Civic Education InDemocracy

 

Mukti Rijal

The values of political social and cultural pluralism have been recognised and enhanced in most of the countries of the world. Almost all the nations have embraced these values with reference to their own context. Moreover, the notion of political pluralism has been applied in the form of multiparty democracy though it lacks unanimity in interpretation and application.More often what is also found that the basic values of democracy are bended to suit to the whims of the rulers. The context of the US can be taken, among others, to further illustrate the point. President Donald Trump of the US has taken several moves that have reversed the policy decisions adopted during the previous Obama administration. The concept of multiculturalism and welfare state has been threatened under the Trump's presidency.

Core Values

Like in the US, although leadership styles and orientations and their policy emphasis may differ and contradict from rulers to rulers, certain policies adopted by previous government may be superseded by the succeeding governments, the core values and principles of democracy are inalienable and non-negotiable. Needless to say, political and economic freedom, rule of law, popular sovereignty and human rights constitute some of the core values and principles of democracy. But the nomenclature of democracy is so flexible and elastic that it had been practiced using different qualifiers and adjectives without respecting the above mentioned basic tenets of multiparty democracy.

In this context, mention can be made of the communist countries especially during the cold war. They talked of proletarian democracy, socialist democracy or the people’s democracy using different phraseologies, claiming that their version of democracy was superior to liberal democracy in its form and content. But the communist system collapsed because its basic premise was centralism, totalitarianism and power monopoly in contravention to the core principles of the multiparty democracy. In fact, political practices and rules of the game that came in conflict with core tenets of democracy have failed or discredited in the contemporary world.

As mentioned earlier in reference to the US President Trump, the rulers may be tempted to flout the norms and values of democracy operating within the framework of the formal institutions of democracy and rule of law. This has also happened in Nepal time and again where political leaders tend to manipulate the letters of constitution and law to serve their own ends. This type of deviant behaviours 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 democracyfunctions well, certain pre-conditions need to be fulfilled which can warrant the successful functioning of a democratic system. These include rulers should respect the rules of the democratic system and honour the spirit of the democratic values and institutions.

However, these supply side preconditions are not sufficient. The demand side pre-requisites should also be fulfilled. The demand side preconditions for the successful working of democracy include people should be aware of their rights, role and responsibilities and be able to actively engage to demand accountability and responsiveness of the state institutions. In order to achieve this, there is a need to enhance civic competence through education on democracy and citizenship.

Education for democracy and citizenship should be made an integral part of formal and informal education system of a state. Democracy and civic education has become the priority theme of many democratic nations for which initiatives have been undertaken by the UN as well. Some of the Asian and African countries have taken a lead role in this regard. The move became effective especially when Mongolia took the lead to the promote democracy and civic education with a view to consolidate democracy and democratic institutions and make them responsible and accountable to the people. With Mongolia and Poland playing the key role, United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution on education for democracy and citizenship in November 2012.

The UN resolution on education for democracy and citizenship refers to the Charter of the UN and recognizes the right 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 is linked meaningfully to other global initiatives and efforts. It has taken cognizance especially of the UN Millennium Declaration wherein the UN member states have committed themselves to sparing no efforts 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.

Empowerment

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, curricula and curricular and extracurricular educational activities aimed at promotion and consolidation of democratic values and democratic governance and human rights. The resolution further recognises the need to take into account innovative approaches and best practices in the field ofeducation on democracy and citizenship to enhance citizens’ empowerment and participation in political life and policymaking at all levels.

Since Nepal has been a party to the UN resolution, the country should initiate various measures in promoting democracy and civic education to ensure that both political leaders and citizens are attuned to and socialised into the core values and practices of democracy. This can help to institutionalise democracy and make leaders accountable to the people.

 

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