As we near the seventieth anniversary of Indian independence, we look back at the progress we have made and embark on the steps ahead of us, one area that must concern us is the priorities of education. We have to pivot whether our education system seeks to just develop skilled workers for our economy or to also mold a responsible young citizenry. The neo-liberal and globalized economy has pushed us so far into a market mindset that our citizens seldom care about civic, social and political issues. The balance between markets and democracy has become lopsided to say the least.
Our news coverages have become more biased and commentary-driven. They focus more on the conflicts than the policy side of issues. We are often left with little understanding of our political, democratic, administrative and regulatory institutions but large piles of confusing information that flood our screens regularly. This means that people who have good knowledge of our own system of democracy is few and far between.
The advent of social media has further exacerbate this problem by giving people the false satisfaction of being a part of some virtual political discourse through its incessant likes, shares, tweets and retweets. People live in their own bubbles of information, seldom meet people with other points of view and feel threatened by any criticism of their leaders. Blogs and fake content have become widespread so much so that violence takes place as a result.
Education assumes a pivotal role in the midst of all this strain that we face as a people. A young populace who will lead India tomorrow has to have a proper understanding of our institutions and how they work. Whether or not a child pursues public service as a career should have no bearing on his/her understanding of civics. Ultimately, market forces and a benevolent state will only take us so far. When they fail to satisfy the people, as we presume they will, it is the democratic norms that will pull us through in the tough times.
If we want to improve the levels of civic knowledge, faith in democratic values among Indians and reduce political polarization, we must make sure that the students in our schools get a proper deliberative civics education, not one that makes it just another subject to get marks in. Our fundamental defense against demagoguery will be an educated populace intelligent enough to discern the sincere and good from the ill-willed. Upon this depends the perpetuity and success of our democracy.