The civics/political science curriculum has an enormous potential to be relevant in day-to-day life. However, keeping the interest of students alive is a key challenge faced by educators today. This article focuses on an innovative classroom practice – a project on civic action that can be incorporated into the existing curriculum based on the National Curricular Framework 2005 and is viable across boards.
The class 11 students of a high school in Alipur (district – Gurugram; state – Haryana) were asked by their political science teacher to make a list of issues in their surroundings which concerned them. The teacher had indicated to the students that they would be initiating a civic action project during the academic year. Students made a list of issues and unanimously chose to work upon the damaged roads which everyone used to come to the school.
In the next stage, the students engaged in three types of research-based activities. In-desk research: with the help of the teacher, students looked at the fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution and related this issue to Article 21 (Right to Life). Then, they referred to the Haryana Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and learnt that road repairs were the responsibility of the panchayat. Under field research, they interviewed residents in the surroundings, enquired about the history of this issue and took photos of the site. The third research-based activity concerned the media, where students were asked to search for news articles, any clippings from the media that addressed the chosen subject or other similar issues.
After a thorough research, the students wrote an application referring to the research that they had undertaken. The copies of the researched documents were attached to the application. The students visited the panchayat, met the sarpanch, and then filed the application. However, they did not stop at this level. They followed up several times – and were subsequently informed by the sarpanch that a tender worth ₹20,00,000 had been passed for this issue, and that road repairs would begin soon.
These kinds of civic action projects have two types of advantages. The first type concerns school education. Such a project-based learning approach enables social science teachers to create room for experiential education in social sciences – and that too, for a discipline like civics/political science where, unfortunately, rote-learning practices are widely prevalent. Projects around public issues that exist in their own surroundings help students relate civics to their real-life situations and also underlines the role that both the state and the citizens are expected to play.
The above project covers a wide range of concepts in civics/political science: fundamental rights, law and structure of state to name a few. The hands-on experience for these concepts aids comprehension and helps in knowledge retention. It is also critical to note here that such project-based intervention not only enhances civic knowledge of the students but also builds participatory civic skills. Participatory civic skills mainly include interacting (with fellow citizens), monitoring (tracking the handling of issues by the political processes and government) and influencing (refers to the capacity to affect the processes of politics and governance). In such projects, students get an opportunity to learn and practise all the three skills – and the knowledge gained during desk research serves as a foundation for it.
The second advantage of this project-based learning embodies the greater vision enshrined in the Constitution of India. In our democratic set-up, it is the local governments where citizen participation is regarded indispensable. One of the primary aims of civic education is to capacitate the students for this participation. Projects like the above ensure such a capacity building of students and are highly feasible when planned properly.
Of course, such intervention requires a deeper capacity building of teachers too. To begin with, the Constitution can be referred to and fundamental rights can be read in depth. Most of the time, issues chosen by the students come under the ambit of local governments only. Hence it is imperative to look at the Municipal Corporation Act or the Village Panchayat Act of that particular state. The acts made by the respective states for the governance of their local bodies also give a good insight into the overall functioning of the local set-up. However, while these initial pointers can help teachers run a project, facilitating such a civic engagement also requires specific skill sets on the part of teachers. Hence, a higher investment in the capacity building of teachers is absolutely essential, and the same needs to be escalated and addressed by all the concerned stakeholders.
Respecting the efforts taken by the kids! Change begins with one responsible citizen! Are you up for taking the first step?
We, the People is a network of organisations and individuals. Our mission is to expand an informed, active and responsible citizenry in India. We facilitate exploration, understanding and action for being active and responsible citizens through events and in-depth training programmes. Our programmes are offered in schools, slums, skyscrapers – anywhere the citizens of this nation live, learn and work.
The author is an expert on citizen-centric civics education in schools and is associated with the NGO We, The People Abhiyan. She can be reached here. You can also find more information about our project here.