In his autobiographical Seventh Letter, Greek philosopher Plato famously remarked, “The human race will have no respite from evils until those who are really philosophers acquire political power or until, through some divine dispensation, those who rule and have political authority in the cities become real philosophers”. Plato’s retreat to his ‘Academy’ for implementing his political ideals in contemporary Greek politics ended in abject failure and his Academy closed down in 529 BC. His later writings reveal the difficulty of shaping political systems on sound philosophical ideals and the crisis that he pointed out in the face of politics minus ideals has remained an unresolved enigma in the world of politics even today.
There is universal agreement that the best education in politics begins in schools. Introduction to history of national politics, brief notions of governance, quality of political systems and their impact on the life of citizens are the basic pedagogic framework of any education in politics at the rudimentary level. The purpose of such an introduction to political education is distinctly utilitarian. It is designed to promote political awareness, ideas of rights and duties, and the shaping of democratic systems and individual’s participation in them.
While the broad educational framework of political education is generally agreed, the methodology and applied pedagogy of the subject remains a contentious issue across the world, more so in India, where the education of politics more often slips into a politics of education that carries with it unhealthy acrimony and discord.
Curriculum experts have observed that the rudimentary pedagogy of political education, modelled with a different subject title, namely ‘civics’ may introduce school children to the preliminaries of a functioning democracy but in itself it cannot guarantee a genuinely felt political awareness. Interestingly, the National Education Policy, 2020 places political science in the specific context of legal education and teacher education and has not earmarked the role political science would be playing in the context of school education. The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, 2009, widely considered as a bell-weather indicator of school education dynamics in the country places political science in the context of a wide spectrum of areas which need focus in school education. It says, “There is a need to shift the focus from an overwhelming emphasis on psychological characteristics of the individual learner to his / her social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Therefore, a rigorous engagement with issues of contemporary Indian society must necessarily be examined through an engagement with concepts drawn from a diverse set of disciplines including sociology, history, philosophy, political science and economics.”
However, the place of political science has remained compromised with the predominant practice of being merged with either history or a broad spectrum of social science subjects, thereby implying its status as a minor field of study among school subjects. This lack of importance is usually seen to amplify with very few school pass outs voluntarily opting to specialize in political science as a special field of study leading to compromised teaching and research talents available to the subject.
Interestingly, the importance of political science as a special subject of study that ought to begin as early as possible in a school education setting was underlined by the UNESCO as early as 1948 with the twin developments of a destructive world war and the political freedoms of several colonies, highlighting the importance of universal political awareness as an antidote to dictatorship and a guarantee of vibrant governance. With the foundation of the International Political Science Association in 1949, politics as a special subject of study attained a prominence and importance across most school education systems in Europe and the US.
In the Indian context, we find significant delays in the adoption of political science as a subject of study at school levels. The Secondary Education Commission, 1952-53 was silent on political education and instead stressed that ‘unhealthy trends of political life are to be avoided in schools’. The Education Commission of 1964 too maintained the need to delink school education from political education since it felt that school children are to be protected from political influence at all costs. The negative nuances associated with political education amplified into a general distrust of political awareness in school going age, thereby leading to delayed understanding of political and legal complexities of the social systems of the country.
Neglect of political education in schools has serious ramifications in the shaping of a healthy democratic set-up in the country. Ignorance of political processes, lack of knowledge on rights and duties make school children vulnerable to unhealthy political manipulation, ignorance of the roles and responsibilities of citizenship, compromised patriotic feelings and a poor mental connection with the country’s democratic apparatuses. This has a cascading effect on the body-politick as a whole.
Since we are in the throes of a path-breaking National Education Policy, 2020 that sets itself the task and vision of transforming the education system of the country as a whole, it would be a costly mistake if political science is not given its due place of importance in the education curriculum right from high school education itself.
To quote Pericles, a Greek philosopherpolitician of the fifth century BC, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” In other words, a lack of interest in politics would not prevent an individual from facing the negative nuances of a disjointed political atmosphere and the best protection for an individual citizen is an awareness of political systems, ideas of rights and duties and commitment to social living. This is best guaranteed by a scientifically planned political pedagogy, irrespective of individual academic specialization, that would begin early enough in a student’s education so as to leave a firmer impression on the mind. This is the best way forward for a vibrant political system and is the primary condition of a well-functioning democracy
(The writers are, respectively, an Assistant Professor in Political Science and an Assistant Professor in English, Pritilata Waddedar Mahavidyalaya, Nadia, West Bengal)