Empowering Bahamians through civics education

A fundamental reason Bahamians struggle to hold accountable their elected officials, and are challenged in conceptualizing a language and methods of advocacy, is a lack of knowledge of one’s rights and duties as a citizen and of the rightful place of a Bahamian in the power structure of his and her democracy.

To build a strong nation, the state must equip its citizenry through education that communicates a national identity and ideology interwoven in a clear path to understanding how one’s system of government works and the role each individual should play in the same.

Against this backdrop, we view ongoing work in redeveloping the nation’s civics and history curriculum as a promising path to Bahamian empowerment. We are advised that this process aims to give students a broader, more expansive instruction on subjects including the functions of Parliament, the constitution, citizens’ rights, volunteerism and Bahamian history that extends beyond 1973.

A return to civics education is taking root in countries grappling with an ever-changing social dynamic where popular uses of technology have contributed to withdrawal from a sense of community, and where disenchanted citizens wearied by a loss of trust in government are abandoning their civic duties.

It is hardly arguable that throughout the course of Bahamian self-governance, elected officials have derived considerable benefit from having a citizenry which has not been sufficiently educated to understand its power in its democracy. For those not espoused to democratic ideals, there can be comfort in knowing one’s supporters are unlikely to demand that wrong be made right if they are often uncertain of the difference between the two.

And to the extent that Bahamians see the only power of consequence as existing in the hands of politicians, rabid partisanship — one of this country’s entrenched roadblocks to progress — remains the order of the day as individuals grasp for identity in their society and the access to opportunities that identity can provide.

Without a rigorous and relevant national civics program, developing a mature democracy is a journey without a roadmap. And without a deliberately nurtured thrust toward civic responsibility, communities, which are the foundation of any society, become disconnected, isolationist and void of a spirit of commonality and self-determination that gets results without the intervention of a politician or the State.

Over the years, volunteerism in the country’s civics curriculum waned in focus. A likely correlation in this regrettable digression is the pains non-governmental organizations and community groups endure in securing much-needed volunteers. A solid civics education together with a balanced history program that gives it meaning and context, teaches citizens to see the value in building their communities and the value in helping one another succeed.

Through the enlightenment that an enhanced civics education can impart, The Bahamas has a potent opportunity to improve its prospects for national development which can, over time, both elevate its pool of prospective legislators and deepen the country’s appreciation for quality political candidates.

It can also guide Bahamians on what constitutes appropriate political support in the context of national interest since parties or coalitions in power would require such support in order to effectively govern.

We urge the government to develop a national strategic plan for bringing civics to the forefront of focus in education and to ensure that required resources and support, inclusive of timely remuneration, are made available so that educators charged with the yeoman’s task of curriculum redevelopment are able to effectively carry out this important work.

We also encourage the government to take this process a critical step further by amending the Education Act to make civics from primary to 12th grade mandatory in both the public and the private school system. Failing to do this can potentially result in a counterproductive subculturing in the society, where a segment of the country’s student population would be receiving an education in national development and citizen empowerment that the other segment might not receive.

The country’s major political parties can also demonstrate a commitment to improved governance by creating within their organizations institutionalized centers of education and training. Far too many persons seeking election or appointment to the legislature know very little about the fundamentals and conventions thereof and are unlearned in the Westminster system and the constitution.

Those who wish to lead the way must first know the path themselves.

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