Understanding the ‘constitution’ of our democracy

Nivedita Dwivedi

Political science, in simple terms, is a branch of social science that deals with political institutions and processes, the structures and functions of the government and the state at various levels and the way the political power relationships work. A closer look at the theoretical and practical aspects of political science will reveal that its domain encompasses a study and understanding of the sources, structures, distribution and practices of power and resources. This would mean an in-depth understanding of the letter and spirit of the Constitution as the fountainhead, the various structures and functions emanating from it, and the interplay between these. The practice of political science, however, remains incomplete if it fails to study and understand the interface between politics and society and the role that politics and power plays in the day-to day life of an ordinary citizen.

Rationale for its inclusion in the teaching-learning process in schools
update The day of the birth of an individual bestows upon her, among others, a political identity as well. An individual born in India, for example, becomes a citizen of India, by virtue of her having been born on the Indian soil. She now has certain rights and duties (some of them of course to be activated at an appropriate age) applicable to her in common with all the other citizens of India, drawn from the Constitution of India. Thus, any individual, by default, is also a political being and has a political identity which cannot be separated from her. Just as the individual is socialized into her family and the society, both by virtue of being a part of that family and society, and also through conscious efforts put in by the family and society; similarly, the individual, by virtue of being born in a particular form of political system, is circumscribed by the boundaries of that system, and hence, even if no particular effort is made to politically educate her, she will imbibe a certain political character anyway. It thus becomes even more imperative for the education system to take up the responsibility of ensuring that the individual develops a mature understanding of the political system, is able to develop a voice and exercise her choices based on critical reasoning and holistic understanding of all the aspects in any given situation.

Political science, being a branch of the broader domain of social sciences, also carries the responsibilities that have been placed on the larger domain of social sciences. The Position Paper by the National Focus Group on Teaching of Social Sciences, 2006, explains the responsibilities placed on the domain of social sciences in the following terms: “The social sciences carry a normative responsibility to create and widen the popular base for human values, namely freedom, trust, mutual respect, respect for diversity, etc.”

The appropriate age of inclusion of teaching-learning of political science in schools
Having established the rationale behind the teaching-learning of political science, the next question that arises is what can be the suitable time for integrating discussions of this nature in the school curriculum. Here, it would be useful to take recourse to the Piagetian model of cognitive development. Piaget was a proponent of the constructivist theory of learning.

According to Piaget, when formal operational thought of cognitive development is attained (adolescence to adulthood), thinking in abstractions, formulation of hypotheses, understanding complex inter-relationships, etc., is possible. After this, no new structures are needed. According to this model, a child, after reaching the stage of upper-primary in school education, would thus be capable of formal operational thinking, hence the appropriateness of this age-group for the introduction of political science in schools, integrated with other social-science disciplines. The Position Paper by the National Focus Group on Teaching of Social Sciences, 2006, also seems to concur with the above inference.

The spaces for inclusion of teaching-learning of political science in schools
Proceeding now to the next logical question of how political science can be integrated seamlessly into the classroom. To understand this, we will have to deal with both the aspects of the teaching-learning process, i.e., curriculum and pedagogy.

The author is working with the Reserve Bank of India. She is also pursuing an MA in Elementary Education from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Her interests lie in the field of education and related issues. She can be reached at niveditadwivedi31@gmail.com.

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