Making civic education relevant

Usha Raman

We live in confusing times. While there’s no doubt that life is better on some counts (higher lifespan, more literacy, widening opportunities, more choice), it’s worse on others (climate change, socio-economic inequality, war). It’s hard to know who is responsible and how things can change. In such a context, children grow up disconnected from the processes and systems that can actually make change possible, at micro and macro levels. Yes, we do study the history and geography of the country, and the systems of governance at national and local levels that are supposed to regulate our economy, polity and, to some level, society. Yet much of this knowledge is for the purposes of answering exam questions and rarely goes beyond that.

A majority of children, would count civics as one of their most boring subjects. Of course now what used to be called civics a decade ago is subsumed within the larger discipline of political science (at the school level) or further refined as public administration (at the college level). But even so, by and large, the subject is not seen as an integral part of our everyday life. In fact, a functional knowledge of the laws and rules by which our lives are organized – our civic lives – is essential if we are to participate fully in our democracy.

This was the thinking that drove us to plan this summer issue around the idea of civic engagement and citizenship. How can we give our students a sense of the Constitution as a living, breathing document that frames political and civic life in India? What are the guiding principles of democracy as interpreted in the Constitution and what does this mean for us in terms of our lived realities? How can we play a role in ensuring that these principles are implemented fairly and evenly? What does it mean to be a good citizen? These and many other questions are raised by the bouquet of articles in this issue.

We’ve been fortunate to partner with “We, The People Abhiyan”, a Gurgaon-based NGO that works with schools to create a deeper understanding of the Constitution and citizenship. Together with their team, we were able to reach out to a wider range of contributors – educators, civil society organizations, lawyers. But as always, there is still much ground to cover. But we hope this will be a beginning for individual teachers and schools who wish to make civics (or political science) a living, relevant subject and build citizenship skills and knowledge among their students.