Teaching for Democracy

Democracy in curriculum

Political Science is taught in every school and is an integral component of secondary school syllabus. It emphasizes learning of democratic system of governance and various process associated with it. However mere knowledge of democratic processes is not deemed sufficient for ensuring that the student will grow up to become an active participant in the democratic processes. What is important is that the students understand the meaning of democracy in terms of social justice and equality. It is also important that they understand the real world issues to meaningfully participate in discussions and decision making. But most importantly the students should learn to respect democratic values. Therefore NCF 2005 emphasizes not on merely learning democracy as a political system but adopting democracy as a way of life. Teacher has to play an important role in ensuring that the students understand not merely the form but spirit of democracy.

What to Teach

Most of the time when we talk about educating the students about democracy, it is confined to educating them in democracy as a system of governance. This part is covered in civics syllabus. However it has been argued that education of democracy should not be confined to teaching of political processes but it has three dimensions:

1. Knowledge of democratic processes and institutions: This part of the education of democracy is included in civics. It includes the rights and duties of citizens, process of elections, types of government: parliamentary or presidential, federal or unitary, the three branches of government executive, legislature and judiciary alongside the rationale for such division of power. It also makes the students understand the inextricable link between social justice and democracy. They get to know about marginalized groups and other disadvantaged groups in the society and the issues related to them. They are here taught about the need for affirmative action aimed at bringing the historically disadvantaged groups at par with others.

2. Democratic skills: Democratic skills include participatory skills and cognitive skills.

Participatory skills:

  1. The ability to not just tolerate but celebrate diversity. To understand that everyone is different and that differences are not bad.
  2. To understand that one should not only speak but listen to others as well, even if one doesn’t agree with them.
  3. To learn to participate in discussion as equals.
  4. To learn that duties and rights go hand in hand.
  5. To take initiatives and participate actively in decisions and processes that effect one.
  6. To ensure that everyone is fairly represented and no one is discriminated against.

Cognitive skills include the ability to:

  1. Undertake critical reflection and analysis of social and political issues and processes.
  2. Relate what has been taught in class with real life experiences.
  3. Reach the deep roots of injustice engrained in political processes, social practices, economic policies and traditions that maintain the privileges of some while marginalize others.

3. Sensitization towards the real world issues: The students should be made aware of the real world issues, the prevailing situations. They should not only be allowed but encouraged to participate in debates and discussions on current issues and most importantly form their own opinions about them. The teachers should realize that at least some of the students are political activists in the making and he/she should facilitate such transformation.

How to Teach

Making the Classroom environment democratic: role of the teacher

While teaching in the class the posture, responses and the way of dealing with the students should be democratic and it can be ensured by exercising certain precautions including the following:

1. The teacher should keep in mind the needs of every student in the class and give them the freedom to learn on their individual pace as far as possible.

2. She should ensure while moving on that no child is left behind.

3. It is important to create an environment in the class in which every student in the class is able to participate freely. This can be done by encouraging students when they respond in the class. Paying attention to and encouraging the students who seldom respond in the class is important.

4. Encourage students to self evaluate their work or adopt the strategies of peer evaluation in the class. In this way they will feel responsible for their own studies.

5. There should not be discrimination in the class between back benchers and front benchers. The teacher can eliminate the differences by continuously rotating the seating arrangement so that every student gets to sit in the front once in a week.

6. Instead of standing at one place only, the teacher can move around in the class while teaching so that every student gets the attention of the teacher.

7. The teacher should be friendly enough so that the students are not afraid of making mistakes. If they are afraid of making mistakes, they might become wary of even trying.

8. The teacher should not show priority to any student over others in any matter nor should she be discriminatory when dealing with students.

9. Students from diverse backgrounds should be given ample opportunity to participate actively in class activities and discussions. Having students from diverse backgrounds enriches the learning experience of the class.

10. Teacher should not be the sole authority of knowledge but mere facilitator who encourages the children to learn and facilitates such learning in diverse ways.

Elections for the monitor and other office holders in class and in school

Election is an integral process of democracy. By holding the elections of office holders, the students can be educated in this process. They would get to know more about the different electoral processes. While holding the elections, the teacher should encourage the students to find out more about elections. To find out what is a fair election, why is it important to have fair elections in democracy, do elections always mean democracy or can elections take place even in places where there is no democracy. A discussion can be conducted on how to ensure that the monitor elected after election does not misuse his or her powers.

