Civic Education And Democracy

 

Mukti Rijal

Trends and developments indicate that political pluralism and democracy have been more or less accepted as a consensual truth in the contemporary discourse of political ideologies. However, it must be pointed out that democracy lacks homogeneity and linearity in its recognition, definition and practices. It expresses and manifests in diverse forms, usages, characteristics and quality. It has been found that practices and processes of democracy are applied and adapted to suit to different contexts and situations. For example, the US was the British colony before it won independence around 250 years ago. But it adopted presidential model of democracy which is completely different from the parliamentary type followed in the Great Britain.

Trails and tests

Likewise, France has institutionalised mixed semi-presidential after several trials and tests of the political system. However, three separate models followed in three different developed countries share commonality in the sense that they are formally democratic in letter and spirit.

 Democracy has some core values and principles that are immutable, inalienable and non-negotiable. The core values are political and economic freedom, rule of law, popular sovereignty and human rights.

These basic values of democracies are oftentimes circumvented, distorted and manipulated, if not abused, through recourse to different qualifiers and adjectives. But those which bear the veil of democracy using different qualifiers do not always imbibe into and honour its spirit, ethos and values. These political systems and structures are bound to fail and get discredited.

In due course of time, the communist polity glorified as the polity of the new epoch harped on proletarian democracy, socialist democracy or the people’s democracy using different phraseologies and nomenclatures. It had often been claimed that it was superior to liberal democracy in its form and content. But the communist system was discarded and collapsed because its basic premise was centralism and totalitarianism or totalised power monopoly without leaving room for alternative thinking, plural ideas and freedom.

  The political practices and rules of the game that came in conflict or undermined the core tenets of democracy have failed or got discredited in the eye of the people. We can take examples from the partyless Panchayat polity that claimed to be as the most suitable democratic system. As authoritarian was cloaked in the name of democracy the rulers did not follow norms and values of democracy. Finally, it failed giving way to the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.

It is also found the leaders operate within the framework of the formal institutions of democracy and rule of law but they violate and dishonour the values and ethos when it comes to practice. This type of tendency and behaviour on the part of the rulers elected to the seat of power tends to  jeopardise the institutions and functionality of democracy.

In order to ensure that democracy functions well, certain attributes need to be fulfilled. The attributes constitute the preconditions to the successful functioning of a democratic system.  These include the rulers should respect the rules of the democratic game, strive to foster democratic values and institutions, and  people  should  be  aware of their role and responsibilities and actively engage to demand accountability and responsiveness of the state institutions . 

 In order to achieve these, there are several innovative means and mechanism.  But the most important means for this has been the fostering and institutionalisation of civic education for democracy. In democracy civic education should be made an integral part of formal and informal education system of a state. 

Not only in the developed countries, has democracy education become the priority theme of many democratic nations in the developing world and the less developed world too. The countries like Ghana in Africa and Mongolia in Asia have taken the lead role to the promote democracy education  for consolidating  democratic culture,   institutions and practices.

With Mongolia and Poland playing the key role the United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution on education for democracy in November 2012. The UN resolution on education for democracy  refers to   the Charter of the UN  and recognises the rights of every one to education which is enshrined  in the  international treaties and documents, including Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant  on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of  Discriminations against Women  and so on.

The UN resolution on education for democracy is linked meaningfully to other global initiatives. It  takes cognizance especially of the UN Declarations time and again wherein the UN member states  have committed themselves to sparing  no effort  to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law  as well as respect  for all internationally recognised  human rights and fundamental freedoms including right to development. The resolution encourages member states to integrate education for democracy along with civic education and human rights education into national educations standards. The resolution  affirms the need  to develop and strengthen national and sub national programmes, curricular and extracurricular educational activities  aimed at promoting  and consolidating  democratic values  and democratic
governance and human rights by  taking into account innovative approaches  and best practices   in order to enhance citizens empowerment  and participation in political life and policy
making at all levels.

Mechanism

Moreover, in order to enhance and promote democracy education leveraging mass media as an education tool, using internet as a democratising force, teaching democracy by doing democracy can be an important channel and mechanism for democracy education and so on. Similarly, civic and democracy education should be an integral part of the formal education system. In this way the state itself should become responsible for the promotion and institutionalisation of democracy education.

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