Why Talk About Civics

What is Civic Education?

Civic education in a democratic country is a branch of education that essentially teaches self-government. Since, in principle, citizens in a democratic country are actively involved in the act of government and the establishment and implementation of laws, it is essential that they understand foundational subjects relating to democratization such as the constitution, fundamental rights, equality of citizens, governance, government structure, the separation of powers and so on. At the same time, civic education also imparts functional knowledge of how a citizen can interact with the government and its agencies, Lastly, a citizen’s responsibilities to the state and to his/her fellow citizens is also stressed on.

According a 2014 study, even among highly educated Pakistanis from public and private schools, over 75% do not receive any formal civic education whatsoever and over 88% will not be able to name a single teacher who has specialized in civic education in their institutions.

Why Focus on Accessible Civic Education?

Presently, there is a dire need to dispel the notion that democratization is an insidious foreign import and to make democracy indigenous and aligned with our identity as Pakistanis. This is because a key stumbling block to countless human rights initiatives and attempts at progressive change has been the fact that, outside of a select circle, the average citizenry does not recognize, understand or have any sense of ownership of the notions of democratic principles and processes, equal citizenship, rights and protections under the constitution, and human-rights based discourse. These ideas tend to be viewed with suspicion and are, at the same time, either incomprehensible or irrelevant for a large majority. Thus when human rights activists speak of, for instance, the disregard for due process, or certain inalienable constitutional protections, the average citizen does not comprehend the meaning or importance of these terms, and certainly does not identify with them as being a part of his/her own national or religious identity. Consequently, arguments, initiatives and movements mobilized using this language tend to fail or, at the very least, not be as successful as they could be. Ultimately, this knowledge and acceptance gap, which has gone undiagnosed and unaddressed, has also impaired democratic institutions such as the judiciary and the parliament in their ability to secure effective protection and advocacy for marginalized groups and create space for progressive and inclusive discourse.

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