Preparing a classroom constitution

All the students in a class are there for a purpose, that is, to learn. The teacher can encourage them to formulate rules that everyone has to follow in the class so that the purpose of learning is not defeated. The constitution of the classroom should be prepared after a healthy discussion in the class regarding what activities infringe on smooth learning in the class. The teacher can participate as one of the speakers. It can include simple classroom rules like,

1. I will raise my hand before speaking in the class or leaving my seat.

2. I will keep my hands and legs to myself.

3. I will leave the class only with teacher’s permission.

It can start like this: “We, the students of class ____ agree to follow the following rules:” In the constitution there should be a mechanism that punishes those who violate the rules. The punishment should not be harsh but firm. In this way they can learn what a constitution is, what is its need. They will learn that in a democratic society, constitution is not something that is imposed from outside but it the set of rules that all the members of the society willingly accept to ensure the smooth functioning of the society and for the welfare of all.

Making the Students responsible for classroom discipline and cleanliness

It should be the duty of all the students of the class to ensure that their classroom remains clean. They should keep it clean themselves and also report whoever throws wrappers and other waste material in places other than dustbins.

Using Discussion as a teaching method

One of the ways of inculcating Democratic values and ideals in the students is through discussion method. The first rule of discussion is that it is a debate that takes place among equals regarding some issue that concerns them. Discussion makes the students aware of the issue and sensitizes them towards it. Moreover by listening to different aspects and different voices, they realize that there can be multiple perspectives about an issue, one may not agree with others on everything but they learn to respect the opinions they don’t agree with. The goal is to simultaneously forge community and nurture controversy, to develop in the students’ commitment to particular values while respecting their rights to hold ideas that are not shared, and to encourage the expression of political “voice” without coercively demanding participation. Engaging in discussions with people whose views are different from yours builds political tolerance. Studies show that discussions on a current issue spark further learning about the issue and often cause people to engage in political action about the issue. The goal of the discussion should be to arrive at a consensus by accommodating different and sometimes contradictory voices in the final decision.

Discussion and democracy go hand in hand- Diana E Hess.

Following is an example of one way the discussion can be carried out:

1. After the topic of discussion has been declared, those who want to participate should raise their hands in order to get their names on the speakers’ list.

2. The teacher can also participate as a speaker by writing down his/her own name in the speakers’ list as well.

3. Before presenting one’s views, each speaker should restate what the person before them said to the person’s satisfaction.

4. This way the students will learn to pay attention to what others say.

5. The speakers don’t just speak to the teacher but to the whole class.

One major benefit of using discussion method is that it can be used for teaching core curriculum as well as democratic skills.

Co-Curricular Activities

Co-curricular activities such as debates, discussions, quizzes, sports, drawing and painting competitions, talent hunt programs and others give the students opportunity to participate and present their diverse talents. It creates a democratic environment at school where not only the academically bright but students with other talents are able to shine. Group activities help them learn to work in groups, take initiatives, contribute in their unique ways and at the same time understand the value of co-operation and what can be accomplished by working in a group. They will also learn to participate meaningfully in activities, presenting their point of views, listening to others and democratic decision making through their activities. Co-curricular activities should be designed so that they facilitate in learning all these skills.

Obstacles in Teaching about and for Democracy

All the methods suggested above are easily said than done. Teachers may find it hard to implement many of the above due to the following reasons:

1. Time Constraints: Teachers are expected to complete syllabus within a given time period. They therefore may not find enough time to implement measures to teach democratic values.

2. Lack of Motivation: In exam oriented system of ours, teachers and students may lack motivation to devote time and energy to something like developing democratic values which are not to be tested in an exam.

3. Inability of the teacher to relate the content to democratic values: The teacher may not be able to relate the teaching of democratic values with the content to be taught or the real life situations. Sometimes this may be because the subject being taught by them is not directly related to civics. Therefore a teacher of music or mathematics for instance may find it difficult to cover his/her subject while also correlating it with democratic values. Hence a teacher needs to be vigilant and creative so that they can adapt their strategies to the ever changing classroom environment and be able to devise new methods to cover subject matter in a manner that help the students learn democratic way of life.

A teacher should be attentive to the needs of the class and adopt ever newer ways in order to inculcate democratic values in students. This can be done most efficiently by making the classroom environment democratic and the teacher acting as a role model. Lessons can be carefully planned and such teaching methods adopted that are able to help students understand the content as well as inculcate democratic values in them. Co-curricular activities and sports are important ways to inculcate democratic values.

Further Reading


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