Reimagining Education | Citizenship in the 21st Century
This post was contributed by Prarthana Ramesh, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.
Our cities are at a crossroads today. Increasing population, crumbling infrastructure, pollution mired with challenges of solid waste management, public transportation networks, traffic, and safety among others have become hallmarks of our cities. With this as the backdrop, India’s urban population is estimated to increase from 370 million in 2011 to 600 million by 2030, making it one of the largest waves of urbanisation the world has ever seen.
Civics, by definition, is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. 370 million children in the 15 lakh schools across the country today go through a Civics curriculum as part of their Social Studies Grade 6 onwards across all State and Central boards in the country. Students learn about a range of topics in their classrooms – the powers of the President and the Prime Minister, how a bill gets passed in the Lok Sabha, the working of the United Nations, the Directive Principles of State Policy, Universal Adult Franchise among a few. However, the world’s largest democracy and the world’s youngest country continues to face low turnout of youth at Elections, low levels of civic participation on issues directly impacting their local communities and low usage of civic tech platforms in a digitally empowered India.
The light at the end of this tunnel is that this doesn’t have to be the case. In the hands of our citizen-force lies the power to transform the urban landscape of the country and the best place to begin would be with the one section of society that are open to the idea of real change in the country – children.
Imagine the evolution of Civics sessions from being dry and uninspiring to an actual representation of our democracy in a classroom through Municipal Corporation roleplays, knowing exactly whom to approach when you see a pothole on a road, mock elections, sitting in groups and discussing their rights and their duties and why they matter in the larger scheme of things, being able to fill out a RTI application and understanding social justice through a different lens. Imagine providing them exposure to how our cities actually function through experiential field visits to sewage treatment plants, police stations, rainwater harvesting plants, traffic management centres, dry waste collection centres and composting plants.
Imagine children coming together to work on a live project involving everyday issues of their community, being able to meet their local ward councillors and civic agencies and work with them in order to find sustainable and scalable solutions to problems that most citizens have accepted as a part of our living standards in the country such as potholes, garbage, broken roads, pollution, broken streetlights.
If the goal of an active, empowered democracy isn’t reason enough for our children to go through systemic improved civic learning, reports from the World Economic Forum, OECD among many others indicate that civic learning done right helps build skills required for 21st century jobs. A popular estimate remarks that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. Therefore, skills built by Civic Learning such as collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking and curiosity, problem solving, creativity and communication, initiative taking, leadership, adaptability and social and cultural awareness and persistence, would help not only in building a responsible citizenry but equip children with 21st century skills.
We envisage a world where our children grow up to be active and empowered citizens who undertake simple tasks such as segregating their waste, researching their electoral candidates and going out and voting in every election, treating their fellow citizens equally and undertaking their duties with as much ownership as their rights. We dream of a world where red signals are not jumped, bribes are not offered or taken, the law is followed, and resources are conserved and our walls are not strewn with paan.
Too ambitious a dream? The answer is quite simple. A reimagined civic education that empowers children of today to transform the landscape of our country, starting today.