our country will be responsible, inclusive and sustainable –
• Responsible towards the environment.
• Inclusive of everyone who is in that environment.
• Sustainable within that environment.

The author is a teacher-educator who works with schools on issues of teaching and learning. She is Head of Programmes – Children and Active Citizenship at Swechha, an NGO which has created innovative learning programmes for children on issues of the environment, life skills and active citizenship. She can be reached at neha7779@gmail.com.