Nepal | August 05, 2020

Civic awareness: It begins in school

Mira Gotame
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To give the students some life lessons, have them face hardships. For instance, we can make them use the public transport. They will come across problems, and they will learn to face them. They will understand what it is to be an aware citizen

Once I saw my 7-year-old boy giggling over a matter which was not funny at all. He burst into laughter when he saw his friend in an old car near the school gate. I tried to make him understand that this was not right. As a teacher, I have found students talking big to their friends, especially about the luxury car the family owns. Some compare the brand of their family car with that of their friends, and this becomes a reason for jeering at others.

Coming back to the classroom, one day I was teaching about civic awareness. While discussing the topic on traffic rules, the students openly shared how their fathers resort to drink and drive and how they often breach the traffic rules. They may have been sharing what their parents did, but they were actually representing the society as a whole. So how you expect the new generation to behave when the adults are violating the traffic rules in front of them?

We have failed both as teachers and parents to motivate the next generation to respect and follow the traffic rules. Unknowingly, we are teaching them that if we can violate the rule and not get caught, then it’s alright. Those stories were quite interesting for the students but not to me. Deep inside me, I had the feeling of failure both as an aware citizen and as a teacher. The objective of teaching the chapter was to make them follow and help others to follow the traffic rules.

Traffic awareness is a basic life skill of the present world. Many accidents can be avoided by following the traffic rules. But the interaction with the students revealed a bitter truth of the society. The truth is that people are educated but unaware. People are rich, but the mentality is poor.

Of course, there are loopholes in the government system. When the system doesn’t function properly it will have far-reaching effects. When a driver makes a mistake, it’s the duty of the traffic police to warn or make him liable for it.

Instead the driver’s folly becomes an opportunity for a financial reward. When a child comes across this phenomenon repeatedly, what kind of drivers will they turn out to be in the future?

I remember the time when I had to travel all the way from Budhanilkantha to Lainchaur regularly. As a fourth grader, I knew all the bus stops on the route. I used to see the difficulties the passengers faced during the journey. Leaving home on time was necessary to reach school for the first lesson. I understood the value of time. Real life situations taught me more than the textbooks and the curriculum.

But that’s not the case with the students today. Students are not aware of time. The use of private transport has not only made the adults lazy but also made the kids irresponsible. When they don’t reach school on time, it’s not the students who give excuses but the parents. Parents are being answerable and the students carefree. The case was just the opposite in the 1990s.

Somewhat it had instilled discipline in us although we used to panic a lot as students.

Most families in Kathmandu harbour the dream of owning a car. The motive behind it is to provide comfort to our children. At a time when we should have been giving knowledge about the traffic rules, we are actually giving them knowledge about the vehicles. As a consequence, the topic of the children’s gossip has changed. When they should be talking about the rules, they are talking about the brands of cars. To give them life lessons, we should stop making them feel sophisticated. Let’s have them face some hardships of life also.

For instance, we can make them use the public transport. Let them explore the hardships. They will come across problems, and they will learn to face them. They will understand what it is to be an aware citizen. Consequently, they can also learn the traffic rules. Respect for the drivers and passengers will increase. They will get to know people and their perspectives.

If you ask the students why seats are reserved in public transport, most of the sophisticated students will be unable to answer. They will know why only if they get to travel by themselves. Teaching these things in class is meaningless if they don’t see things with their own eyes.

Moreover, they need to internalise what they are told. Knowledge about these things should teach them to give more respect to the senior citizens, differently able people and the women, especially the lactating and pregnant women. What the textbook and curriculum can’t do, a simple and wise action of ours can. Learning can happen anywhere. Experiential learning will never be forgotten. As parents also, we can raise civic consciousness in the wards. It may not be easy, but we can bring up aware citizens.

I would like to end with a personal experience. I remember an incident when I was participating in a teachers’ training.  One of the teachers came to me to ask about my school. Of course, it made me happy. I was waiting to hear some good things about the teachers, the school or students. Instead he had a different story to tell. He shared that he had a dispute with a driver of the school van in the morning. This incident had upset him because as a school van driver, he was not behaving properly.

Whatever the case, it gave me another big lesson in life that the reputation of your institution doesn’t lie solely in the trained and experienced staff but also on things like traffic awareness of the school driver.


A version of this article appears in print on July 17, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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