Posted by: nickysmith | November 16, 2009

I Wish More Schools Had This: Citizenship and Governance Education in India



In Bangalore, the city I am working in and the third largest city in India, there has been no local government for three years! With the upcoming local elections, I am sitting in a meeting with concerned citizens who are partnering with local schools to have students (7-10th grade target) go to 10 people and explain the importance of voting in local elections and to sign a commitment form to vote. The citizens participate in Bala Janaagraha, a program at the NGO I work at where citizens volunteer to teach citizenship and governance to schools. The students also design a civic project in the community near their school, and now they are equipped with maps to understand their community.

12/15 of the participants at the meeting are women and I’ve heard a lot of discussion about mobilizing house wives in active citizenship. The meeting is extremely lively with discussion and ideas from the relevance of “greening” (pollution, electricity, water issues) to their communities, such as changing corporate jingles to promote picking up garbage, and reaching out to community members who don’t speak English.

Awareness, although a word used annoyingly often and without meaning especially in student groups and NGOs, is the goal of this project as the volunteers here argue that most citizens in Bangalore don’t even know that no local government exists and that elections are tentatively in February (haven’t been confirmed and could be delayed).

This is their “Me and My City” text, it’s quite fun and informative to read. Right now the programs reaches 5,000 students and the goal is to reach 50,000 students.  I wish a program like this existed when I was in school, and I don’t know of any such programs in the US.

The only program I know that is similar to this is the approach of the The Miguel Angel Asturias Academy which is a private, non-profit Pre K-12 school founded in 1994 to eliminate education disparities through subsidized tuition, and create informed, critically-thinking, socially conscious citizens through its curriculum. Jorge Chojolán Pacajoj, the Academy’s founder, is an indigenous Mayan from Quetzaltenango and the first Guatemalan honored with the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship.

The approach where students first learn about their social realities from their own perspectives, then analyze them, then discuss how to change their society.  This is achieved through monthly social issue focuses from gender and feminism to environmental justice, andis based on the pedagogy of Paolo Freire, whose books are absolutely transformational and powerful and short so please check them out (especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope).

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