Merely paying lip service to good citizenship in the classroom is not enough. In this article, Sana Lone explains why exploring themes such as, tolerance, responsibility and respect, require that teachers help connect these values with children’s lives to help them gain a true understanding of what it means to be a good citizen.
Web definitions describe Citizenship as ‘the status of a citizen with rights and duties’. Keeping this definition in mind, the rights and duties of a citizen encompasses a broad spectrum of ideas. In the essay ‘Monitoring Active Citizenship in the European Union: The Process, the Results and Initial Explanations ‘ by Bryony Hoskins, active citizenships is defined as “Participation in civil society, community and/or political life, characterized by mutual respect and non-violence and in accordance with human rights and democracy.”
Being a citizen of a society means to be an active participant of a community and fulfilling duties while enjoying the privileges. The duties can be simplified by understanding that anything that a person does in his community, which adds positively to the development and maintenance of the community, makes that person a good citizen. For example, in Pakistan, some of the duties of its citizens are to abide by the laws of the country, to maintain cleanliness, to use its resources responsibly, to cast votes in the elections, to be tolerant towards fellow citizens etc. In return, citizens of this country are entitled to security (of their lives and assets), to medical assistance, to their identity, to passports, to driving privileges, to vote, to own land etc.
The need to educate children on citizenship when they are young
Adages such as, ‘Old habits die hard’ definitely ring true when it comes to citizenship. Habits instilled from an early age stay with you for your entire life. In an article published on the University of Maine’s website titled Children and Brain Development: What We Know About How Children Learn, authors Judith Graham, and Leslie A. Forstadt, explain:
“Brain development does not stop after early childhood, but it is the foundation upon which the brain continues developing. Early childhood is the time to build either a strong and supportive, or fragile and unreliable foundation. These early years are very important in the development that continues in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood”.
We now understand that what a person learns in the early years is the foundation for what he becomes in later life. Educating children to be active and positive citizens of society will ensure reliable foundations on which the child can grow to be a participating citizen.
Aims of Citizenship Education
Citizenship Education sets out to spread awareness among individuals about their duties as part of a community or society, along with imparting knowledge about their rights. It teaches people how to be a tolerant part of a community, which encompasses diverse cultures, habits, religions, genders, opinions, classes, ethnicities and races, along with the responsibility to protect the environment. It also makes a person aware of what he or she is entitled to as a citizen, such as identity, security, and social services etc. A person learns that he or she is an integral part of the community and needs to take an active part in it. In my opinion, it also aims to instil this awareness as a part of daily habits.
Does educating children about citizenship help in their ethical development?
The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘ethics’ as: “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.” So by educating children about the traits of a good citizen (see list below) we are in effect moulding their ethical behaviour:
– Protecting the environment
– Helping neighbours and fellow community members
– Being responsible for one’s own actions
– Being empathetic
– Respecting other people’s space, rights and property
– Abiding by the law
– Being an active member of society
– Being aware of one’s surrounding
– Standing up for right and standing against wrong
Making these traits a part of students’ daily routine and incorporating them in the curriculum will play a vital role in children’s ethical development.
Ideas to incorporate citizenship education in the curriculum
Teachers do not actually have to ‘teach’ citizenship by preparing entire lessons. Instead, citizenship ideas can be conveyed by introducing various activities to children. Given below are some ideas that can be conducted at different age levels.
1. One responsibility of a good citizen is to abide by the law. Teachers can discuss classroom rules with children and come to a common consensus about rules and regulations that apply inside the classroom and others that apply outside it. Teachers should explain the consequences of not following the rules. This is not a onetime activity as the teacher would have to remind children of the rules from time to time, making it a part of the daily routine.
• Following rules inside or outside one’s comfort zone
• Taking responsibility for one’s own actions
Age group: All age groups
2. Introduce a poem in class about a topic related to good citizenship such as, throwing garbage in dustbins and recycling, helping someone cross a road, growing plants, talking softly to others. The poem can be sung along with some music. Children might even want to act along with the poem. After singing the poem, discuss the theme with children. Divide them into groups and then ask each group to illustrate their understanding of the concept in a drawing. Make sure that each group consists of children with a different set of skills. Monitor each group and observe how they get along with each other, who takes up the leadership role and how they resolve conflicts. This activity will be a great way to teach children about a citizenship concept and will also train them to be respectful of each other.
