Pakistan's need for Civic Education

02 Apr 2014

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Schools in Pakistan are known to encourage rote learning and discourage critical thinking. -Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed
Schools in Pakistan are known to encourage rote learning and discourage critical thinking. -Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed

The administrative collapse of the State and the absence of social order suggest the rapid decline in citizenship in Pakistan. Reviving a vibrant citizenry is a prerequisite for the socio-economic development in Pakistan. This is easier said than done.

Civic education and engagement are integral to raising moral and responsible citizens. A combination of civic lessons in the curriculum and providing opportunities to volunteer with civil society organisations motivates the youth to be responsible citizens. In the absence of such civil channels, no wonder the youth in Pakistan have landed in the arms of extremist outfits. This would change with the revival of civic education and engagement in Pakistan.

Unlike Pakistan, where children at a very young age are deliberately exposed to propaganda in schools, streets, mosques, and homes, children in the West are exposed to civic education and are taught about preserving the public good, such as the environment or obeying traffic regulations. This difference in education also results in a marked difference in the kind of citizenship reflected by the youth as they grow up. The lack of civic engagement and the failure to protect the public good in Pakistan is largely an outcome of lack of civic education.

Athar Iqbal, a graduate student at the National Defence University in Islamabad, was perturbed by the lack of opportunities for civic engagement in Pakistan. He made this concern the subject of his MPhil research. He interviewed several hundred youth to determine the state of civic education in Pakistan, focusing on young scholars who received scholarships from the Higher Education Commission in the recent past. Athar’s findings expose the gaping hole in civic education and engagement in Pakistan even amongst the youth who were privileged enough to secure a competitive scholarship from the Higher Education Commission.

Relying on responses from highly educated 416 males and 129 females (32 per cent had completed a doctorate and another 50 per cent had a Masters or equivalent degree), Athar found significant gaps in civic education for even the most highly educated in Pakistan. Three-fourth of the respondents reported attending a public school in Pakistan. Those who attended the private schools though did not fare any better in civic education and engagement.

Three out of four respondents reported receiving no civil education in the schools, colleges or universities that they attended in Pakistan. Another 88 per cent failed to recall any teacher who specialised in civic education in the educational institutions they attended. No wonder then that 75 per cent of the respondents failed to recall ever being told to perform civic duties as a student to volunteer to clean a neighbourhood park, plant trees, assist at a hospital, or help guide traffic.

The lack of civic engagement amongst the youth runs even deeper. Almost 88 per cent did not participate in a politically affiliated youth organisation. Only one in four was taught about the importance of electoral democracy. Another three-fourth of the respondents never engaged in an activity to clean the local environment. At the same time, 90 per cent of the respondents never participated in an organisation advocating for human rights. Whereas, 50 per cent reported volunteering, the extent of engagement was very limited with most (78 per cent) volunteered either a few times a year or never.

What is being taught in schools may not be the same as what needs to be taught in schools in Pakistan. A large majority (88 per cent) were taught patriotism in schools. Another 92 per cent reported being taught the history of Islam and Pakistan. With the nation imploding under religious and ethnic violence in Pakistan, one wonders how much more propaganda could possibly be fed to the impressionable minds.

What needs to be taught, i.e., civil defence training and/or environmental protection, is missing. Only 32 per cent reported receiving civil defence training and 47 per cent reported training in environmental protection.

 Civic engagement is integral to raising responsible citizens. -Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed
Civic engagement is integral to raising responsible citizens. -Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed

Schools in Pakistan are known to encourage rote learning and discourage critical thinking. This survey found concrete evidence for the same. Most (61 per cent) reported that education often meant rote learning for them. Eighty-seven per cent believed their grades relied on rote learning. A mere 10 per cent recalled being encouraged to think independently at schools. This should not come as a surprise since teachers often act as dictators rather than learning facilitators in classrooms. Only 8 per cent students reported having the liberty to disagree with the teacher in school and another 11 per cent recalled being encouraged to express their opinions.

Such schooling breeds apathy. When one is forced to adopt others’ opinions and is discouraged to engage with the society, one is likely to become apathetic. Respondents reported watching all sorts of civic and other violations by others. They failed to act to stop the transgressors though. Consider that 70 per cent respondents often watched others violate traffic rules. Another 91% saw people spitting or smoking in public places. Yet, they failed to be anything but bystanders.

Civic education and engagement have to be integrated in the school curricula in Pakistan. Most (78 per cent) agreed with the suggestion that civic education be taught as a separate subject.

Decades of violence and intolerance are clear proof of what Pakistan has achieved with teaching religious and nationalist propaganda in schools. It is high time to replace propaganda with civic education for raising better citizens in Pakistan.


Further reading:

The State of Civic Education in Pakistan - Research Report by Dr. Bernadette L. Dean.

Why civic education is a must by Shafqat Hussain.