Goa is set to be the first state to introduce the subject of ‘civic engagement’ in schools from August 1 for students from Class III to Class IX. A syllabus is already prepared which would cover topics like road safety, waste management and hygiene. The State Road Safety Council’s decision to introduce the novel subject is laudable. The subject would be introduced in 100 schools for the current academic year and be extended to other schools from the next academic year. It is a big responsibility for the Goa Education Development Corporation (GEDC), which is going to implement it in association with a Pune-based organization, Muttha Foundation. The GEDC must make sure that selected teachers are given proper training and guidance by experts. This novel idea could go a long way in bringing discipline on the roads, maintenance of cleanliness, hygiene and waste management. That children can play an important role in popularizing the message of road safety in society has been acknowledged even by the United Nations. The state has introduced the subject with the aim of motivating young children to spread the message of road safety and cleanliness among others, which is a very good idea indeed.
Different departments, including transport, education, science and technology and health, have contributed towards preparation of syllabus. The success of the project could lead to Goa becoming a model state that could be followed by other states. The decision to introduce the subject has obviously been taken in view of large number of accidents and deaths taking place on the roads in the state. The number of vehicles now virtually equals human population. Children can be good ‘motivators’ and ‘restraint enforcers’ for parents, relatives, friends and peers. The knowledge would make the children responsible drivers themselves when they come of age. The most common offenders are motorists. The offenders include highly educated and affluent ones driving luxury cars. Most drivers of four-wheelers and two-wheelers have the least respect for law and use their positions and connections to get away with the traffic offences they commit. There is a trend among parents to teach two-wheeler riding or car driving to their children even before they enter their teens, which is illegal. Despite scores of young children being seen riding scooters or driving cars there have been no instances of any of the children being caught and punished for the illegalities. It remains to be seen whether the number of violations by underage children, encouraged or not encouraged by parents and other elders, is reduced with the teaching of the new subject.
Civic engagement also includes waste management. The drive to deal with solid waste has not succeeded the way the authorities had envisaged; children could become ambassadors and move the elders to participate with a positive attitude in its management. There has been outbreak of dengue and other diseases which has been attributed to poor hygienic conditions. The state has faltered on effective implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission and solid waste management. There are not a few who travel with waste generated in their homes in their cars and throw it along the roads or in open spaces on way to their place of work. Teaching children to play a role in educating themselves and their parents, relatives, neighbours and others could pay rich dividends in maintaining cleanliness. However, much would depend on whether the students are taught to be assertive and insistent on the parents and other elders following the rules.
It is not that the parents and other elders are not aware of the rules and regulations about driving or waste disposal, but they do not follow the rules in their cases, though they leave no opportunity to verbally castigate others who behave in a similar manner. Had the elders been following the rules and regulations many of the problems the state is confronted with would not have been there. Following road discipline and maintaining cleanliness should have been everybody’s concern. Parents and other elders should have been advising children to follow road discipline and maintain cleanliness, rather than the other way round, which is what the new subject in the school syllabus is going to try. The authorities would need to continue making efforts to drive civic sense among the people including taking punitive action against the offenders. The new initiative of teaching school children can succeed if people listen to children and accept their ideas, which will also make children more law abiding and help transformation of society.