Making a civic connection

Bhakti Bhave

The civics/political science curriculum has an enormous potential to find its relevance in day to day life. However, keeping the interest of students alive is a key challenge faced by educators today. This article focuses on an innovative classroom practice – a project on civic action – that can be incorporated into the existing curriculum based on the National Curricular Framework 2005 and is viable across boards.

Grade 11 students of a high school in Alipur: District-Gurugram: State-Haryana, were asked by their political science teacher to make a list of issues in their surroundings which concerned them. The teacher had indicated to the students that they will be initiating a civic action project during the academic year. Students made a list of issues and unanimously chose to work upon damaged roads that everyone used to come to the school. At the next stage, students engaged in three types of research-based activities. In desk research, with the help of the teacher, students looked at the fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution and related this issue to Article-21 (Right to life). Then, they referred to the Haryana Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and learnt that road repairs were the responsibility of the Panchayat. Under field research, students interviewed residents in the surroundings, enquired about the history of this issue and took photos of the site. The third research concerned media where students were asked to search for news articles, any clippings from the media that concerned the chosen or other similar issues.

students-talking-to-shopkeeper

After a thorough research, students wrote an application referring to the research that they had undertaken. The copies of the researched documents were attached to the application. The students visited the panchayat, met the sarpanch and then filed the application. However, they did not stop at this level. Students followed up several times and subsequently were informed by the sarpanch that a tender worth Rs.20,00,000/- had been passed for this issue and that road repair would begin soon.

These kind of civic action projects have two types of advantages. The first type concerns school education. Such a project-based learning approach enables social science teachers to create room for experiential education in social sciences and that too for a discipline like civics/political science where unfortunately, rote learning practices are widely prevalent. Projects around public issues that exist in their own surroundings help students relate civics to their real life situations and also underlines the role that both the State and the citizens are expected to play. The above project covers a wide range of concepts in civics/political science: fundamental rights, law and structure of state to name a few. The hands-on experience for these concepts aids comprehension and helps in knowledge retention. It is also critical to note here that such project-based intervention not only enhances civic knowledge of the students but also builds participatory civic skills. Participatory civic skills mainly include interacting (with fellow citizens), monitoring (tracking handling of issues by the political processes and government) and influencing (refers to the capacity to affect the processes of politics and governance). In such projects, students get an opportunity to learn and practice all the three skills and the knowledge gained during desk research serves as a foundation for it.

The second advantage of this project-based learning embodies the greater vision enshrined in the Constitution of India. In our democratic set-up, it is the local governments where citizen participation is regarded indispensable. One of the primary aims of civic education is to capacitate the students for this participation. Projects like the above ensure such capacity building of students and are highly feasible when planned properly.

Of course, such intervention requires a deeper capacity building of teachers too. To begin with, the Constitution can be referred to and fundamental rights can be read in depth. Most of the time issues chosen by the students come under the ambit of local governments only. Hence it is imperative to look at the Municipal Corporation Act or Village Panchayat Act of that particular State. The Acts made by respective States for governance of their local bodies also give a good insight into the overall functioning of the local set-up. However, while these initial pointers can help teachers run a project, facilitating such a civic engagement also requires specific skillsets on the part of teachers. Hence a higher investment in the capacity building of teachers is absolutely essential and the same needs to be escalated and addressed by all the concerned stakeholders.

The author is an expert on citizen centric civics education in schools and is associated with the NGO We, The People Abhiyan. She can be reached at bhaktibhavewtp@gmail.com.

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