Role of Education in Democratic Governance and Collective Well-being -

7 April 2014 04:36 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The UN today consists of over 190 countries.   How many of these are fully functional democracies? The answer depends on how we define a democracy. If we adopt a very strict definition, the number would not be very large. Yet, the leaders of most of these countries would claim that they are presiding over democratic governments. On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that governments vary widely in terms of the degree to which they are democratic. So much so, a prominent group of researchers who recently undertook a study of democratic governance around the world adopted the title ‘varieties of democracy’ for their project, perhaps reflecting the above reality.

If democracy is the most desirable form of government, why do we have so many non-democratic governments around the world?  The answer seems to be simple; democracy needs democrats. In other words, if the people living in a country do not have a democratic orientation, a democratic form of government is unlikely to flourish there. This does not mean that a democratically minded citizenry cannot be held back by undemocratic forces by the use of force at least temporarily. Yet, it would be reasonable to argue that the presence of a democratically predisposed population is a pre-condition for the rise of democratic governance.

How do people become democratically oriented? A whole tradition of educational philosophy has advanced the argument that it is the role of modern education to inculcate democratic values in the minds of the young so that they in their adult lives provide the human foundation for a democratic society and a polity. In fact, the well- known educational philosopher, John Dewey (1859- 1952) published in 1916 a seminal work on the subject entitled ‘Democracy and Education' that has inspired not only philosophers but also educationists in many parts of the world.  There are two important issues that arise from the above discussion, namely, the social purpose of education and the feasibility first issue is critically important today because the role of education is increasingly defined in utilitarian or instrumental terms,  as the mere provision of credentials and knowledge in narrow fields of study in order to prepare young people for a highly competitive world of work. It is true that modern complex societies rely on the education system to equip young children and youth with general and specialized skills to perform diverse production and service functions. Yet, the same societies cannot overcome the diverse societal challenges they face such as conflicts, inequality, injustice, prejudices, discrimination, wars, all forms of crime, etc. unless the education system also instills in the minds of the young the values, morals, aptitudes, ideas and sensibilities that could help them strike a balance between naked self -interest and a sense of common humanity and collective existence so that they could pursue individual achievement and collective societal goals simultaneously as social citizens of  modern states. In other words, members of modern complex societies have to acquire individual, social and political attributes that shape their conduct in such a way as to ensure  both collective well- being and the full development of individual potential.





Democracy is almost inconceivable without citizens who are well versed with and committed to democratic values. But such citizens are not born as such,  so they have to be produced and continually reproduced




The two issues mentioned above are closely interconnected. As for the purpose of education, it is important to recognize the need for going beyond the narrow utilitarian view of education as a means of acquiring credentials and skills that enable the products of the education system to fit into an ever-competitive economy and an idealized occupational or professional hierarchy. If the education system is shaped entirely by such a narrow view, it would be socially counterproductive because it would help perpetuate a highly unequal, unjust and conflict-ridden social system leading to adverse consequences that are detrimental to both individual and collective well-being. Education has to play a critical role in shaping young minds in such a way as to equip  them to maintain a healthy balance between emotion and reason. As is well known, many of the personal troubles and social issues that people suffer from are largely related to the dominance of emotion over reason. We are familiar with the negative social and political impacts of hatred, prejudice, jealousy, greed,anger, ignorance, intolerance, etc. in modern societies and how these in turn undermine both the personal and collective well-being of people.


The neglect of citizenship education and other related components for so long has contributed to  many negative developments  as we have witnessed in recent years by way of divisiveness, violence, moral degeneration...


It is in view of the above that educational philosophers and enlightened educationists saw a larger social role for education in modern complex societies. One major aspect of this larger role is the inculcation in the minds of the young the necessity to participate in the development and propagation of values that underpin peaceful and cooperative living of citizens within the jurisdiction of a modern state. This brings me to the second major issue arising out of the philosophical and pedagogical debates on the role of education. This is the contribution that education is expected to make to democratic government in contemporary societies. As mentioned before, democracy is almost inconceivable without citizens who are well versed with and committed to democratic values. But such citizens are not born as such,  so they have to be produced and continually reproduced.

What is discussed above  regarding the larger social and political purposes of education can be easily lost in the current debates on education  in this country. Some of these ideas have not been totally lost sight of in the policy deliberations in the recent past. Citizenship education, value education, education for social cohesion, multicultural education, etc. have found their way into policy documents and even school curricular in the recent past. Yet, they have remained marginal within the larger scheme of things and have had no significant impact on  the younger generations over the years.

The lack of any sensitivity or serious interest in the wider social  goals of education discussed above was clearly demonstrated by policy makers when an attempt was made to introduce sociology into the school curriculum more than ten years ago. The detailed proposals developed by the National Institute of Education, never found their way into the secondary education curricular of the country. The neglect of citizenship education and other related components for so long has contributed to  many negative developments  as we have witnessed in recent years by way of divisiveness, violence, moral degeneration, conflict, violence, intolerance, unreason, irrational obedience to blatant sectarian propaganda, etc. On the other hand, whose interests would an enlightened, rational and critically minded citizenry serve? So, why should the policy makers facilitate the creation of such a social citizenship in this country?
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