Education For Democratic Freedom

The Context

In the new millennium of globalization, human rights, democratic freedom and communication are no longer the issues of domestic entrepreneurship. Human right is no longer a business of state's sovereignty. Freedom does not distinguish borders and transcends national jurisdiction. Human rights are inherited and they are not awarded by the State. Certain rights self-evidently pertain to individuals as human beings because they existed in "the state of nature" before humankind entered civil society; that the principle among them are the rights to life, liberty and property. While entering civil society humankind surrendered to the state only the right to enforce these natural rights, not the right themselves. History has demonstrated that the State's failure to secure these reserved natural rights automatically gives rise to a right to responsible and popular revolution.

One-sided characterization of democracy and human rights concept, its legitimacy and priorities will undermine the political credibility of their proponents and the defensibility of their values. The complex, highly interactive and interconnected and increasingly interdependent nature of global community demands the widest possible shaping and sharing of all values among all human beings. Any democratic and human rights concept or orientation that does not genuinely support political, economic, cultural, and solidarity rights of humankind will certainly provoke global cynicism and skepticism. Gone are the days for a legendary romance to govern the people within the proximity of dictatorial clutches under the false pretense of benevolence.

Democracy is not an all or nothing obsession. It is an integral part of human rights movement which can be attained through free, fair, genuine and credible elections.  There can be different forms, as well as different levels, of democratization. Democracy in Britain and the USA, for instance, isn't all of a piece. A British traveler in the US once enquired of an American companion: 'how can you bear to be governed by people you wouldn't dream of inviting to dinner?' to which the American replied, 'how can you bear to be governed by people who wouldn't dream of inviting you to dinner? However, every democracy embraces at least four common denominators i.e. representation, transparency, accountability and predictability with good governance being a fabric of all. In the absence of all or any of these components, no system on earth however benevolent it is, can be recognized as neither democracy nor the ruler whatsoever compassionate he is, can be called a democrat. On top of all, sanctity of elections through informed citizenry is a pre-requisite to foster a culture of democracy and tolerance.

Communication super-highway

In the mid-19th Century, a Massachusetts portrait painter, Samuel Morse, transmitted the first message, "What hath god wrought?", by electric telegraph. In so doing, he initiated a new phase in world history. Never before could a message be sent without someone going somewhere to carry it. Yet the advent of satellite communications marks every bit as dramatic a break with the past. The first communication’s satellite was launched only just over 40 years ago. Now there are more than 250 such satellites above the earth, each carrying a vast range of information. For the first time ever, instantaneous communication is possible from one side of the world to the other. Other types of electronic communication, more and more integrated with satellite transmission, have also accelerated over the past few years. No dedicated transatlantic or transpacific cables existed at all until the late 1950's. The first held less than 100 voice paths. Those of today carry more than a million.

Instantaneous electronic communication isn't just a way in which news or information is conveyed more quickly. Its existence alters the very texture of our lives, rich and poor alike. When the image of Nelson Mandela, maybe, is more familiar to us than the face of our next-door neighbor, something has changed in the nature of our everyday experience. Nelson Mandela is a global celebrity, and celebrity itself is largely a product of new communications technology. The reach of media technologies is growing with each wave of innovation. It took 40 years for radio in the US to gain an audience of 50 million. The same number was using personal computers only 15 years after the PC was introduced. It needed a mere four years, after it was made available for 50 million Americans to be regularly using the Internet.

All it is intended to reinforce that the emergence of a global information society is a powerful democratizing force in combination with the realization of the right to information as a non-derogable right. Global communication has a significant role to play for the greater cause of electoral freedom, human rights, plurality and good governance. Yet some multi-national corporate media allegedly often tend to destroy the very public space of dialogue they open up, through a relentless trivializing, and personalizing, of political issues with vested interest. Moreover, the growth of giant multinational media corporations means that unelected business tycoons can hold enormous power. This must be challenged. Democratization of society and offering unrestricted human rights space through civic education are the prerequisites to foster domestic free media and garner strength to resist the onslaught of undue external interference that may destroy the basic fabric of democratic development.

Indivisibility and Interdependence

Human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles. The right of everyone to information and education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in other relevant instruments.

Democracy does not consist of a single, unique set of institutions that are universally applicable. The specific form that democracy takes in a country is largely determined by prevailing political, social, and economic circumstances and it is greatly influenced by historical, traditional, and cultural factors. Democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.  The UN Millennium Declaration wherein the Member States committed themselves to sparing no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedom, including minority rights.

While democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy and that it does not belong to any country or region.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights, the World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy adopted by the International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy, the World Programme for Human Rights Education proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 59/113 A of 10 December 2004 and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training are some of the benchmarks to advance civic education to ensure freedom of elections and foster democratic development.

Education Interfaces Democracy

Education is key to the strengthening of democratic institutions, the realization of human rights and the achievement of all international development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, the development of human potential, poverty alleviation and the fostering of greater understanding among people. Civic education should constitute broader understanding on the fundamental link between democratic governance, peace, development and the promotion and protection of all human rights and basic freedoms, which are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Similarly, integration of education for democracy, along with civic education and human rights education, into national education standards and to develop and strengthen national and sub-national programmes, curricula and curricular and extracurricular educational activities is vital towards the promotion and consolidation of democratic values and democratic governance. Facilitating citizens’ empowerment and ensuring participation of all in political life and policymaking at all levels is the demand of the day.

Because democracy is a complex and contested concept, there will always be differences of opinion, despite some considerable convergence on a core definition. Most definitions of democracy focus on qualities, procedures and institutions. Of course, there are many expressions of democracy in the real world, and educators will want to guard against assuming that particular practices and procedures must be promoted and adopted universally. The learner's own understanding, experience and beliefs, and the history that their particular country has passed through, should be incorporated to create a definition that is meaningful and practical for their everyday life.

Electoral Education

Electoral education has become increasingly important during the wave of democratization. In the rapidly changed political, social, cultural and other setting, efforts should be made to genuinely empower the traditionally marginalized section of the society through the production and dissemination of appropriate communication, information, and education materials, technologies and methodologies.

An informed and invigorated electorate is the backbone for flourishing democratic culture. Revisiting the electoral education materials has to be reconsidered in terms of the important themes, methods, educational practice, available resources, and domestic limitations that govern not only the general voter and civic education programmes that might repeat from one year to the next, but also the specific programme necessary for each election.

For voter and civic education initiatives to be successful, they must be accompanied by the establishment of sustainable democratic institutions including viable political parties, functioning assemblies, a culture of good governance, constitutional protections backed by an independent judiciary, an impartial election authority capable of conducting periodic elections, and an effective state. In such an environment, citizens can exercise their rights and can be educated in their roles and responsibilities, including participation in elections. Finally, it is important for all concerned agencies and organizations including intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to intensify their efforts to promote education for democracy that suits the need and demand of the target beneficiaries beyond the urban-centric intellectual pedagogical approach.

The End

Author:

Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, PhD

Secretary General

National Election Observation Committee (NEOC)