Culture and citizenship

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Culture and Citizenship

What does it mean to be ‘good citizen' and how can we nurture citizenship at school? Firstly, explain how ‘citizenship' is defined in Britain and Malaysia, what it involves and also what it means for you. Then, describe ways in which citizenship is taught at school in the UK, comparing with and commenting on what happens in Malaysia.

Nowadays, citizenship education is highly topical in many countries, as the new century approaches and critical consideration is given to how to prepare young people for the challenges and uncertainties of life in a swiftly changing world (Ichilov, 1998). Current research on what teachers perceive to be "good citizenship" found that a great number regarded “a good citizen" as person who can tolerate others, has social concern for others and has a marked disposition towards moral behaviour, civil society and political participation (Davies, 2000). So, due to concerns over the lack of interest in elections which is reflected by low voter turnout, the British Government launched citizenship education programme in 2002 (Kerr, 2005). Currently, citizenship is a discrete and compulsory subject of the National Curriculum in state schools in England for all pupils aged 11 to 16. Hence, all schools have a statutory requirement to teach the subject, assess student attainment and report student's progress in citizenship to parents.

In British context, citizenship was equated by Enslin (2000) as connoting "a bundle of rights, primarily political participation in the life of the community, the right to vote, and the right to receive certain protection from the community, as well as obligations." In general, the increasingly complex nature of the society, the greater cultural diversity and the apparent loss of value consensus are some reasons for introducing students to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and values (Davies, 2000). However, Kymlicka (1999) suggests that citizenship is not just a matter of learning the basic facts about the institutions and procedures of political life. It also involves acquiring a wide range of dispositions, virtues and loyalties closely linked to the practice of democratic citizenship.

Nonetheless, “Citizenship” is translated literally into Malay language with a word called "Kewarganegaraan" in Malaysia. This word is a compound of “warga”, which means “a member” and “negara” which signifies "a nation".  Therefore, citizenship means "a member of a nation". It could also refer to the relationship of an individual with his or her country. Hence, citizenship could be said as the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community in Malaysia.

In my viewpoint, citizenship education is mostly about changing students' attitudes and behaviour where necessary. The purpose of citizenship education in Britain is to empower students with knowledge and passion to participate in democratic and public life (Association of Citizenship Teaching, 2008). It builds their sense of agency, their belief that they can efficiently exercise political power in the world around them. In order to achieve this, there is an emphasis in this subject to develop skills that enable students to think critically, express informed opinions, and take effective action. Moreover, students learn about human rights, religious, ethnic and cultural differences in the UK through citizenship. Citizenship education in Britain assists in creating environments where students can involve in healthy debates on politics, religion and cultural issues and educating them that differences of opinion are positive and should be respected.

Over the years, citizenship education was a more integrated subject within the curriculum in Malaysia and it was given less significance due to constraints and stress from other subjects (Balakrishnan, 2006). As a result, citizenship was taught via carrier subjects, for example History, Local Studies and Religious Education. In recent years, much has been said about the need to revive the subject. After much consideration by the Government, citizenship is introduced in stages in all primary and secondary schools in Malaysia from 2005 onwards.

On top of that, the aim of citizenship education in Malaysia is rather different from Britain. It focuses less on individual rights and decision making. One the other hand, the curriculum emphasises issues of solidarity, patriotism and understanding of the cultural diversity in the country (Arthur & Wright, 2001). This is perhaps because, as a matter of fact, Malaysia has not been utterly successful in its journey towards societal integration and harmony. One of the most catastrophic incidents remembered in the country was the May 13, 1969 racial riots which took the lives of so many people and shattered the complacency of the state. For that reason, the goal of this subject is mainly to promote respect for different national, religious and ethnic identities. It also attempts to cultivate the internalisation of values, attitudes and behaviours that support a healthy multicultural community. Patriotism, loyalty and unity are always the main focus of the subject. For example, students must stand straight whenever he or she hears the National Anthem is played in order to show love and respect to the country. They should always respect national symbols such as the National Flag, National Anthem and National Language.

In addition, Malaysia formulated the Rukunegara after the racial riots. The Rukunegara was built up by the principles of Belief in God, Loyalty to King and Country, Upholding the Constitution, respecting the Rule of Law, and inculcating Good Behaviours and Morality (Balakrishnan, 2006). At the time of its formulation, the Rukunegara was seen as a national solution to the problems of racial and ideological divides and it is the foundation for the citizenship education nowadays. Anyhow, the subject is just a classroom-based subject in Malaysia and it is more theoretical if compared to citizenship in Britain. Most Malaysian students are just memorising the facts for the sake of examination, without truly understand the actual stories which are concealed. For instance, students memorise the Rukunegara, the meaning of diverse colours used on the National Flag or names of ministers in the country since these types of questions would be frequently asked during examination.

On the contrary, citizenship education in Britain is not to be confined to citizenship lessons in the classroom alone. It involves a lot of project work and volunteering in the community in order to allow students to develop leadership skills and improve their social responsibility initiatives (Kerr, 2003). Those volunteering activities could be in the form of one hour per week, for example, helping at a local after school club or serving in a local charity shop. Through participating in volunteering activities, active learning takes place where students are able to apply skills they obtain in the classroom into practise, such as to think critically around social issues and express themselves appropriately. Generally, these skills may be improved most effectively when they are part of a learning experience.

In my opinion, it is an undesirable side that Malaysian students are just memorising symbolic events, anthems and facts of national importance without having a chance to participate in public life or to articulate their own opinions and attitudes through the subject. Citizenship Education is just a tool for students to develop patriotism in the end. Actually, I think that citizenship education in Malaysia should provide students with the tools to think critically, feel and act as responsible citizens and great leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, I suggest that the citizenship education in Malaysia could try to follow the method of teaching and syllabus of citizenship education in Britain, such as engaging students into volunteering activities, campaigns or fund raising events. Dewey (1926) stated that a curriculum focusing on the social responsibilities of education must include situations relevant to the problems of living together. So, the use of real-life dilemmas and real-life projects provide students with experience and makes learning more meaningful (Vishalache, 2002). In this way, students might be able to identify themselves as part of the community and community service may be seen as the link between citizenship education in class and the real world outside. Besides, students might also be able to develop higher-order thinking skills of synthesis and evaluation, which are essential for informed and effective action. This helps students to become informed, critical, active citizens who have the confidence and conviction to work collaboratively, take action and try to make a difference in their communities and the wider world.

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