• Many citizenship themes can be touched upon in this activity
• Getting along in a group of diverse nature and skills
Age group: 6 to 7 years
3. Introduce a ‘Cleanliness Week’ in the classroom. Have a discussion in class and listen to children’s views about keeping their surroundings clean. Discuss how they can actively promote cleanliness in their school. Divide children into groups and have the following activities planned for each day of the week.
• Day 1: Ask each group to design a poster focusing on one area of cleanliness. Encourage discussion and mutual consensus on ideas. Ask them to place their posters in suitable locations around the school.
• Day 2: Ask children to make a presentation to convince others in school to take care of their surroundings. Guide and support each group in making effective presentations. Schedule presentations with different classes and give a chance to each group to present their views.
• Day 3: Ask children to now actively make their surroundings clean. For instance, children can politely ask other children during recess to use the dustbins. They can demonstrate the same to others by picking up garbage from the floor and disposing it in the bins.
• Day 4: Discuss the experience of the past 3 days with the children. Based on their experience, ask each group to write a small skit. Assist children in writing the play. Also ask each group to make invitation cards for other classes to come and watch their skit. Help children rehearse their skits.
• Day 5: Performance Day! Setup props in the designated area for children to perform their skits and manage the schedule for each class to come and watch the message children want to convey through their performances.
• Being responsible about the surroundings and environment
• Actively participating in a community
• Being tolerant of differences
Age group: 7 to 8 years
4. Have a cultural day in class. Ask children to bring anything that represents their cultural affiliation. It can be a toy, a dress, a food item or even a song. Ask them to share a little bit about what they have brought. Initiate a healthy discussion about the diverse cultural environment and make sure you incorporate the message of getting along with each other, despite differences.
• Awareness of your country’s rich cultural background
Age group: 8 to 9 years
5. Put up a ‘News-of-the-Week’ board in your class. Ask children to share cut outs of local newspaper articles or news about current events. Discuss each day’s news at the end of the day. Have review writing at the end of each week about the whole week’s worth of news.
• Being aware of surroundings
• Community sharing
• Reflecting on current affairs
Age group: 9 to 10 years
6. Have a ‘Professions Day’ in class. Invite representatives from different government organisations to come and share the workings of their profession, for example, a fireman, a nurse, a banker, a representative from the municipal office. Inform the children in advance so that they can prepare questions to ask these people. At the end of the day, ask children to reflect on their findings at home. Ask them to choose one profession or department and write an article about it based on their knowledge.
• Knowing about workings of different department of a country
• Community awareness
Age group: 10 to 11 years
7. Some other interesting themes for teaching citizenship are:
• Advocate the importance of growing plants and their impact on the environment.
• Raise awareness about low water usage and how to water plants.
• Ask children to use cloth bags instead of paper or polythene bags.
• Ask them to advocate use of cloth bags while shopping with their families.
• Send signed letters to various shopping malls, home stores and marts to use cloth bags instead of plastic or paper bags.
• Write slogans promoting the idea of saving resources and send them as samples to malls and stores.
• Have a movie day in your school and showcase handpicked documentaries about water, electricity and fuel conservation. Distribute pamphlets promoting smart usage of resources.
• Ask children to maintain a diary in which they can note down any of their deeds that they think helped the community or a community member in anyway. Ask them to share selected excerpts from their diary once a week.
• A difficult aspect of promoting good citizenship is when a teacher has to deal with controversial and contentious topics in class, such as gender roles, differences of race, caste or religion. These topics can be dealt with without openly making them an object of heated discussion.
8. Altering gender-assigned colours and jobs can curb gender biases. For example, boys can also wear pink and it is okay for girls to wear boy’s colours. Invite a female pilot, a male nurse or a male teacher to class to talk about their profession. Promote the idea that life choices are not always dependent on which gender you belong to. Promote tolerance for different races and religions by reading inspirational stories from different cultures, religions and castes. Organise theme-based activities related to different occasions and festivals.
These are just a few ideas that a teacher can incorporate in the curriculum to encourage good citizenship. In my opinion, bits and pieces of good citizenship should be incorporated as part of the daily routine not just in the classroom, but also outside it. This goal can be accomplished by incorporating citizenship values in the curriculum – by hiding good deed in the nooks and crannies of your lessons, daily routines, projects, outdoor activities and home assignments – in a way that they become your children’s habits.
Sana Lone is a graduate of the TRC-IECE programme. She has taught at the PECHS Girls’ School and is currently taking a break from teaching. She is currently working as a freelance content writer and is running an education-based page on Facebook. She also writes a blog for teachers and is continuing her professional development through research and self-study.