John F Kennedy once said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future." Then, what better way could there be to welcome another Independence Day than resolving to raise better citizens? Don’t we owe it to our country which has a unique blend of history, culture and tradition, and has also seen a great deal of growth and development in the last few decades? It is important to ensure that the next generation grows up to be responsible citizens because today we are plagued by a plethora of problems that cripple our future, ranging from corruption to pollution. We live in an atmosphere that breeds complacency and disregard for the laws that are the backbone of this democracy.
Nearly seven decades after Independence, we live in an atmosphere that breeds complacency and disregard for the laws that are the backbone of this democracy. Value systems are at a serious risk and unfortunately our next generation is picking this up from us if recent surveys are anything to go by. The Yuva Nagric Meter (YNM), a survey conducted by the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA) in 2014, to study democratic citizenship values and attitudes among the youth, yielded shocking results. The survey showed that a vast majority of Indian youth are unaware of civic responsibility, and have extremely negative opinions on social issues.
Teaching social responsibility
The need of the hour is to raise active, aware and accountable citizens and that has to begin when children are very young. Sarah Jose, visiting faculty, Indian Constitution at the Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru says, “The most important thing to remember is that children learn a lot from what we do. In the case of my own children, there has never been any deliberate attempt to teach these values directly. They have learnt them by subconsciously assimilating what we do. Subtle nuances in parental behaviour are picked up by children. They constantly assimilate what they see and hear around them. I never realised until my friend told me that I greet beggars approaching me for alms, with a smile. I don’t give them money, but I make eye contact, acknowledging them as human beings with the same rights and needs like the rest of us. Without me realising it, my children have imbibed this sense of respect and empathy for another being. In fact, isn’t that what social responsibility is all about? My children have, from a very young age, been taught to talk to people politely. I have made them understand that there is dignity in every form of labour. For instance, my children know that they need to clean up things themselves, and not leave a mess for the maid to clean. These are attitudes that need to be cultivated from a very early age.”
Democracy at home
It is no secret that value education begins at home. How do you teach children about democracy, when their immediate environment is largely dictatorial? In most households, children are taught to do as they are told, instead of parents reasoning out with them or involving them in the decision-making process. Ashish Patel, National Coordinator, Civic Club Programme, says, “Our experience has only corroborated what is universally acknowledged. Young people imbibe democratic values best when the classroom environment is open, free and participatory. In other words, democratic classrooms nurture democratic values. CMCA's Yuva Nagarik Meter survey validated this. Students who had a positive experience at home showed better democratic citizenship scores. The implications for parents are obvious and intuitive. Children, especially teenagers are least likely to respond to explicit preaching of citizenship values. A positive, open and participative atmosphere at home, where the opinions of the children are heard, and where parents themselves display democratic citizenship values is more likely to nurture children into model citizens.”
Even as the world has seen a digital explosion in every aspect of life, we continue to trail when it comes to key social issues. It is essential that we teach our children important issues like equality, tolerance, compassion and civility. These issues may or may not directly impact your child, but they clearly are impacting the larger world.
Ask any child and he will tell you that his concerns revolve around his own needs and desires. School, play time, friends and home - while these are essential to any child’s well-being, they are not the be-all and end-all. The only way to break apathy and disregard for various issues that shape the nation, is to discuss them with children at home.
Suhasini B, a mother of two, says, “There are many situations that you face every day, which can be turned into a learning experience for children. When our family is dining out at a restaurant and we see a child working there, my husband and I usually raise questions with the management about why that child isn’t in school. Similarly, a chance advertisement on television can be the entry point to a debate about gender equality.” Professor Maitrayee Chaudhuri, Chairperson, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that a flagrant ignorance of civic issues stems from an underlying social issue. "We are used to living in a democracy and we take it for granted. Therefore, we do not recognise our privileges as free citizens," she says.
Rakesh Senger, Project Director, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (an initiative of Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi) says, “We have started a new initiative. My house is child-labour free where the onus is completely on children. As a part of this initiative, we give out stickers to students of various schools. The students are asked to put up the sticker on their doors if their house is child labour-free. This campaign is working wonders as children are now increasingly aware that issues like child labour are serious - a step, we believe, in the right direction.”
What does citizenship mean on a day-to-day basis? It refers to respecting rules and regulations, respecting civic amenities, not littering, being aware of the changes in the governing laws and policies in the country and caring about how they impact us. Are our children playing an active role here?
In terms of active citizenship too, Sarah feels that actions speak much louder than words. “When the driver tries to overtake a vehicle from the wrong side or tries to jump the lights, I am always quick to correct him. If we are standing in a queue, and someone tries to jump it, I speak up. I realise now that it is important for children to learn to respect these norms and laws. Children learn that it is necessary to stand up for what you believe is right and to question things when they are wrong,” she says.
As children grow to become tomorrow’s citizens, it is important they understand the political system too at a fairly young age. Suhasini adds, “Election time is an opportunity for us to sit down with our children to discuss the responsibility of electing our leaders. We often ask them what they would want to change if they were to be elected. We feel strongly that children should be taught while young to care about the power and responsibility in the hands of the citizens of the country. From how the government is elected to policy making, they should genuinely care about what is going on."
In the famous words of Dr Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” Let us all begin to care and begin now; let us take this country to new heights by enabling each child to be the best citizen she can be.
So, this Independence Day, take an oath to do your bit to raise responsible citizens.
The duties of a citizen
- To know your civic responsibilities and fulfil them.
- To coexist peacefully with fellow humans, irrespective of their cultural or religious ilk.
- To know your basic rights as a citizen and employ them to achieve your aspirations.
- To be aware and mindful of laws and policies.
- To be empathetic towards the less-privileged in the society.
- To engage in resolving social issues.
- To stand up for your own rights and those of others who may not be able to do so.
- To participate actively in the election process and to hold the elected government accountable.
- To opt for a lifestyle that is sustainable to the ecological environment as well as to the country’s resources.
- To respect everyone’s choice or lifestyle without bias or judgement.
Civic education woes – Not just an Indian problem
A study titled Youth Civic Development & Education conducted by Stanford University in the US in 2013, expressed deep concerns over the state of civic education in the US. The study observed, “Civic education as practised in schools throughout the United States is not preparing students for effective participation in civic life. Few young people are sufficiently motivated to become engaged in civic and political activity. ”The study called upon teachers to “creatively incorporate interactive, participatory, controversial, challenging, relevant, inclusive, and inspiring assignments and activities, so that students are not simply learning history by memorising dates and historical facts, but rather developing civic understanding.”