By Aditi Parekh:
On the surface, that may seem simple enough. Introspection, reflection, analysis – all variants of asking questions – are hard. The average person doesn’t want to ask any questions for fear of upsetting authority, the status quo, or her own cognitive dissonance.
But here’s a really worrying set of scores from young India. In a representative sample study carried out by the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA).
• 55% of school students agreed that women dress and behave in certain ways to provoke violent reactions from men
•Only 26% correctly understand the meaning of the Fundamental Right against exploitation
•53% of college students ‘agreed’ that the military should rule India for some year.
The ‘Yuva Nagarik Meter’ (YNM) places young India’s democratic citizenship scores at an abysmal 21%. This means that 5-10 years down the line, this demographic is the one not observing but contributing to actions that endanger our democracy.
At Student Think Tank for India (STTI), we work to promote civic engagement and critical thinking among school students through questions. We believe that it’s not enough to just care about issues; it’s important to care to know about the multiple explanations, perspectives and implications of various issues. We organise workshops that get students to think about issues such as media literacy, gender, corruption, the refugee crisis, education, etc. When given a space to question these simplistic explanations, their responses display a depth that we miss even in national news channel debates.
The following are the inputs and answers of the students as a result of this workshop:
1. Ignited curiosity
An exercise on asking questions about an issue, before we jump to solve it. Notice this student asking, “Is the education system corrupt?” and “Are you corrupt?”.
2. Standing in the shoes of the other (including the villain)
Students tried to see from the perspectives of different groups involved in the Syrian refugee crisis, including the green note from the perspective of oppressive regimes themselves.
3. Seeing both sides of the debate
Talking about reservations here, a Class 9 student acknowledges arguments for and against caste-based reservations, escaping the black-or-white thinking that pervades popular opinion nowadays.
4. Understanding abstract concepts
In this guest workshop by No Country for Women, students learned how to use terms such as ‘stereotypes’, ‘norms’, and ‘narratives’. This is followed by an imaginary story, where a husband stands up for his choice to bring up his children with more responsibility while his career takes a backseat.
5. Observing generalisations
Being the banker in Monopoly makes a good analogy for corruption in public office. Students use the formula C = M + D – A to represent “Corruption exists when there is Monopoly and Discretion without Accountability.”
We want more students to think critically about civic issues. Our workshops can’t be everywhere, so the question guiding us was: how do we reach students all across India? We’re calling this experiment ‘Baatcheet Boards’.
The Baatcheet Boards is an activity open to every high school in India where each week, students read to an assembly about a civic issue, and share their opinions on some critical questions by filling up a chart on their school’s bulletin boards. The assemblies provide a context, and questions are designed to voice and also inform their opinions.
Creating better citizens is one of the aims of education. This calls for a new space, what many aptly call the ‘5th Space‘. Can we fill in some of these hallway conversations with questions like – why does my mom do all the housework? How objective is my news? What do ‘fundamental rights and duties’ mean in Delhi when compared to Manipur?
By collating these responses and showcasing the diversity of perspectives among students across the country, we hope to see an increase in critical thinking and civic engagement, and also in that rare quality of listening to what fellow students and Indians have to say. And as an educator in the making, I will feel like I have done something to improve the one score I worry most about: 21% on the democratic citizenship test.
To see details of the Baatcheet boards, follow this link.