“Civic Education Café” gives students a voice in civic education

30 May 2014

Pakistan’s youth take centre stage at the second UNDP-UN Women civic education forum

ISLAMABAD, 30 May 2014: In terms of demographics, Pakistan is an exceedingly young country where half the population is estimated to be under the age of 20. Fifty-two of those young people met in Islamabad to voice their opinions and hear the views of other students on what it is that the youth of Pakistan need from civic education programmes and the means with which to reach them. Participants had an opportunity to discuss the importance of civic education, the challenges faced and the role modern technologies play to promote civic education among women and youth.

In his introductory remarks to the students, Mr. Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education observed, “You are the largest chunk of democratic consumers, which means that every policy should provide a large share to youth.” He elaborated further, stating that “sometimes you have to demand your rights from the state, sometimes you have to cry, and sometimes you have to expend all your energy to become participatory citizens in a democracy. All of this is a part of civic education.”

Dr. Bernadette L. Dean, Director, VM Institute of Education explained, “We aren’t born with this knowledge or these skills – the skills needed to be citizens. These are special skills that need to be acquired and cultivated. In Pakistan, we think civic education is about being good citizens, but that is not enough…We need to become more informed and responsible participatory citizens. Good citizenship education is good education.”

However, as Dr. Dean noted, “There is no separate subject for civic education, except for a small group of students who can take it as an elective from Grades 9-12, students in the Arts Group. The rest of our current curriculum on civic education is embedded in Social Studies and Pak Studies.”

Using the “World Café” method, small groups of students are seated at a table with a facilitator where they discuss a specific topic for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes groups move to the next table to begin work on the next topic.Participants share their views after each conversation.

“The thing I really liked about this seminar,” reported Noma Khawaja, a student at the University of Gujrat, Sialkot Campus, “was the unique way of sharing information and experiences with others sitting round the table, it was just like an open debate. I will surely share the information with my colleagues and students. We hope to attend such informative and thought provoking seminars in future as well.”

UNDP is preparing to formulate a national civic education programme. The series of seminars on civic education provides youth, women, religious representatives, political parties, civil society and the media with a forum in which to discuss what civic education means to them and to find ways to increase the reach of civic education programmes.

Future seminars will address the role of political parties and the media in the sphere of civic education. Once the series of seminars is finished, UNDP will publish a booklet featuring the range of perspectives captured during the seminars.