Fight corruption with civic education

Published: December 23, 2010

The future of Pakistani democracy depends on what type of citizens we produce in the present.

It can be said that one of the great pillars of the liberal democratic project is civic education. This project requires the cultivation of certain virtues in the hearts and minds of citizens, in order to foster a democratic culture. These virtues include respect, tolerance and generally revolve around the concept of citizenship.

Without these civic and moral resources, the democratic state cannot survive. Indeed, one of the failings of Pakistani democracy is the absence of a universal, coherent and robust concept of citizenship.

What does it mean to be Pakistani?

Pakistan is a country with a huge youth population, experiencing a youth bugle, so the future of Pakistani democracy depends on what type of citizens we produce in the present for instance through our educational system and indeed religious institutions. The situation so far is dire. In a recent paper it was said that:

The findings  indicate that the curriculum and textbooks do not distinguish between Islamic education and citizenship education and promotes exclusionary and passive citizenship. They also show that while Pakistani students acquire knowledge and learn some important values in schools, they do not learn the skills (problem-solving, decision-making) and values (civic mindedness, critical consciousness) required for effective participation in democratic life. The paper finally suggests what a teacher education program should include if teachers are to prepare students for informed, responsible and participatory citizenship.

Why civic sense is important

Civic education is important because it allows us to cultivate the necessary skills, virtues and habits to maximise political participation for citizens. Indeed we should not be surprised if Pakistani youth are turning increasingly conservative, since the civic education given to the youth is severely impoverished and lends itself to superficial accounts of morality and faith.

How else can the virtues of compromise, cooperation ,consensus building, sympathetic reflection, critical reasoning and civic ethics be fostered? These virtues, which are the bedrock of all functioning democracies do not just magically appear; it takes time and effort to nurture a democratic culture. But our political culture has been greatly damaged with constant army interference, fanatic sectarianism, clerical orthodoxies, feudal structures and ethnic rivalry. We have lost sight of common good, because we lack a common identity and universal citizenship. In addition we have never gotten the idea of democratic reasoning and debate. In short, Pakistani democracy has never stood a chance because we lack the foundations for a democratic culture.

Rote-learning doesn’t help

If the type of education given is one which is just obsessed with rote-learning and passive acceptance rather than an education focused on debate and reasoning, we will end up with citizens who will not be able to sustain the democratic culture.

Democracy more than just voting, is a mindset and indeed is a platform for negotiating the competing claims on power and authority. Democracy thrives on civic debate, but Pakistanis have been let down by their education system which leaves them woefully unprepared to maximise the full potential of the democratic system. A weak civic education will allow for political parties to remain as dukedoms for personal families and feudal lords. It will take a democratisation of knowledge and education for society at large to become democratised.

Democracy needs to be nurtured and the virtues of critical reasoning cultivated, otherwise we will end up with a political culture that we have now; a culture obsessed with high level gossip, politics of personalities and cults and politics of obscene passion. This political culture lacks moral imagination and ethical foundations, allowing itself to be ravaged by grave tribulations such as corruption and dishonesty.

It is a political culture which lends itself to manipulation at the cost of liberty and human rights. Civic renewal is needed in Pakistan, and it has to start from the bottom up.


Ahmad Ali

A medical student and freelance writer who tweets @AhmadAliKhalid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.